The Such Sweet Thunder Continuum Conference

Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies
Portrait of Ellington by Gottlieb

POSTED July 12, 2022

In this virtual conference, senior scholars and graduate students present research on Such Sweet Thunder and related topics. Participants include NEA Jazz Master Delfeayo Marsalis, David Hajdu, professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and author of Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn, Patricia Akhimie, Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark and author of Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World (Routledge 2018), David Berger, composer, arranger, conductor, and Ellington authority, and Jack Chambers, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Toronto and author of Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis and Sweet Thunder: Duke Ellington’s Music in Nine Themes.


Prof. Robert O’Meally
Columbia University

The Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program
Levi Pugh (Piano), Robert Lotreck (drum), Paul Ward (bass)

Lisa Del Sol 
Columbia University

Panel 1 
Anthony Ballas, University of Colorado Denver
Deanna Witkowski, University of Pittsburgh
Enrica Zaninotto, University of Verona
Lisa Del Sol, Columbia University (moderator)
Open Discussion———- Q & A

Musical Selection

Aidan Levy 
Columbia University

Panel 2
Dustin Mallory, Valley City State University
Jack Chambers, (University of Toronto)
David Berger, Composer, Arranger, and Conductor
Aidan Levy, Columbia University (moderator)
Open Discussion———– Q & A

Musical selection

Robert O’Meally 
Columbia University

Panel 3
David Hajdu, Columbia University
Delfeayo Marsalis, Trombonist, Composer, and Producer
Patricia Akhimie, Rutgers University-Newark
Robert O’Meally, Columbia University
Open Discussion———– Q & A

Closing Remarks by Robert O’Meally


Patricia Akhimie is Director of the RaceB4Race Mentoring Network and Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark, where she teaches Shakespeare Renaissance drama, and early modern women’s travel writing. She is the author of Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Race: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World (Routledge 2018).She is co-editor, with Bernadette Andrea of Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World (University of Nebraska Press 2019). She is currently at work on a new edition of Othello for the Arden Shakespeare 4th series, a collection of essays co-edited with Mayte Green-Mercado based on the RaceB4Race Region and Enmity conference, and a monograph about race, gender, and editing early modern texts. In 2021 she received the Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching from Rutgers University for outstanding and innovative performance in both the physical and virtual classroom. Her research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the John Carter Brown Library, and the Ford Foundation

Anthony Ballas is a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Denver, where he teaches rhetoric. His research explores race, racism, class politics, and internationalism in world literature, architecture, music, and global cinema. He is currently editing two collections: one on cinema and liberation theology, and another on the rise of the far right across the globe.

Jazz composer, arranger, and conductor, David Berger, is recognized internationally as a leading authority on the music of Duke Ellington and the Swing Era. Conductor and arranger for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra from its inception in 1988 through 1994, Berger has transcribed more than 750 full scores of classic recordings, including more than 500 works by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Several of these transcriptions in addition to a number of original arrangements were featured in the Broadway hit, After Mid night. In 1996 Berger collaborated with choreographer Donald Byrd to create and tour the Harlem Nutcracker, a full-length two-hour dance piece that expands the Tchaikovsky/Ellington/Strayhorn score into an American classic. The 15-piece band assembled to play this show has stayed together as the David Berger Jazz Orchestra. The DBJO actively performs Berger’s music on tours throughout the United States and Europe. Berger has written music for symphony orchestras, television, Broadway shows and films and has composed and arranged for Duke Ellington, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Quincy Jones and the WDR Big Band. He has a lsoarranged for dozens of singers including Jon and Aria Hendricks, Betty Carter, Freda Payne, Natalie Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Madeleine Peyroux, Milt Grayson, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Susan Graham and Champian Fulton. Berger currently resides in New York City

Jack Chambers is professor at the University of Toronto, and a prize-winning author and teacher on music and language is a long time contributor to Coda magazine, the Globe and Mail (Toronto) and other jazz journals, and a participant in annual conferences. His books on jazz include the prize-winning biography Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis (1998), The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik (2008), and Sweet Thunder: Duke Ellington’s Music in Nine Themes(2019). For texts and playlists of his annual presentations to the Duke Ellington Society, seehttps://tdeschap40.comand click on Archives

