How Jazz Is Being Kept Alive As An Essential Artistic Medium

Jazz is often swept under the rug as a meaningless cacophony of musical mumbo-jumbo, even though it is the basis of most popular music. Here’s a quick overview to get you acquainted with modern jazz as a genre, and a medium for social change.

When thinking of jazz, one attributes a handful of adjectives before ever arriving at “popular” (if they ever do.) Even though jazz was born out of a need for a creative outlet that speaks against the rigidity of Euro-centric standards of music, the genre somehow moved to obscurity without ever changing its essence.

Explore innovative ways jazz music is being preserved and revitalized as a key artistic medium. This article is also informative for those interested in professional violas for sale, highlighting the influence of classical instruments in contemporary jazz. Check out the detailed information here.

The importance of jazz is spelled out in its history; created in 19th century New Orleans, the genre was born in a culturally dynamic environment. African musical elements, such as drumming and chanting. Congo Square turned into Congo lines and Mardi Gras, introducing Western culture to a more inclusive type of music. This interaction between the people and the music showed it was far more accessible to the public than classical, creating the impression of it being the people’s music.

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Photo by Morgan Petroski on Unsplash

Born in a diverse culture, jazz soon became influenced by others – horns, violins, flutes, and eventually drums and piano made their way into small bands that occupied New Orleans’ nightlife. Classically trained musicians brought their expertise into a whole new light, and greats including: Louis Armstrong and Scott Joplin, brought their wonderful contributions to the stage.

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Photo by Janine Robinson on Unsplash

Eventually, these origins gave way to the infamous “Swing Era,” ushering the genre into popularity. Jazz quickly became associated with controversy, however, as its following became interlocked with drug and alcohol use. The 20th century set the stage for controversy of jazz’s followers, and an upheaval of racial tension between white and Black musicians. As such, the genre brought critical racial issues to the stage, for instance, the New Negro Renaissance. Gerald Early of Washington University describes this movement in his article Jazz and the African American Literary Tradition,

“…self-conscious attempt by Black leaders like W. E. B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Charles S. Johnson, and Alain Locke to create a school of Black literature…”

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Photo by Sash Margrie Hunt on Unsplash

Jazz pervades more of our lives today than we know – from the Lo-Fi tunes we listen to while studying, to major pop stars, like: Mac Miller or Kanye West; elements of jazz remain in tune with popular culture. To most this is easily disregarded as a creative element, and the original purpose of jazz has been forgotten – it reflects culture and society, an agent for change. One of the most prolific jazz musicians today, Robert Glasper, four-time Grammy Award winner, is one of the most active BLM artists. His music reflects the state of modern race politics, such as “Dying of Thirst”, a tribute to recent victims of police brutality. In an interview with Truthout Magazine, Glasper explains the addition of children’s’ recordings in his music,

“I wanted to use Ralphie and other friends of Riley (Glasper’s son) to represent the many victims. I wanted the listener to hear different voices and realize these victims could easily be our children.”

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Photo by Nechirwan Kavian on Unsplash

Glasper, who has produced music for other artists like Denzel Curry and Kendrick Lamar, also raises important points about the state of the music industry and Black entertainment, saying “I don’t think artists of today show enough support in the struggle at all. And if they do, it’s only for a hot second, or they give money on the low to an organization…” and “Black entertainment has become humorous entertainment for white people to watch. Intelligent, great art isn’t radio-friendly, so everybody is going for the same dumbed-down sound to make it on the radio…” suggesting that pop music and culture is overtaking true platforms for art, drowning out necessary voices that need to be heard.

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Photo by Dolo Iglesias on Unsplash

Glasper perfectly summarizes the reason Jazz is still relevant and why it should be listened to more – as a fine art, the genre discomforts people because of its complexity and multi-layered composition. This, however, is precisely the point of jazz. It was created to disrupt the monotony of traditional musical values and reflect the state of society, to make people listen to that which is hidden in the public eye. If you want to listen to more artists like Glasper, you will often find most of his songs featuring other prominent Black musicians who are more than the listen and the time.

Thomas Benko

Content Editor Associate

Tom was born and raised in Hungary by a multi-cultural family, he has spent much of his life traveling in different countries. Tom is obsessed with culture-specific art and cuisine, his favorite place to visit is Pilsen, Czech Republic, as he considers it his second home, a place filled with cultural minutia. In his spare time, Tom likes to study music and paint, and trains to be a volunteer firefighter.

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