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UBC Colloquium 2007

Comin' Out Swingin': Sexualities in Improvisation

November 16-17, 2007

In November 2007 Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, in partnership with the Department of English at the University of British Columbia, St. John’s College UBC, and “Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice,” hosted Comin' Out Swingin', the first symposium of its kind in Western Canada.

Improvised and creative new musics have been on the upswing in recent years, but listeners, critics, and scholars have said little, so far, about the relationships of the various forms and practices of improvisation to gender and sexuality. Compositions and performances in recent years by such prominent artists as Marilyn Lerner, Fred Hersch, Patricia Barber, Irene Schweizer, Maggie Nicols, Gary Burton, Pauline Oliveros, Lori Freedman, Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi, Miya Masaoka, Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, and many others have placed the cultural politics of gender directly at issue, while many recorded works from the history of improvised music and jazz (from Valaida Snow to Cecil Taylor, from Billy Strayhorn to Andy Bey) provoke a reconsideration of the music’s relationship to sexuality and identity.

Comin’ Out Swingin’ provoked, challenged, and inspired discussion and exploration of sexuality in music and other forms of improvisation. Comin’ Out Swingin’ brought together listeners, critics, musicians, and scholars to explore a wide range of topics from jazz and contemporary musical theatre to Frank Zappa and Taiwanese opera, in a variety of papers and artist talks. Speakers include Chicago’s dynamic saxophonist/composer Matana Roberts, internationally acclaimed jazz pianist/improviser Marilyn Lerner, and award-winning author and Associate Professor of American Studies at University of Kansas, Sherrie Tucker.

In conjunction with the conference, Coastal Jazz and Blues Society presented a set of evening concerts featuring performances by Comin’ Out Swingin’ keynote speakers. Marilyn Lerner performed a solo piano concert. Lerner's work spans the world of jazz, creative improvisation, klezmer, and twentieth-century classical music. She composes for film, theatre, radio, and television and is rapidly making a name for herself in forging her own unique bridge between jazz and klezmer music. Saxophonist, composer, improviser and Chicago native Matana Roberts was joined by drummer Dylan van der Schyff and energetic and soulful Vancouver bassist Tommy Babin. A New York based member of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), Matana aims to expose the mystical roots and spiritual traditions of African-American creative expression in her music. She has crafted a voice that not only speaks to her artistic and creative individuality but testifies, critiques, documents, and responds to the many socio-economic, historical, and cultural inequalities that exist all over the world.


  • Sherrie Tucker: When Did Jazz Go Straight?
  • Matana Roberts
  • Marilyn Lerner


  • Marilyn Lerner: Solo Piano
  • Matana Roberts with Dylan van der Schyff and Tommy Babin

2007 Conference Media Release

2007 Conference Schedule

We’ll all be more innovative if we participate in collaborative webs and share more openly. Creativity is always a collaboration and it’s always a form of improvisation, written large in the social world.

– Keith Sawyer