Mr. Barker frequently give lectures on jazz and also gives percussion and drum workshops. Below are examples of lectures. Please see the contact page to engage Mr. Barker for your organization.
Thurman Barker awarded an honorary doctorate to Wynton Marsalis in May of 1998 and to Ornette Coleman in May of 1999. The following are the presentations he gave.
Wynton Marsalis Doctor of Fine Arts
As we approach the twenty first century, the measure of artistic achievement in jazz gets higher and higher. Every ten years or so, someone comes along with a little something extra. That something extra today is jazz education. The artist who has set the pace for jazz education for the next century is Wynton Marsalis. His lectures and concert series specifically designed for children draw a full house, particularly at Lincoln Center where he is the artistic director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center program, which he co-founded in 1987. Mr. Marsalis has found a way to communicate jazz--a difficult task for even the most talented of musicians--using a variety of devices for communication, including basketballs, kazoos, and audience participation. He is a fervent jazz missionary and an accomplished classical musician, giving dozens of workshops, lectures, and master classes each year. He understand and communicates jazz as the quintessential American art form. It is only through such education that we stand a chance of ensuring that jazz remains one of our national treasures.
Wynton Marsalis was born in New Orleans in 1961. He studied at the New Orleans Center for Performing Arts and was trumpet soloist with the New Orleans Orchestra. At age eighteen he attended the Juilliard School, became a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and signed with Columbia Records. The rest is history. He began recording in 1982 and now has to his credit more than thirty jazz and classical albums, eight of which have won Grammy awards and have achieved gold record status. The Downbeat readers' poll named him Jazz Musician of the Year in 1982, 1984-86, and 1989; Best Trumpet Player in 1984; and Musician of the Year in 1992. Among his many other honors, in 1996 he won a Peabody Award for his 26-part National Public Radio series, "Making the Music," and his four-part PBS series "Marsalis on Music"; and in 1997 he won the Pulitzer Prize for music, a distinction that for five decades had been awarded exclusively to classical composers, for his epic oratorio on slavery, Blood on the Fields. He has taken his jazz groups to thirty countries, performing more than 120 concerts per year for over a decade.
Creativity is another form of measuring achievement. Mr. Marsalis burst into the public eye as a virtuoso trumpet player, but his creativity has transcended trumpet playing. It is is manifest not only in his playing, but in the way he plans his music and organizes his bands to carry out his mission. An example of this is Standard Time volume 3, The Resolution of Romance. Here, Mr. Marsalis pays tribute to the great songs of American composers, such as Richard Rodgers, Victory Young, and Johnny Mercer. On this recording, Mr. Marsalis shares the spotlight with his father, Ellis Marsalis, who is right at home in this period of song writing. Mr. Marsalis's playing is brilliant. "When you are playing soft," he says, "there are an infinite number of subtleties that you can discover, the same way you can in any activity that is approached softly and slowly." Mr. Marsalis can find these subtleties in any genre of music, which permits him to display an astonishing variety.
Most jazz musicians who have weathered the storm find themselves with an active performing career, but with popularity in only one style or another. Once again, Mr. Marsalis has raised the ante. He works in a variety of musical styles, ranging from tributes to early jazz and Louis Armstrong, big band swing, bebop of the 1940s and modal jazz of the 1960s to Baroque concertos for trumpet, concerts with Kathleen Battle, and performance of Stravinsky's The Soldiers Tale. Mr. Marsalis uses his musical intellect, technique, command, and musicianship in each of these situations, not only performing but also adding a little something of himself. He is also ranked somewhere near the top of America's distinguished and popular composers, an achievement in itself.
Mr. Marsalis has created a volume of work that runs deep. Jazz musicians in the past have been successful in these areas of achievement. But as the reader will quickly recognize, they are, as Wynton Marsalis is today, the greatest names in jazz Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tony Williams, and Stan Getz. Mr. Marsalis has set a new standard for future generations to challenge.
Ornette Coleman Doctor of Fine Arts
It takes perspective, which in turn takes time, to appreciate innovation. As a result, it is often the unlucky fate of pioneers to be honored when they are no longer around. This practice leaves something to be desired, especially for the absent honorees.
Today, however, Bard has the opportunity to recognize a living composer and musician, Ornette Coleman, whose relentlessly innovative work has altered the course of jazz and continues to do so. Nearly half a century ago, he helped launch a new musical movement and forged a new musical language. The modern jazz of the forties was characterized by a them-solos-theme structure and improvisation based on harmony. In the late fifties, Mr. Coleman, a saxophonist, blew into New York fronting an adventurous quartet formed in Los Angeles. What had been planned as a two-week engagement by the group at the Five Spot Cafe lasted fifty-four months. That legendary marathon gig, and the ensuing release in 1958 of his debut album, Something Else, signaled the start of a new jazz era.
His iconoclastic music, known variously as the Modal School or free jazz (the title of a 1960 album of his), stretched or simply flouted conventional notions of pitch, melody, and harmony. Its mainstays were ( and are) mood and emotion. Based on a concept he called "harmolodics," suggesting a confluence of harmony, motion, and melody, his brand of jazz was something else indeed. In his hands, improvisation is based not on a repetitive harmonic structure but on a free-flowing melody, and tempos and keys never stand still for long. Something Else is one of three Coleman records that broke new ground in jazz. The second, The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), featured his estimable band mates Don Cherry (coronet), Charlie Hayden (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums) and included on his most memorable and frequently recorded songs, "Lonely Woman." The third seminal record, Double Quartet, also demonstrated for the first time that both written and improvised music could coexist in a good jazz tune.
Ornette Coleman was born on March 9, 1930, in Fort Worth, Texas. In school his interests included chemistry, mathematics, and physics, subjects that to this day inform his music. By age fourteen, he had taught himself to read music, and play the saxophone, and by nineteen he was on the road, earning a living as a musician. He has traveled widely in his career, both geographically ( throughout the world) and artistically. He began writing classical music in the 1950s, and in 1962 completed his first composition in that genre, a piece for string quartet called Dedication to Poets and Writers. He finished writing his most ambitious classical work Skies of America, an 85-minute concerto grosso for symphony and jazz improvisers, in 1972; soon after its completion, the piece was performed in New York by the composer's quartet and the American Symphony Orchestra, whose music director today is Leon Botstein. Mr. Coleman explored indigenous music in Nigeria and Morocco in the 1970s and recorded with the Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia in the 1980s. In addition to Cherry, Haden, and Higgins, he has collaborated with such eminent musicians as David Izenson, Charles Moffett, Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Bradford, Ed Blackwell, Pat Metheny, and his son, Denardo, who is a drummer. Mr. Coleman himself is a multiinstrumentalist who plays violin and trumpet, as well as tenor and alto sax.
Ornette Coleman's career has been animated throughout by a steadfast integrity. He has never failed to break a rule or to stretch or ignore conventional wisdom if such things obstructed the pursuit of his vision. He once mused, "there is something on the earth that is free of everything but what created it, and that is the one thing that I have been trying to find." Witnessing this search has been our good fortune.