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Jazz Isn't Dead

Jazz Isn’t Dead

By Nathan Dalla Santa

Jazz has continuously reinvented itself, from ragtime over a century ago, through swing and bebop, to fusion and beyond. Its history is rife with controversy and backlash, rebels and outlaws. It’s been on the cutting edge of social change, and it’s America’s singular gift to the musical world.

But today, people aren’t buying it. Jazz sales have declined for years now, and the great American genre sits at the bottom of America’s shopping list.

So, what’s going on here?

Folks think jazz is a relic of the past. It’s associated with old people in stuffy suits. Even if jazz once broke all the rules, it’s all been done, right?

Wrong!

Jazz never stopped evolving, never stopped breaking the rules, never stopped surprising. Here is a few of the many contemporary masters who prove that jazz is alive and well in the 21st century.

Modern Jazz

Too Many Zooz

These guys started out in the New York subway system and, in true 21st century style, were discovered thanks to a viral YouTube video. It’s improvised, brassy, catchy, and at times – let’s be honest – a little scary. They call it Brass House. But, at its roots, this is jazz.

Snarky Puppy

This is not your grandfather’s jazz band. Snarky Puppy is a sprawling collective of about 40 diverse musicians, drawing influence from music the world over, through space and time. Perhaps best categorized as jazz fusion, these guys specialize in live improvisation. They’re poppy, funky, and oh so jazzy.

Flying Lotus

Flying Loutus is, among other things, part of the nu jazz movement, which combines jazz elements and live musicianship with electronica. With FlyLo, it’s tough to know what to expect. One moment, you’re sitting in a smoky 1940’s jazz bar. The next, you’re being blasted into outer space. It’s a wild ride and definitely one worth taking.

Postmodern Jukebox

Music can’t always be about reinvention. Sometimes it just feels too good to luxuriate in the old. Postmodern Jukebox turns the idea of innovation on its head by translating contemporary songs into the language of classic jazz styles like ragtime and swing.

Vijay Iyer Trio

Hip-hop has had a huge influence on every popular genre of music in the past 20 years – and jazz is no exception. Nowadays, we regularly hear rappers laying down lyrics over jazz-inspired beats. But the inverse is true as well. Listen to this tune by Vijay Iyer Tri, a jazz song inspired by hip hop’s DJ Hood.

Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington got his street cred from performing with popular hip hop artists like Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, but his solo work doesn’t pander to that audience. Listening to Washington’s solo work, one feels the inescapable tug of the century plus years of jazz that proceeded him. If you start to feel unmoored after listening to the other artists on this list, don’t fear. Musicians like Kamasi Washington, steeped in jazz’s deep tradition, are still honoring the old while welcoming the new.

Remember, jazz isn’t dead. It’s an extension of us, like breath. We are jazz. And as long as we continue to change, jazz will change with us.

Did we miss any? Who are your favorite jazzers of today? Let us know in the comments section below!

 
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