Reflecting the time in which it’s created, 21st century modern jazz is a rainbow of global culture
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For a hundred years, “modern jazz” has been the term for great moments of musical innovation: Dixieland, swing, be-bop, hard-bop, fusion, progressive jazz… they were all modern musical revolutions in their time.
Modern jazz in the 21st century is more difficult to label. Jazz adapts and reflects the time in which it’s created. Modern society has nearly every recording ever made just a “click” away, and modern jazz reflects that diversity. The countless styles influencing jazz today reveals a rainbow of global cultures, now open to the possibilities of improvisation.
Some artists even distance themselves from the term “jazz”, as many people have a built-in preconception about what jazz is supposed to sound like. The piano trio GoGo Penguin from Manchester, England came to the KNKX studios in 2017, and said they don’t limit themselves or their audience with labels:
"People say, 'I don’t really like jazz but I like you guys'…It's just music at the end of the day, and hopefully everyone can enjoy it!” (listen to the full quote in the audio above).
Rhythmic differences are the most obvious ways to categorize the varieties of modern jazz today. GoGo Penguin’s acoustic piano, bass and drums format emphasizes the pulsing rhythms of electronic music.
And drawing from the wide-open sounds of Americana, artists like Bill Frisell, Bela Fleck, Chris Thiele and guitarist Julian Lage are finding great success bringing together the American folk and jazz traditions. Lage recently featured songs by Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman… and Roy Orbison on his album "Love Hurts."
Many young musicians are finding inspiration from the roots of the African diaspora.
Born in the U.K., reed player Shabaka Hutchings blends the folk music of his childhood in Barbados with dance music and American jazz. Hutchings’ band Sons of Kemet received widespread acclaim for their album last year, "Black to the Future."
Soul and funk music grew out of jazz innovations from the '60s and '70s, and still holds sway in a global community of modern jazz.
New Orleans drummer Stanton Moore has been at the forefront of modern jazz in many groups, including with guitarist Charlie Hunter and Seattle saxophonist Skerik in the energetic group Garage A Trois. Here’s the title song from their album last year, “Calm Down Cologne."
Kassa Overall is a popular young drummer and producer from Seattle who HAS built on his jazz roots – he spent years with pianist Geri Allen’s band. But Overall stayed true to his own love of hip hop and laptop production. He's found a common ground for this disparate influences. Listen to Overall’s use of the ballad standard “What’s New” in the hip electronic setting of his song, “What’s New with You?”
Even vintage jazz from the swing era nearly a century ago can inspire modern musicians. Here’s Parov Stelar, one of the top electro-swing acts of the last couple decades, putting a new spin on the old thing:
Genre boundaries will continue to fall apart, and skilled jazz musicians are perfectly suited to create new music the same way they always have: standing on the shoulders of their predecessors, while sharing their own modern point of view. And now, a new generation of open-eared audiences is on the same page – categories don’t really matter anymore.
Perhaps Duke Ellington’s motto is more true now than when he originally said, “There are only two kinds of music: GOOD music…and the other kind.”
Tune in for the best in modern jazz on "The New Cool" – Friday nights at 8 on KNKX.
Throughout the month of April, we will be illustrating different styles of jazz through time that make up jazz history through storytelling and music. From the early 1900’s to 2022, we will journey from Dixieland to Modern Jazz styles, Big Band to Hip Hop.
Listen to installments weekdays at 9am and 7pm on 88.5 FM and KNKX.org.See all stories from the KNKX History of Jazz project.
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