Skip to main content

Jason Robinson, SSU Philosophy Alum ('98)

I’m on the faculty here at Amherst College in western Massachusetts, where I started as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music in 2008. After various transitions, I’m now Associate Professor of Music and Affiliated Faculty in Black Studies and Film and Media Studies, and recently off a stint as chair of the music department.

When I arrived at Amherst, I was lucky to discover a colleague in the philosophy department, Joe Moore, whose work includes a significant focus on music. Joe and I have co-directed special topics courses in music and philosophy, and he has taught a long-time course on music and philosophy, which includes a fabulous unit on “bad music.” Also, Amherst College is part of a five college consortium that includes UMass Amherst plus Amherst, Hampshire, Mt Holyoke, and Smith colleges. Because of our shared interests in music, and improvisation more specifically, Joe and I leveraged resources from the consortium to convene a cross-campus faculty reading/discussion group around improvisation. We did this for about five years, meeting monthly to discuss readings, inviting an annual guest speaker, etc.

As for research, Joe and I have a collaborative project that considers the relationship between audio recordings and improvisation, specifically focused on the ways that “improvisation” (largely via jazz) is signaled within the fixed object of a recording. The project has been on pause for the last few years, but we've hoped to publish it as articles in two contexts: a philosophical journal and music-oriented journal, with each article tailored to the norms and vocabularies of these different contexts.

Other than this, most of my scholarship relates to cultural studies and lives somewhere in the overlaps between musicology, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, and jazz studies. At Amherst College my research profile is that of artist-scholar, so all the composing and performing I do is valued as much as the scholarship. Music making is at the center of my work and interests. I released three albums in 2020 and, in addition to a tour in Japan, I expect to record three more albums this coming summer of 2023. I’m nearing 20 albums as leader or co-leader—and I’m always working on new projects. Although I’m in western Massachusetts, most of my main collaborators are in NYC and Boston.

I arrived at Sonoma State as a transfer student and as the first person in my family to pursue a four year college degree. I was already a dedicated music major concentrating in jazz studies, but an epistemology class sparked my interest in minoring in philosophy. A subsequent course in metaphysics immediately led to wanting to major in philosophy as well as music. I was the type of student who wanted to discuss music in all of my philosophy classes and philosophy in all of my music classes. My professors in philosophy nurtured my growth and contributed to my future work as a writer, researcher, and teaching in immeasurable ways. Thank you!