Lisa Del Sol is a sixth-year Ph.D. Candidate in the English and Comparative Literature Department. She is from Brooklyn, New York where she also completed her bachelor’s degree at The City University of New York, Brooklyn College. There she double majored in Caribbean Studies and English Literature while also double minoring in Sociology and Africana Studies. She decided to continue her studies at the Graduate level at Columbia because of the interdisciplinary work of both the faculty, and the graduate student projects. Her current work focuses on literature and culture from the Black Diaspora. She is currently working on her dissertation which is an investigation into the relationship between Americana, anti-Black violence, trauma and witnessing. In her spare time, you can find her critiquing and contextualizing the zeitgeist of pop culture on Twitter.

David Hajdu is a professor at the Columbia Journalism School and the music critic for The Nation. He is the author of seven books of nonfiction and fiction, including Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn. Named by The New York Times as one of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time, his Strayhorn biography was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing. Hajdu was recently appointed by President Biden to a seat on the National Council on the Humanities

Aidan Levy is the author of the forthcoming Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins (Hachette Books). A former Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellow, his writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Village VoiceJazzTimes, The Nation, and Some Other Blues: New Perspectives on Amiri Baraka (The Ohio State University Press). He is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, where he has served as co-convener of the African American Studies Colloquium and works with the Center for Jazz Studies. For ten years, he was the baritone saxophonist in the Stan Rubin Orchestra

 Dustin Mallory serves on the music faculty at Valley City State University where he directs the jazz ensemble, commercial music ensemble, drumline, and teaches in the areas of percussion and music theory. He previously served on the faculties of Lincoln University, Rutgers University, and taught band in the Wissahick on School District. His high school jazz bands were regular competitors in the Cavalcade of Bands Jazz Festivals and was named Glen Miller Division Champions in 2019.Professor Mallory has lectured at conferences in the United States, Canada, and England. He has published articles and presented papers for the following organizations: Society for American Music, Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic, McGill University Music Symposium, University of Surrey, Florida Southern College, the Percussive Arts Society, the Journal of Jazz Studies, All About Jazz, Sound Teaching, and Cadence: The Independent Journal of Creative Improvised Music. Professor Mallory is a graduate of Saginaw Valley State University where he earned a B.A. in Music Education, served as Drum Major of the Cardinal Marching Band, and was elected Vice-President of SVSU’s chapter of the National Association for Music Education. He also holds an M.A. in Jazz History &Research from Rutgers University where he studied under Dr. Lewis Porter

Over the course of his prolific music career, acclaimed trombonist, composer and producer Delfeayo Marsalis has been praised for his “technical excellence, inventive mind and frequent touches of humor,” and heralded as one of “the best, most imaginative and musical of the trombonists of his generation.”  Jeff Simon of the Buffalo News observed, “Delfeayo is, in many ways, the most fun of the Marsalises. He’s the family trombonist. And record producer. And he seems to be the family wise guy too!” In 2000, Marsalis founded the Uptown Music Theatre to provide dramatic arts training to New Orleans youth. Since the, UMT has trained over 800 students and presented professional productions to 6,000 more. In 2014, Marsalis’ Kidstown After School program was implemented in three New Orleans Schools. In 2008, Marsalis founded the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, a feel-good band that has become synonymous with a guaranteed “funky-good time!” In 2020, he founded the non-profit Keep New Orleans Music Alive!, to provide emergency relief to native New Orleans culture bearers. To date, KNOMA has provided assistance for over 400 musicians, Black Masking Indians and 2nd Line dancers.

