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Benjamin Barson

Pittsburgh, PA   

Benjamin Barson is a composer, educator, baritone saxophonist, historian, and political activist. He is the recipient of the ASCAP Foundation’s 2018 Johnny Mandel Prize, ASCAP’s highest honor for jazz composers under 30. Barson is a Teaching Fellow and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied under Geri Allen and currently teaches the History of Jazz and Recording Technology classes. His research and compositional practice explore the jazz idiom’s dialogue between Afrodiapsoric, American Indigenous, and East Asian influences. Ben was also the recipient of ASCAP’s 2017 Fred Ho Award, multiple Tinker Fellowships for research and performance in Cuba (2017 & 2018), the 2018 UConn-Storrs Fred Ho Fellowship, and the Launch Culture Grant from New Sun Rising (2018). 

Among other major festivals and venues, Barson has played at the Springfield Jazz Festival (2018), the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival (2018), the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage (2018), Lincoln Center’s Boro-Tech Program (2017).

Before attending the University of Pittsburgh, Barson was closely mentored by the Guggenheim Fellow Fred Ho. Ho mentored Barson in baritone saxophone technique and composition from 2009 until the former’s passing in April of 2014. During this period, Barson and Ho partnered to produce several mixed media musical projects spanning the United States, from Hawaii to Vermont. In 2014, Barson and teamed up with the operatic soprano Gizelxanath Rodriguez, a Mexican activist of Yaqui descent, to form the Afro Yaqui Music Collective. This ensemble combines Ho’s Afro Asian inspirations and fuses it with the music of Northern Mexico’s Yaqui people.  This fusion ultimately suggests an alternative mapping of the working people who constructed—and contested—the Americas. Alongside Rodriguez, Barson has done extensive research and political work alongside Mayan and Yaqui communities. The collective has performed through Lincoln Center’s Boro-Tech program, ASCAP’s songwriter showcase at the Kennedy Center, and conducted workshops at several universities around the United States, Cuba, and Mexico. The group’s performances have been featured on Democracy Now!

Articles by Benjamin Barson:

Articles September 26 2019 | By Benjamin Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez
Answering the Call: Antiphony Between the Music and Social Movements

There is a “call and response” that exists between revolutionary art and meaningful political outcomes.

Articles September 19 2019 | By Benjamin Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez
Building a Solidarity Economy through Revolutionary Music: the Making of Mirror Butterfly

How can art be a hammer, and not simply representational? One solution is to work in dialogue with actual social movements and create spaces where activists are at the center...

Articles September 12 2019 | By Benjamin Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez
Fighting for Our Senses: Ears, Bodies and Hearts in the struggle to redefine Reality

How we convert our environment, through the sensory mediums of our ears, tongues, fingers, eyes, and nostrils into reality is as political and contested as net neutrality versus corporate control...

Articles September 5 2019 | By Benjamin Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez
Artivism and Decolonization: A brief Theory, History and Practice of Cultural Production as Political Activism

We do not claim that our definitions of artivism are monopolistic. There are probably as many ways to define artivism as there are to define music, performance art, jazz, or...