Dr. Briggs holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA, and is an Associate Professor of Music and Assistant Director of Jazz Studies at California State University Long Beach. He is an adjunct professor of African American Music History (West African music to hip hop) at Pasadena City College. His primary instrument of choice is the saxophone, with years of experience playing flute, oboe and clarinet. He earned a M.M. degree in Music Performance (woodwinds doubling) from the University of Redlands and a B.M in Music from The University of Memphis. Dr. Briggs has performed with John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Rufus Reid and Benny Green. He is working on completing a book-length manuscript on the history of jazz in Memphis, Tennessee to be published by the University of Michigan Press.
To provide important context for this article, I asked Dr. Briggs to share his perspective about the history of jazz. He stated that descendants of slaves emancipated after the Civil War were exposed to European music and instruments. Early jazz musicians played percussion and brass instruments, for example drums, cornet (similar to trumpet), trombone and tuba. Those instruments were staples of European brass bands during military marches and were inspired by the French from Louisiana. He stated that ingredients such as western harmony, compositional forms, juxtaposed with improvisation and the ability to read notes is what jazz is all about rooted in the African American experience.
Dr. Briggs acknowledged that there were some musicians who could read and write music during the emergence of jazz in the late 1880's through early 1900's. The majority of musicians, initially, were taught "by ear." Dr. Briggs emphasized that if people want to understand the United States from a social cultural perspective, they must consider jazz and what it means to be American. For example, Charles Mingus and Cannonball Adderley used their music as a vehicle of expression and social critique. Mingus dedicated "Fables of Faubus," to the Governor of Arkansas during the stormy integration of Little Rock High School by the Little Rock Nine in 1957 and Adderley wrote "The Price You Got to Pay to be Free" in 1970.
During the next two years, Dr. Briggs plans to enhance stand-alone classes by increasing comprehensive programs working with excellent core faculty members. These master musicians include Roy McCurdy drums, Sherry Luchette bass, Steve Cotter guitar, Damon Zick saxophone, Toby Holmes trombone and Gary Fukushima piano. His goal is to create ensembles (4-7 musicians in a group) and subsequently form a band, broaden the jazz history lecture series, maintain individual lessons for school-age children and provide more academic classes for adults. He is proud of the outreach efforts to local high schools, for example, Blair, Muir, PHS, South Pasadena and Monrovia.