MyAmericanFuture

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Friday, March 13, 2015

March 13, 2015: Jazzy Connections: Jazz in the 21st Century

[Inspired by the anniversary of Charlie Parker’s death—on which more in yesterday’s post—this week I’ll be AmericanStudying some figures and issues related to the very American musical genre of jazz. Please share your own responses and thoughts for a swinging crowd-sourced weekend post!]
On three ways to argue for the genre’s continued contemporary relevance.
First and foremost, I’m quite sure that the quantity and quality of new jazz being made and recorded in 2015 equals any and every other musical genre. The sad but important-to-admit truth is that I just don’t know about it yet (I try to be the most all-encompassing and knowledgable AmericanStudier I can be, but, y’know, the realities of time and the choices they require get in the way sometimes), and thus can’t make the case myself for listening to these contemporary artists. I have to think that at least some of the folks reading this post will have far broader and deeper such knowledge than me, however, so I ask—nay, I implore!—you to share your recommendations and tips in comments. I’ll put them right into the crowd-sourced weekend post, and together we can help get the word out about 21st century jazz artists and works. Deal? Excellent.
Yet such contemporary talents aren’t the only way to frame jazz’s 21st century presence and role, and I would stress two others in any case. For one thing, as I hope this week’s posts and topics have all illustrated, there’s the genre’s historical, social, and cultural significance. To put it simply, you can’t tell the story of 20th century America without including jazz in a prominent role—and I would concurrently argue that you can’t include jazz in that role without, y’know, listening to and engaging with many of its artists and works, moments and movements. There’s much to be said, of course, for listening to music for the aesthetic and emotional effects and enjoyment it can produce—but it’s not an either/or proposition, and I’m far too analytical not to consider all that the music can also contribute to our perspectives on these historical and cultural topics. Take Miles Davis’s landmark recording Kind of Blue (1959), for example—seriously fun to listen to, but also an amazing embodiment of how American culture was changing as the 50s became the 60s.
And then there are jazz’s places. I’ve written elsewhere in this space about the unique and profoundly American identity of New Orleans, and I can think of no better way to represent and engage with that city’s culture and history than through jazz (a point made consistently, it seems, by the #1 TV show on my must-watch list, David Simon’s Treme). The same case can be made for other complex American cities and spaces, from Kansas City to Memphis to Houston; to know their jazz is to know them, and vice versa. (Is it a coincidence that many of the best jazz cities are also among the best bbq cities? I have to say it’s not, but more research into this hypothesis will no doubt be required.) While I’m sure the same case could be made for rock ‘n roll, or country, or even different cities’ symphonies, it seems to me that there’s something distinctly local and live about jazz—a phenomenon exemplified by the unique experiences offered by every jazz club and corner of New Orleans. If we want to connect with these American places—and we should—I can’t think of a better way to do so than through jazz.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
Ben

PS. So one more time: what do you think? Responses or other jazzy connections you’d share for that post?

2 comments:

  1. This was such a treat to read! As a jazz aficionado myself, I can recommend a few contemporary artists:

    1. Robert Glasper--who I would argue is most pertinent to your post. His most recent albums, "Black Radio" and "Black Radio 2" have been attempts to fuse together jazz with contemporary genres of hip hop, soul, and R&B. He worked with some well known mainstream artists on both albums.

    2. Esperanza Spaulding--a prodigy out of Portland who has also done some great work.

    3. Trombone Shorty--this artist has kept up the fantastic jazz tradition of New Orleans.

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  2. Thanks so much, Rob! I knew I could count on you!

    Not sure if you've had a chance to watch Treme--I have finally gotten around to it (on season 3, of 4 total) and it is a jazz lover's dream, among many other great things.

    Thanks,
    Ben

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