Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Jazz Is Up to Date
"The impact that someone like John Coltrane had on the music... has jazz had anyone one like that in the last decade or even fifteen years, because I'm thinking, 'Not really.'"
Steve Kraske, my favorite radio talk show personality, posed that question on his KCUR program last week. (Download a podcast of the April 29 show here.) Although Kraske's query wasn't directed at me, I'm compelled to respond.
Jazz's diminished popularity means that it's simply no longer possible for a jazz artist to have the impact Coltrane had in the '60s. That doesn't mean, however, that quiet revolutions aren't occurring at this very moment. Two contemporary trends, I believe, qualify.
The first is the exciting wave of classically-influenced jazz that's presented and recorded with a rock sensibility. Key figures in this movement are the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, The Bad Plus, James Farm, and Brad Mehldau. Kansas City's Brad Cox is part of this scene.
The second "new thing" is the ongoing integration of hip hop and jazz. Robert Glasper and Nicholas Payton are obvious examples. Ryan Lee, Ben Leifer and Hermon Mehari of the locally-based Diverse are also in this camp. Kansas City's Mark Lowrey does a bit of both.
I'm certainly not the first to identify these developments but I probably qualify as one of the most enthusiastic advocates of both new schools. That said, my favorite jazz album of 2011 is Joe Lovano's Bird Songs. It has nothing to do with either trend.
(Original image of Ambrose Akinmusire sign by Plastic Sax.)