Professor Douglas Daniels saunters toward a CD player while students shuffle through handouts of cartoons and advertisements in their laps. After a smooth jazz rhythm begins to warm the room, Daniels begins his lecture. He smoothly calls attention to the visual aids he distributed before class and acts out his readings as he lectures on the irrefutable fusion of jazz music and history, spinning another CD on his finger.
Daniels has taught at UCSB for 25 years and is best known for teaching Black Studies 14, the popular history of jazz class. He has done research on black urban history and jazz history, which Chancellor Henry Yang described as “pathbreaking.”
“It’s exciting – discovering things and meeting people,” Daniels said of doing research. “I’ve interviewed a local musician, Joe Bushman, [who] used to play in the same band as Frank Sinatra. He told me how he had an argument with Frank Sinatra. Well, a week or two later, some dudes beat him up. Now, years later, he said, ‘Frank, Frank – just tell me straight. Did you send those goons to beat me up?’ He said, ‘Oh man, I’m sorry about that.’ These are some very interesting people I get to interview. [I am] very fortunate.”
Daniels said he likes to incorporate his research and new teaching techniques into his lectures to better express his points. He has an interest in visual arts stemming from interviews he has done, and enjoys making documentaries – the most recent being a documentary on Lester Young, and another on the Haitian Revolution of 1985-86 in collaboration with the Black Studies Dept.
Daniels often brings photographs and videos from his interviews to class as teaching aids. He said he hopes the visual aids help to present to his students an in-depth history of jazz as opposed to “the business history or how many records are sold.”
Daniels said he feels the history of music has been somewhat ignored by today’s schools.
“There is no tradition of teaching the music that this nation has created. There’s this disjunction. People grow up and they don’t know about these musical traditions. They don’t know about jazz. They don’t know about blues. They call it ‘old folks’ music,” Daniels said. “It’s all connected: the music, the interviews, the videos and photographs … That’s what I try to introduce to the class – the fact that the music is the history. If you take members of Congress, music probably isn’t as important for their history, but for African Americans, it’s a singular importance.”
Daniels is the author of three books. His most recent publication in 2002 was a biography on jazz musician Lester Young called Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester “Pres” Young.
Patricia Cline Cohen – the chair of the History Dept. and a professor of history – has known Daniels since graduate school and even shared an office with Daniels at UC Berkeley.
“He helps our department look good… It’s not that common that history professors publish a book that’s read beyond just the academy writing,” she said of his most recent publication. “This is a book that has a wider readership with national and international world of the history of jazz.”
Daniels says his hometown of Chicago, Illinois – “a city known for its musical heritage” – provided him with a “normal” childhood complete with bike riding, checkers, ice skating, baseball, swimming, “…and school, of course.” He later attended the University of Illinois at Navy Pier and graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago. But the history behind political events, which he witnessed first hand during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, was his real passion.
After graduation Daniels went to East Africa with the Peace Corps to teach primary school. His experiences with the Peace Corps, especially those in the newly independent Socialist Tanzania, which was at the time “convulsed in revolution” – gave him an international perspective, something he “sorely lacked.” It also changed the way he thought about history. Daniels’ experiences in East Africa sparked his interest in the African perspective of history, as opposed to the European view he grew up with.
“[I learned] that Europeans were not explorers … but visitors coming to exploit,” Daniels said.
Being in Tanzania helped him to broaden his global views, especially when he spoke to East Africans who deeply discussed the international issues they heard about on BBC and local radio.
“[I was] struck by the humanity and genuine concern,” he said of the Tanzanians. “They were easier to approach than you would think. They were really genuinely interested in your welfare and family.”
In 1967, after two years in the Peace Corps, Daniels returned to Chicago.
That following summer he got a job supervising volunteers at Volunteers in Service To America (V.I.S.T.A.) in Washington, D.C., when blacks fought for rights and rioted in New Jersey and Detroit. He worked with an anti-poverty campaign, community organizations and recreational centers.
Later, Daniels attended UC Berkeley, where he got his M.A. and Ph.D. in history.
Daniels is currently the chair of Asian American studies. He has served as acting director of the Center of Black Studies and has served the Academic Senate as a member of the Committee on Academic Personnel.
“What stands out in my mind is his extremely sharp wit,” said Francisco Lomeli, Chair of Black Studies and a Professor in Spanish, Portuguese, and Chicana and Chicano Studies. “He gets to the chase immediately. He [is] often times very funny and provocative, very smart, extremely incisive and [makes] intelligent observations. He’s able to reduce very complex phenomena down to the bare essence.”
Junior law and society and political science major and Black studies minor Iheanyi Nkwocha is taking history of jazz from Daniels this quarter and said he was impressed by the breadth of information Daniels passes on.
“He explores more than just jazz, he tells us more about its influence on pop culture today, its influence on the way we value music, and appreciation of black culture.”
“He’s really passionate about what he’s talking about,” another of Daniels’ students, undeclared freshman Ashley Anderson said. “He helps us recognize the racism that’s portrayed even today that we might not notice. It’s hard to define jazz and define exactly where it developed, but racism was a big part of it and reaction to it.”