Rock and pop are in a creative crisis. Now jazz should judge it. A new generation of musicians thinks across styles and sets fresh, adventurous impulses. In the USA, in Europe and in Switzerland.
Jazz is the hit parade sensation of the summer. We rub our eyes. 51 years after his death, saxophone giant John Coltrane stormed the international charts. With his rediscovered “Lost Album” from 1963, the jazz avant-garde ranks among the current pop celebrities like Drake, Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift. He has never been so well placed in the American Billboard charts, he has topped the top 20 in the UK, in Switzerland he came fourth, in Germany even third.
Coltrane is not an isolated case. Just a week ago, the new album “Heaven and Earth” by Kamasi Washington entered the international top 10. Ranked 8th in Switzerland and 4th in Germany. It’s a rebirth of a genre. The return of jazz from anonymity.
Jazz was always the music of invention, shaped the twentieth century and was as fruitful and inspiring to pop as classical music. Jazz was a bubbling source of innovation and musicians such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis until the 1960s, the first to influence musicians’ hosts. In the mid-sixties, the change of staff became apparent and pop and rock took over the scepter with fresh and new ideas. “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny,” said Frank Zappa at the time, hitting the nail on the head.
Pure technical standards have been set new standards, but ideologists of pure jazz teaching and archivists were spokesmen. Instead of looking to the future, they were guided by the great tradition, the jazz of bygone days. Jazz was taught, managed, cataloged and archived. Either as dusty music by old men for old men or then as aloof, obscure, elitist, inaccessible and hostile to the public. The image damage was immense and long-lasting.
Now the wind has turned again. This also has to do with the acute creativity crisis of pop and rock. Pop music has been performing locally for years, cultivating nostalgia and being caught in the dead end of economic constraints. And rock, this once rebellious genre of anarchy, has long been oriented towards the glory days of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Quite different from jazz: “The old zombie jazz moves very well in the now,” it says in “Rolling Stone”. Now Jazz should point the way out of the dead end. Jazz is the salvation.
Emergency aid for pop labels
It is interesting that the reawakened interest in jazz comes from pop circles. Ironically, some of the hippest, hippest pop labels have included jazz in their catalog. For example, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, which has committed itself to preserving the jazz tradition, appears on the label “Sub Pop”, which made bands like Nirvana or Soundgarden big. As the German author Wolf Kampmann explains on Deutschlandfunk, the labels are concerned with “opening up new niches”. The point is, open-minded pop listeners, who can not do any more with the current pop and rock music, to open the universe of jazz. So this is not a goodwill project for distressed jazz musicians. Rather, tangible commercial interests are at stake. The trend labels see in jazz a potential for their listeners.
The most prominent example of pop’s new love for jazz is Kamasi Washington. He was first with the electric label Brainfeeder Flying Lotus (a descendant of the Coltrane family) and then moved to the even broader trend label “Young Turks”, which with The XX, Sampha and FKA Twigs some of the most exciting pop acts of last years. It is noteworthy that Kamasi Washington does not play easily digestible soft pop jazz, but radical jazz without hyphen. The saxophonist orients himself to the jazz of Coltrane of the 60s. The giant with the imposing Afro, however, is excellently suited as a new flagship jazz player for an interested pop audience.
Jazz is promoted and animated by means of the pop industry. The jazz community itself is suspicious, but the strategy works. Kamasi Washington is not only present in the hit parades, but also decorates the cover of the July issue of the pop magazine “musikexpress”. There’s also a 26-page introduction to pop music in the world of jazz and the 50 best jazz records. Not much different in “Rolling Stone”. His “Heaven and Earth” is the record of the month of July.
Washington also helped with the experience he gained in the hip-hop scene with Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar. “I listen to music with hip-hop ears,” he says. Although none of this can be heard in his music, he cleverly uses his hip-hop credibility to open up his music to a generation that has hitherto had nothing to do with jazz.
