Hamilton College professor creating ‘funky’ album to empower black youth

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By Alissa Scott / 

There aren’t different types of music in Michael Woods’ eyes. There’s just music.

That idea has been on his mind since he started creating a new album he hopes will empower black youth called “A Bowl of Embers.”

“My concept is to combine all manners of harmonic languages in combinations that don’t’ seem like they would be compatible,” said “Doctuh” Woods, a professor of music at Hamilton College. “I start out with a hard bob swing feel that turns into a classical counterpoint. These genres were never meant to be as separated as we make them. There’s only one genre – that’s music.”

And he carries that idea over to people. He says people were never meant to be as separated as they are either.

“There is no such thing as black and white,” Woods said. “It doesn’t exist. It was invented for the purpose of identification and for the purpose of manipulation.”

The album, which will be available online in three weeks, is comprised of nine related tracks that feature instrumental jazz. Woods got “a bunch of superstar players up in Syracuse on the horns, strings and guitar” to play with him.

“Living in this society as a person of color, I’ve lived in this area for the last 23 years,” he said. “When I turn on the news every night, I see the most horrific things happening across the nation and around the world, particularly to people of color.”

So he made up his mind. Woods said he decided he wasn’t going to respond with anger, because there was already too much of that. He was going to respond with music.

“I decided to respond by writing music so beautiful, so funky, so hip, so informed that it makes people happy,” he said. “Happiness is a safeguard against debauchery. Happy people make good decisions.”

The album’s title, “A Bowl of Embers,” is reflective of a concept Woods created when making the album.

“You call it an ember because it’s not dead yet,” Woods said. It still has a little heat in it. If you blow air on the coals, fire will catch back again. When I did this album, I imagined God holding the Earth in the palm of his hand and seeing him gently blowing kindness back into the hearts of mankind.”

He said he sees his job as a composer similar to that of an old sea captain. Years ago, when ships used to sail the ocean, they would bring a compass, he said. But when the sun went down, they’d become disoriented.

So people started mapping the stars.

“Instead of looking up at the stars, I listen up at the stars,” Woods said. “I write a chart and I get my crazy buddies to play it and I tell people, ‘Here’s where we’re going in the future. Here’s what the future sounds like. If you want to hear hope, here’s what it sounds like.’”

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