Jazz is still Alive and Kicking

Other | Thursday 13th June 2013 | jim


I can't claim to be an expert on Jazz nor Blues, or any other associated genre, but I do know that jazz is not exactly the most listened to section in the music world and especially not in the popular music world. Unless you go down to Ronnie Scotts, or happen to already be a fan of jazz or blues, then it would not be surprising if you said that you never listen to jazz. However, jazz is still alive and kicking through a number of groups who really understand the power that this music has. I am not trying to say that jazz and blues ever died, as that would be incredibly naïve. However, it is true that for most people jazz comes a little further down their list of things to listen to. 

Jazz and blues have had a huge influence on music today and in particular on hip-hop and R&B. R&B itself actually standing for rhythm and blues. While it is maybe hard to hear the direct influence of jazz and blues in hip-hop today a number of artists have, and still continue to, put it out at the front of their music. Artists such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Gil Scott Herron demonstrate the direct influence, and how a transition could be made. For these artists the instruments are as integral to the songs as the lyrics, and in some cases even more so.

The actual jazz influence on hip-hop coined the sub-genre of jazz rap in the 80s and 90s, with much of the lyrics being politically conscious.

One such attempt to highlight the direct influence in the music is DJ Guru’s Jazzmatazz series, which used live jazz musicians in the studio. This project spanned from 1993 to 2007, consists of 4 volumes and contains jazz luminaries such as Herbie Hancock and Donald Byrd. On top of the jazz musicians hip hop performers such as MC Solaar, Common, and Guru’s Gang Star colleague, DJ Premier. Despite a direct influence of jazz in hip-hop this is the one of the first albums to actually directly combine the two genres, and is the first such project to feature established rappers. Guru himself talked about the natural affinity between jazz and rap: “Jazz’s mellow tracks, along with the hard rap beat, go hand-in-glove with my voice.” 

The album was not the greatest success in the US, but did sell well in Europe where Jazz was more popular in the 90s. Unfortunately, like other fellow hip-hop pioneer J Dilla, Guru died through medical reasons in an untimely death in 2010.

The influence of this album and the obvious natural affinity has been continued and used by other groups such as Ljones or more famously the Roots (who have won four Grammys for their music and now stand as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) or in The Robert Glasper project. Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist who’s hip-hop infused jazz album Black Radio won the Grammy for best R&B Album.

However, other artists have also taken Jazz and progressed it into a somewhat more popular style. Perhaps most famously is Bonobo the British musician, producer and DJ. His music is an eclectic blend of trip-hop, jazz and electronica. While still a DJ, he has opted to play with a live band who include many jazz influenced elements. His combination of jazz and bass heavy beat, made him one of the ‘new downtempo pioneers’, and his chilled-out beats have led to rapturous praise by critics, and breakouts for many of the vocalists featured on his album.

One such artists who has gone on to fuse both jazz influence, with song writing and performance that would not seem out of place next to UK chart music, is Andreya Triana. having Featured on the last two albums by Bonobo, the British songstress has now found solo success, especially with debut album 'Lost Where I Belong', and has subsequently played both mainstream festivals and jazz focused ones such as the North Sea Jazz festival in Holland.

Other artists who follow a similar route to Bonobo and all the other Trip-hop (which found success in the 90s) artists, are producers such as Mr.Scruff and Flying Lotus, whose experimental hip-hop style owes much to jazz and downtempo and creates a completely unique style.

However, some other artists have found success not by performing actual jazz music, but creating songs that please a new audience who a very accepting to downtempo, chilled music. Portico Quartet, who played a number of festivals last year including the nearly completely exclusive dance music festival Dimensions in Croatia, are made up of a four piece band playing no vocal songs, and are definitely a group to watch. Badbadnotgood are also a three-piece band who both perform their own songs as well as covering more famous songs such as those by up-and-coming artist James Blake. Their jazz influenced covers of the electronically produced songs give a much richer dimension to the already insanely popular and well-produced songs. 

Jazz isn’t dead, or even a lost genre, its still going strong and acts as a basis for some of the most ground-breaking music across a number of different genres. So why not head on down to the nearest jazz bar and begin spitting some lyrics of the top?



written by Jim Roberts