Washington is not alone. He works with a number of highly talented musicians who conquer the music world from the local underground of Los Angeles. It is a loose collective of musicians like Thundercat, Cameron Graves, Miles Mosley and Ronald Bruner Jr., who have learned jazz from the ground up, but do not know any stylistic fears of contact. Some of them have worked with rapper Snoop Dogg, the electro-avant-gardist Flying Lotus, or worked on Kendrick Lamar’s landmark «To Pimp A Butterfly». With their own projects between jazz, pop, rock, funk and electro, they now play the pop clubs of the world.
Robert Glasper and Terrace Martin also move on the terrain of hip-hop. They also come from the creative environment of L.A. and make a music that plays jazz with the feeling of hip-hop. “Monk is the first hip-hop pianist,” says Glasper, drawing a direct line from jazz to hip-hop. And for Terrace Martin, jazz and hip-hop are the same thing. He’s just about to produce the upcoming album by Herbie Hancock and to bring Hancock up to the heels of time. The goal is clear: The Afro-American youth, which has turned away in recent years from jazz, should be reached again.
The liaison between jazz and hip-hop is not new. In the 90s bands like US3, DJ Premier, A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets or Nas Jazz sampled. Today, the interest is not only in the jazz tradition, but to inspire current jazz musicians and help to new impulses. “Jazz has always been present in hip-hop,” says rapper RZA of the Wu-Tang clan, “today people like Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper hear it clearly again. As a musician you want to develop further. And jazz is based on a very forward-looking attitude. »This is also the trend magazine« The Fader »:« Today we need jazz more than ever. »The spirit of openness, imagination, experimentation and risk-taking.
David Bowie knew it
Trendsetter David Bowie once again guessed. So it was no coincidence that he put his legacy “Black Star”, his last album before his death in January 2016, in the hands of jazz musicians like Donny McCaslin, Mark Guiliani and Jason Lindner. The two pioneers, saxophonist McCaslin and keyboarder Lindner, have been working for some time on a new, unheard-of music that combines the meditative thrill of electronic dance clubs with ecstatic jazz improvisation. Jazz aesthetics meets ambient and rocks the clubs. Now McCaslin blows with singer Jeff Taylor to storm the popbastion. Two songs with the singer Jeff Taylor announce the message of the upcoming album “Blow” (October 10) and intoxicating art rock with ecstatic saxophone salvos.
Innovative from Europe
Perhaps even more innovative than the colleagues from the country of origin of jazz are jazz musicians from Europe – and Switzerland. This may have something to do with the fact that the jazz tradition (swing and be-bop), unlike in the US, is less deeply rooted here. Rather, Europeans draw inspiration from classical music, such as Emile Parisien, Vincent Peirani (France), Tigran Hamasyan (Armenia) or Elina Duni (Albania / Switzerland) from the folk music of their countries of origin.
Or they are breaking new ground. Bands that expand or even leave the well-trodden paths of jazz. The unmistakable band sound and the interaction in flat hierarchies are upgraded to the virtuoso digression of the soloist.
Tradition can also inhibit. “She can choke too. I know a lot of musicians who do not come out of tradition, “says Nik Bärtsch, who, with his band Ronin, has developed a very unique dialect, a language of its own beyond all styles, and is thus celebrated worldwide. The Zurich pianist finds it an advantage if you as a musician are not bound by any tradition. “If you have no tradition, you can actually develop everything,” he told the “Tagesanzeiger”. Of these, the multiple echo award winner singer Andreas Schaerer sing a song: Because there was no common literature for his vocal acrobatics, he simply developed his own vocabulary.
Lucia Cadotsch cultivates her own, uninhibited approach to the jazz tradition. The Berlin-based Swiss singer plays jazz standards, interprets them with her trio without harmony instrument (Otis Sandsjö and Petter Eldh), but in a very special, never heard way and puts the time-honored songs in a brand new, contemporary garb.
“It’s hip to hear jazz again,” wrote the “Rolling Stone”, after all, the key medium of rock in its annual review of 2017. But despite image change and amazing commercial success, jazz will probably never be the music for a broad mass. In addition, in her best moments she is too adventurous, adventurous, avant-garde and uncomfortable. But much more important is that jazz re-invents itself, a new generation of open spirits triggers debates (“is that still jazz?”) And thus becomes relevant again. As a pulse and clock of a current music at the height of time.