Partnerships form the basis of Ajay Heble’s work. Whether it’s mentoring and training hundreds of students at universities across Canada, fostering the collaboration of 30 community organizations to spark social change or founding the Guelph Jazz Festival, Heble’s creative thought makes him a visionary.
At the heart of Heble’s research is the belief that improvisation involves creating and developing new, unexpected and productive collaborations among people of diverse backgrounds. This can help address societal issues such as: How we choose to live (and do things) together; how we negotiate differences in a community; how we adapt to unprecedented change; and how we remain attentive to our responsibility to build the world we hope to inhabit. Improvised music, Heble believes, can be a powerful site for sounding out such questions about “how.”
This unique focus on musical improvisation as a model of social change and knowledge transfer is what led Heble to create the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, with a SSHRC Partnership Grant.
Based at the University of Guelph, the institute brings together 58 international researchers from 20 institutions to “break down silos, bridge gaps and enable different kinds of organizations to come together and engage in a productive process of co-creative knowledge exchange.”
The institute has also had a significant effect on how research is done and how results are implemented. This, in turn, has led to successful models of how children with disabilities, at-risk youth and disenfranchised members of society can engage with, and feel included in, their communities.
Heble is a professor of English in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. He has also published ten books on jazz, improvisation and community engagement, as well as various scholarly papers. He has been the subject of various international press articles about his innovative work.