“Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny” – Frank Zappa
Since the 1980s, there has been much talk about the “death” of jazz. Some people claim that since that time jazz music has become a kind of museum piece, with current musicians just trying to recreate what has happened in the past.
This view came about because in the early ’80s there was a big crop of young musicians who were reacting to the fusion and electrified jazz of the’ 70s, and in so doing they were trying to bring jazz back to where it was in the ’60s before fusion hit. For better or for worse, these musicians got a lot of press and attention and their brand of retro-jazz became the predominant model. While all this is undisputed, those who say jazz is dead just aren’t paying attention!
Since the early 2000s, mostly in reaction to the retro-jazz of the previous two decades, young musicians have come along who are really pushing and stretching the boundaries of jazz. As happened with the bebop revolution, many of the older musicians question whether this music really is part of the jazz lineage. However, in my view, the jazz lineage has always been about incorporate new things into the music, and using the popular musical styles of the day to inform our jazz playing. So nowadays you find many new elements in jazz, including rock beats, hip hop sensibilities, world music influences and more.
Over the last few years, one of the hottest young stars on the scene has been Darcy James Argue. Darcy was born in Canada and moved to New York to study with some of his idols. Unlike most jazz musicians, Darcy isn’t known as an instrumentalist, but as a composer. He doesn’t even play in his own band! Of course, he knows how to play, but he’s taken on the role of composer/conductor, standing in front and leading the band, rather than playing in it.
When he moved to New York, he had a bunch of original music that he wanted to get played, so he ask a bunch of young musicians he knew if they would be willing to do a weekly gig with him for little or no money. They all loved his music so much they agreed, and his band Secret Society was born. It features many of the best young jazz musicians in New York.
The band played every Monday night for five years, and Darcy recorded every show and put the audio up on his website for free. Over those years he gained a huge following, and when he put out his first album a couple years ago (called Infernal Machines) it sold a huge amount of copies on the first day and went on to win just about every award in the world of jazz. Darcy used his blog and social media to generate a buzz for his band for years before selling anything, and it worked with great effect. He is now considered one of the preeminent composers in the world and his albums sell a ton of copies.
Here’s the band recorded live with a song called “Transit.” This is modern big band music. The band is the same instruments as Duke Ellington’s band that we heard early in JAM, but notice how different they sound. Darcy’s use of different combinations of instruments leads to so many different colors, and the beat changes from a fast swing beat to a rock beat and back. Ingrid Jensen is the trumpet soloist, and one of the most highly regarded trumpet players in the world right now. Her solo is incredible, as are the backgrounds that are played behind her. See how they help to propel the solo and build the drama throughout.
Next up we’ll hear another kind of big band, altogether different, from bassist Charles Mingus, who just celebrated a birthday last week.
Jason Parker is a Seattle-based jazz trumpet player, educator and writer. His band, The Jason Parker Quartet, was hailed by Earshot Jazz as “the next generation of Seattle jazz.” Find out more about Jason and his music at jasonparkermusic.com.