Michael Heller

  • Associate Professor


Jazz Studies; Free Improvisation; Sound Studies; Historical Ethnomusicology; Music and Urban Space; Archival Theory


As a jazz scholar and musicologist, I examine music’s impact on cultural, political, and sensory networks. My most sustained research centers on the late 20th century African American avant garde, particularly improvising musicians in New York City. In 2017, I published a book titled Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s, which chronicles an explosion of experimental venues that sprang up inside of the city’s crumbling industrial buildings. Through a combination of ethnographic and archival methodologies, the work provides a detailed historical account, while simultaneously tracing a series of discursive threads that continue to resonate today. I am currently in the process of completing a second book titled Just Beyond Listening: Sound and Affect Outside of the Ear that explores a range of human relationships with sound based on modalities other than listening. I am also the current editor-in chief of the journal Jazz and Culture (housed at Pitt and published by the University of Illinois Press) that published studies of jazz from a variety of interdisciplinary methodologies.

Recent Courses

  • Sun Ra and Afrofuturism (Jazz Styles and Analysis)
  • Jazz, Politics, and Protest
  • Music, Media, and the Archive: Jazz Collections of Pittsburgh
  • Mary Lou Williams: Jazz, Gender, and Race through a Pittsburgh Icon
  • Writing About Music: Doctoral Seminar and Practicum
  • Proseminar in Jazz Studies

Selected Publications

Just Beyond Listening: Sound and Affect Outside of the Ear. Under contract, University of California Press.

Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s. 2017, University of California Press.

“Introduction to Geri Allen’s Master’s Thesis” Jazz and Culture 3, no. 3 (2020).

“Orpheus Unglued: Sticky Shed Syndrome and Tape’s Archival Anxieties.” Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 3, no. 1 (2017).

“Between Silence and Pain: Loudness and the Affective Encounter.” Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1, no. 1 (2015).

’Complaining Time is Over’: Network and Collective Strategies of The New York Musicians Organization.” Jazz Research Journal 5, no. 1/2 (2011): 21-41. 

“Always In Trouble: An Oral History of ESP-Disk’, The Most Outrageous Record Label in America by Jason Weiss [book review].” Jazz Perspectives 8, no. 2 (2014): 215-218.

“Monk’s Music: Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making by Gabriel Solis [book review].” Jazz Perspectives 3, no. 2 (2009): 177-181.

Grove Dictionary of American Music. 2nd edition.  Entries for Boston: Jazz, Popular Music and Folk Traditions; Whitney Balliett; John Chilton; Ralph Ellison; Gary Giddins; Nat Hentoff; André Hodier; Dan Morgenstern; Stuart Nicholson. 2013.

Editorial Work

Jazz and Culture (Peer-reviewed Journal). Editor-in-Chief. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press. 2017-pres.

Selected Papers

John Cage’s Silent Cudgel, Wadada Leo Smith’s Silent Space.” Delivered at annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, online, November 15, 2020.

“Avant Jazz Activism in 1970s New York.” New York University, Tamiment Library, New York, NY, April 11, 2017.

“Navigating Self-Determination in the Loft Era, or, Why Alan ‘Juice’ Glover Bought a Boat.” Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, Music Department Colloquium, February 23, 2017.

“Sticky Shed and the Anxieties of Tape.” Contribution to panel: Tape: An Archaeology of the Twentieth Century. Delivered at annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Louisville, KY, November 13, 2015.

“What is the Affect of an Anechoic Chamber?” Research talk and site installation. Delivered at the conference Affect Theory: Worldings, Tensions, Futures. Millersville University, October 16, 2015.

“Limit Factors and the Performed Canon: The Conspicuous 60-Year Absence of the Zodiac Suite.” Annual meeting of the Society for American Music (Sacramento, 2015).

“The Memory of Media: Autoarchivization and Empowerment in 1970s Jazz.” Annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (Pittsburgh, 2014).

Education & Training

  • PhD, Harvard University, 2012

Faculty Groupings

Core Faculty

Main Department Affliliation

Associate Professor