It’s been sidelined for decades, but now the genre is in the spotlight thanks to endorsements by music’s biggest stars and the end of internal bickering
f you think you’ve seen more attention devoted to jazz in the past year or so, you’re not wrong. Thanks in part to a spotlight aimed by Kendrick Lamar – whose album To Pimp a Butterfly prominently featured contemporary names like pianist Robert Glasper and saxophonist Kamasi Washington – there’s been an overall renaissance in press coverage for a genre that has, in recent decades, often seemed ignored by the popular media.
Jazz’s resurgent profile, however, isn’t merely due to one rapper’s significant influence. Lamar-associate Washington has received a large amount of the recent attention mostly on the strength of the saxophonist’s 2015 triple album, The Epic. Pianist Vijay Iyer was the subject of a long feature in the New Yorker, while his collaboration with longtime experimental icon Wadada Leo Smith resulted in a “best new music” garland from Pitchfork.
David Bowie’s selection of jazz-world veterans for his Blackstar band reminded listeners that jazz elites can be worthy players in the realm of adventurous pop. And likewise, the singer-songwriter-bassist Esperanza Spalding’s fusion-inspired R&B opus Emily’s D+Evolution prompted features in generalist music sites such as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.
At the same time, it’s become more common to see contemporary pop stars displaying their jazz bona fides with pride: witness Lady Gaga pairing up with Tony Bennett for an album, or the wealth of producers, DJs and MCs (such as Tyler, the Creator) eager to name-drop their favorite vintage jazz records. At the midway point of another strong year in jazz – with distinctive releases in the sub-genre realms of acoustic classicism, funk exploration and avant-garde fire – we’ve devised a cheat sheet to help you understand this welcome turn in the zeitgeist, along with some listening recommendations.
Pop shoutouts are important but cross-genre collaborations matter more
It’s all well and good to have testimonials about jazz’s excellence from players in other disciplines. But it’s even better when those pop admirers show their work by collaborating with improvisers. At its best, these meet-ups display the flexibility of the jazz idiom, which can draw just as easily from dance hits as from classical music.
One of the most adaptable collaborators currently operating is the producer, keyboardist and saxophonist Terrace Martin. His visibility during Kendrick Lamar’s stellar Grammys performance put his skills on display in front of a prime-time audience. But that’s not all he’s been up to this year: he contributed keyboard work to the year’s most affecting gangsta-rap anthem (that would be YG’s Who Shot Me?) while also masterminding the summery soul of his own solo debut, Velvet Portraits.
Read more at the Guardian
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