Benjamin Barson

  • Graduate Student, Jazz Studies

I am a PhD candidate in jazz studies and a composer, baritone saxophonist, and political activist. Before enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh's Jazz Studies program, I was mentored by the Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Fred Ho, in Baritone saxophone technique and composition, from 2009 until Mr. Ho’s passing in April of 2014. I partnered with Mr. Ho to produce several mixed media musical projects spanning the United States, from Hawaii to most recently to in Vermont of 2014.

I have played with the bands of a diverse cross-section of innovative voices in New York City’s jazz scene, ranging from Arturo O’Farrill to Craig Harris, and have performed at New York’s prestigious cultural institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Lincoln Center. As a producer & curator, I was responsible for the launch and development of the music program at the iconic Red Rooster in Harlem. I value working across disciplines, such as with choreo-prosodists Daria Fain and Robert Kocik, and with the poet Magdalena Gomez. In Pittsburgh, I play with a wide spectrum of musicians, from the reggae fusion music of Zambian artist Mathew Tembo to the jazz-funk band Chop Shop.

My scholarship, like my music, aims to bring stories of resistance and self-determination front and center. My current areas of interest relate to the struggles of Indigenous communities in Mexico as social actors that have challenged ecological destruction and unbridled capitalism. My prior work has related to the work of African American musicians to employ jazz and improvised music as sites of community building and challenges to racism and exploitation. I have presented my musical and scholarly work at the "Technologies of Liberation" Conference in Riviera, Mexico, with my partner, Gizelxanath Rodriguez; as well as at the Association For Asian American Studies Conference. Overall, I see no contradiction between my areas of study and consider jazz to be intrinsically transnational, while maintaining a Black American core, and thoroughly on the side of justice and self determination of oppressed peoples, ecological justice, and gender equality.

More about me can be found at