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Columbia College Chicago
Project Stop-Time
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Project Stop-Time

During 1998-2001, the Center for Black Music Research of Columbia College Chicago was engaged in an exciting venture: Project Stop-Time. Following the hugely successful and critically acclaimed Project Kalinda, which focused on musical traditions, influences, and interconnections of Afro-Caribbean and U.S. black music, Project Stop-Time celebrated African-American popular musical traditions of the twentieth-century.

Project Stop-Time's educational focus was directed at a generation of Americans who have grown up without a full knowledge of their cultural heritage. "An entire generation of young people," Samuel A. Floyd Jr., Director Emeritus of the CBMR, stated in a Chicago Tribune article about the project,"are growing up without important knowledge of our nation's cultural history. They lack knowledge about the cultural histories of the neighborhoods, cities, and states in which they live. Even in college classes, teachers find that most students have no knowledge of jazz figures such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, for example, nor of their immense contributions to American music, American culture, and world culture." Project Stop-Time sought to fill this unfortunate void through programs that educate as they entertain.

Ensemble Stop-Time was the heart of the project. Not a "band" but a collection of sixteen of some of Chicago's leading professional musicians, the Ensemble performed the entire range of African-American popular music—from spirituals, blues, and ragtime, to gospel, R&B, and hip hop—in a series of lecture performances and workshops.

The Meaning of "Stop-Time"
The project's provocative name, Stop-Time, begs explanation. "The term," Floyd explains, "refers to a musical device in which the forward flow of the music stops, or seems to stop, suspended in a rhythmic unison, while in some cases an improvising instrumentalist or singer continues with the forward flow of the meter and tempo. Such stop-time moments are sometimes repeated, creating an illusion of starting and stopping, as, for example, in Scott Joplin's 'The Ragtime Dance' and Jelly Roll Morton's 'King Porter Stomp.'"

Variations of the stop-time technique can be found in most African-American popular music. When it is employed, time seems suspended, and the listener's attention is drawn to these passages. Early R&B recordings used the technique to crowd musical or narrative information into the performance. In jazz, soloists often performed their most impressive and semantically rich riffs and runs during a stop-time pause. Charlie Parker's famous alto saxophone break on Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" embodies a definitive stop-time moment that many believe to be one of the finest recorded improvisations in jazz history. During the 1960s and 1970s, soul singers and their bands often "broke down" a song to show just how expressive they could be. When the group's leader shouted, "let's give the drummer some," the band's primary timekeeper was expected to be on his or her mettle, ready to strut his or her stuff at the drop of a hat. Audiences responded in kind, showing their approval of these rich and often emotional moments through their cheers and applause. These breaks, as they are informally called, even inspired developments in early forms of rap and hip-hop music. It is for these very important reasons that the stop-time technique will play a central role in the project's presentations.