January 26, 2024
Miriam Piilonen speaks with microphone

The start of the new year brings news of two new books by members of the UMass Amherst Department of Music and Dance music faculty.

The first book by Miriam Piilonen, Assistant Professor of Music Theory, was published by Oxford University Press on January 16. Theorizing Music Evolution: Darwin, Spencer, and the Limits of the Human examines the resurgent interest in music’s evolutionary origins, a primary focus of Piilonen’s research, with emphasis on the rise of music evolutionism in nineteenth-century Britain.

In analyzing the music-evolution texts by Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Edmund Gurney, and others, Piilonen’s book reinforces music's treatment as an especially fraught subject of evolutionary thought as it relates to historical musicology as well as evolutionary biology, gender/sexuality studies, post-colonial studies, and affect theories.

the cover of Miriam Piilonens new book, Theorizing Music Evolution: Darwin, Spencer, and the Limits of the Human

Jonathan De Souza, Associate Professor of Music Theory, University of Western Ontario, calls Theorizing Music Evolution “brilliant (and) incisive,” while Aniruddh D. Patel, author of Music, Language, and the Brain, commented that Piilonen “raises timely issues for contemporary research on the evolution of human musicality."

Piilonen’s research has also been published in Critical InquiryEmpirical Musicology ReviewJournal of Music Theory, and her chapter “Music Theory and Social Media” is in The Oxford Handbook of Public Music Theory. Piilonen has presented at national and international conferences, including the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, and American Comparative Literature Association.

A special book launch and Q & A takes place at Amherst Books on Tuesday, February 20 at 6 p.m.; the event is free and open to the public.

portrait of Fumi Tomita with upright bass

On February 1, State University of New York Press releases the latest book by Associate Professor of Jazz Performance and Pedagogy Fumi Tomita, entitled Early Jazz: A Concise Introduction from its Roots Through 1929. The new book, the first to focus exclusively on this topic in over fifty years, traces the origins of jazz music from its nineteenth-century roots through the end of the Jazz Age and the early beginnings of the Swing Era.

Tomita examines not only the influence of well-known pioneers like Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, and Lovie Austin, but also the contributions of lesser-known sidemen and entertainers to the development of the genre.

cover of the new book by Fumi Tomita, Early Jazz: A Concise Introduction from its Roots Through 1929

Designed to be accessible to all levels of musicians, scholars, and fans, the book includes analysis of 20 songs that were critical to the emergence of jazz as a fully-realized art form in the 20th century.

Tomita is also the author of The Jazz Rhythm Section: A Manual for Band Directors (Rowman & Littlefield in conjunction with NAfME, 2019) and of articles in Bass WorldJazz Perspectives, and the Massachusetts Music Educators’ Journal. He has presented his research at the International Society of Bassists Conference, Issues in Contemporary Jazz, Jazz Education Network, International Society for Improvised Music, and the National Association for Music Education. His 2019 recording, The Elephant Vanishes: Jazz Interpretations of the Short Stories of Haruki Murakami (Origin Arts Records) was listed in the top ten records of 2019 by Jazziz