Not Your Dad’s Jazz

Not Your Dad’s Jazz

If you asked me a few years ago whether or not I liked jazz, I would have said no —I equated the genre with elevators, dinner tracks, and “dad music.” While I’d always been aware of the romanticized notion of live New Orleans jazz bars at the height of the genre’s popularity, the concept felt out of reach for me. However, the past few years have seen a jazz renaissance, with elements of this style emerging in neo-soul, hip-hop, electronica, and funk. This new form of jazz has given the style a new life in the 21st century. 

            Elements of traditional jazz include spontaneity and improvisation, blues scales, syncopation, and the use of brass and woodwind instruments, keys, and bass. The catalogue of traditional jazz artists includes John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong. This style, along with soul and blues, was largely dominated by African Americans, and many key elements were borrowed from traditional African forms of music. The genre was not only a type of music, but an entire culture. Jazz originated in New Orleans, where the diverse population allowed for the creation of a blended genre. Best performed live, so as to exhibit a degree of spontaneity not found in any other kind of genre, jazz lounges began popping up across the country. A unique feature of jazz is the emphasis placed on individual musicians specialized in instruments such as the sax or trumpet. The genre allowed for extensive, improvised solos featuring players who were typically in the background, demonstrating their true mastery of the art.

“If you asked me a few years ago whether or not I liked jazz, I probably would have said no… However, the past few years have seen a jazz renaissance.”

            Nowadays, jazz elements are woven together with modern genres that we are familiar with, creating a degree of artistry, soul, and rhythm that is both old-school and completely new. Artists —who I’ve discovered and grown to love over the past couple of years —who take this approach include BADBADNOTGOOD, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Fieh, and Les Louanges. Some of these groups are well-known, and others are smaller groups I’ve stumbled across. Fieh, for example, is a Norwegian band I discovered at a Jazz festival in Stavanger. They’re an 8-piece ensemble started by a small group of music students in Oslo who incorporate elements of live jazz, funk, and neo-soul into their music. Les Louanges is an artist from Montreal who features a live multi-instrumentalist, who I discovered at Osheaga and went back to see again in Montreal a few months later because the experience was so fun. The response elicited from the crowd at these live shows would lead one to assume that there was an intense guitar solo happening on stage, when, in reality, somebody was wailing on a saxophone or flute. 

“The response elicited from the crowd at these live shows would lead one to assume that there was an intense guitar solo happening on stage, when, in reality, somebody was wailing on a saxophone or flute. “

            I have gained a deeper appreciation for famous artists by watching concerts that feature elements of jazz. As this genre is best experienced live, many shapes and forms of jazz have been popping up at music festivals across the globe, especially those geared towards young people. Spontaneous, extensive, and improvised solos create a deeper tie between the musician and the audience, and it’s exactly this relationship that’s drawing more young people towards jazz and soul. Festivals are simply an outlet for new listeners to discover more groups and harness an appreciation for the genre. 

            Online streaming services, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud, contribute to this jazz renaissance as well. These services have completely revolutionized the way that people consume music, allowing us to explore different artists and genres with the tap of a finger. Young people interested in jazz and soul can use social media and online playlists in order to expand their library and discover new talents. For starters, I’d recommend the Spotify playlist “Butter” in order to peek at the new ways that jazz is being incorporated into indie, neo-soul, and hip-hop music.  

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