Robert G. O’Meally is the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Columbia University, where he has served on the faculty for thirty years. Director of Columbia’s Center for Jazz Studies, O’Meally is the author of The Craft of Ralph Ellison, Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday, The Jazz Singers, and Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey. His edited volumes include The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Living With Music: Ralph Ellison’s Essays on Jazz, The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, History and Memory in African American Culture), and the Barnes and Noble editions of Mark Twain, Herman Melville, and Frederick Douglass. For his production of a Smithsonian CD set called The Jazz Singers, he was nominated for a Grammy Award. The curator of exhibitions at Jazz at Lincoln Center (2006-2012), O’Meally also has co-curated exhibitions for the High Museum in Atlanta and for the Smithsonian Institution. He has held Guggenheim and Cullman Fellowships, among others. His new books are The Romare Bearden Reader (edited for Duke University Press, February 2019) and Antagonistic Cooperation: Collage, Jazz, and American Fiction (Columbia University Press, 2022). According to his sons, Mr. O’Meally plays the soprano saxophone “for his own amazement.”

Known for her adventurous, engaging music that heals the soul, pianist-composer-vocalist Deanna Witkowski moves with remarkable ease between Brazilian, jazz, classical, and sacred music. The award-winning bandleader has just released her seventh recording, Force of Nature(MCG Jazz) in January 2022, a companion piece to her biography, Mary Lou Williams: Music For The Soul(Liturgical Press), published in September 2021. Witkowski’s biography is a 2022 Jazz Journalists Association Awards nominee in the category of best biography/autobiography. As a sought-after Williams-centric performer and lecturer, she has presented at the Kennedy Center, Duke University, Fordham University, and performed as a featured soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Witkowski’s explosive performances combine virtuosity and heart, telling stories that reveal her innate curiosity of the human condition. She has recorded with jazz Grammy nominees John Patitucci, Kate McGarry, and Donny McCaslin, and has performed and toured with renowned vocalists Lizz Wright, Nnenna Freelon, Erin Bode, Filó Machado, and Vanessa Rubin. A prolific choral composer, Witkowski has won multiple competitions for her concert and sacred works. Commissions and new compositions have been funded byorganizations including the New York State Council on the Arts (for her Afro-Brazilian project, the Nossa Senhora Suite) and the Choral Arts Initiative PREMIERE Project Festival. Following in the steps of her chosen soul companion and lifelong mentor, Witkowski relocated to Mary Lou Williams’ hometown of Pittsburgh in 2020. She is a second-year doctoral student in jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Experience her

Enrica Zaninotto studies Comparative Literature at the University of Verona (Italy). Her main research interests focus on Victorian Literature, Disability Studies/Medical Humanities and Transmedia Studies.

Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program Student Musicians

Levi Pugh (piano) is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, singer, producer, and teacher based in New York City. He began playing the piano and drum set at the age of 9. As a teenager, Levi participated in all state ensembles in the worlds of both classical and contemporary improvised music in his home state of Iowa before moving to New York. While studying at Columbia University, Levi has played for upcoming artists Maude Latour, Sarah Kinsley, Caroline Sky, Jackie Marchal and others. He is the lead singer of electronic rock band Twice Shy which debuted in winter 2021, leads a trio which will present an original suite of music for the Columbia Jazz Department in April, and will be making his debut as a solo artist this spring.

Paul Ward (bass) is a history major at Columbia College, concentrating in American History. He has lived in Randolph, New Jersey for all of his life and learned double bass in the public school system. He began his jazz studies almost 10 years ago with trombonist David Miller, and at Columbia has worked under Don Sickler, Ugonna Okegwo, Ole Mathisen and Bruce Barth. Currently he plays in a combo through Columbia’s Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program in addition to playing as the resident bassist in their weekly piano trio workshop.

Robert Lotreck (drums) grew up in Tolland, CT. Coming to study Sociology at Columbia, Robert’s musical pursuits in NYC began as a drummer for hire. Currently he is leading the band Twice Shy, which he co-founded in 2021. He has opened for the likes of Chris Potter and Antonio Sanchez as a resident member of the roster for the 2021 Giant Step Arts Series, and is diligently working away at a solo production and songwriting career.