I am interested, above all, in two intertwined processes: the ones through which musical sounds come into being and those that occur when groups and individuals engage with sounds—through listening, dancing, writing, etc. Much of my work, then, sits at the place where ideas about composition, recording and distribution meet those about reception and its embeddedness in culture, society, race, history and geography. What I hope emerges from my writing and teaching is the sense that music is an essential, rather than ornamental, element of daily life, something human beings use to do more than reflect their times.
As someone trained in the methods of ethnomusicology, I focus attention on what people say and do where music is concerned. Taking those words and actions seriously, I analyze them to determine what potential they hold for helping my students and readers understand the complex and situated interactions we might have with music and musicians. Applying that approach to jazz and rock has required that I learn about things that most people might never attach to music—urban geography, economic development, graphic design, and legal theories of race, among them—but it has also resulted in work that, I hope, matches my aims.