Monday, June 16, 2008

Jazz Vs. Hip Hop: A KC Encounter

Jazz trio video footage from First Friday

Jazz battled hip hop on First Friday. Hip hop won.

It's no secret that all types of music are appreciated at the Plastic Sax office complex. We like to hear Thelonious Monk sandwiched between Jay-Z and Willie Nelson, just as we enjoy heavy metal concerts no less than jam sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Even so, the epiphany I experienced June 6 on 18th Street came as quite a shock.

Two live performances were taking place less than fifty yards from one another. The first-rate jazz trio (photograph and video footage above) featured Dave Creighton on organ, Jack Blackett on sax and drummer Steve "Duck" McLane. The skilled musicians are excellent. Furthermore, Blackett and McLane were members of one of the best Kansas City bands of all time.

But the hip hop show by the Soul Providers (photograph and video footage below) down the block was far more dynamic and exciting. A furious MC battle evoked the spirit of the fabled 12th Street cutting contests of Kansas City's jazz era heyday.

The immediate, stark contrast was a revelation. Although my love of the form hasn't wavered, no longer can I pretend that jazz is particularly relevant in today's world.

Soul Providers video footage from First Friday

(Original photographs by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised this evoked such strong feeling in ya, B. No disrespect to the YJazzers, but I don't think their regular jam outside the snack bar is that hard for any act to overshadow so long as it's livelier and more audience-focused.

Acts that could NOT overshadow the jazz trio: local burlesque performance; J-Will the Plaza breakdancer.

Anonymous said...

Sax, I would have to disagree with your assertion that jazz is not "particularly relevant in today's world."

It's just not relevant to the assholes in the media (not you). Unless they are looking for a people story to fill between the weather and this week's featured homeless pet. Or need a slot @ 3 a.m. for community radio (which suits us just fine, btw. most of us stay up that late for various reasons.)

It's not relevant to dumbasses, or people with a prediliction towards the least common denominator in our culture, which I need to make absolutely clear is not hip-hop.

The L.C.D. in our culture is the"corporation" that sells our collective culture in a slick package (tv, radio, internet, magazines, and newspapers.) wrapped in material goods, (cell phones, cars, computers and shit.) which has resulted in the exploitation of several distinct groups of people in America, with racial, ethnic and religious minorities heading the list.

Here is who it is relevant for:

It is relevant to children, the elderly, people with a social conscience, those who really love music, dancers, young women who love to sing, scores of musicians who do not play jazz, churches and faiths of all kinds, people getting married, painters, sculptors, writers, poets, porn producers, the rolling stones, god, and most importantly, it is so relevant to fucking hip-hop, it's unbelievable.

Hip hop steals, (I mean sample) our shit all the time. Most of their beats were played by jazz and fusion drummers back in the 60's and 70's. It's just cheaper and easier to sample or recreate them with a drum machine, than to find someone to play them, but this in and of itself does not make it any less relevant.

It's way relevant. Come out to one of my Jazz foundation gigs in a school or retirement home, you'll see how relevant it is.

the unthinking lemming said...

Yep. Jazz has plenty of relevance.

A better question might be is what musical relevance does Hip-Hop offer? I saw no real musicians in the video you linked, just a bunch of monotone rap and canned music being spun and scratched. Any bets on how many of the participants can actually read music?

The wild popularity of Hip-Hop can provide relevance. The lack thereof, OTOH, does not necessarily diminish the relevance of Jazz both musically *and* culturally.

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I know (and like) all three of you, but I'll attempt to reply without personal prejudice.

I'll confess to being influenced by audiences, Harper. And the Soul Providers attracted a larger and far more attractive crowd (save yours truly, of course). But it was the immediate contrast that threw me. As all three of you probably know, it's possible to view and listen to both First Friday ensembles simultaneously. And the hip hop show sucked me in like a moth to a flame.

What a brilliant editorial, Micah! The thing is, Micah, I love your playing. I wish that you performed to an attentive audience of hundreds nightly. I don't disagree any of your comments. And yeah, hearing jazz samples in the work of artists like Gang Starr and Nas delights me.

You're right too, UL, in that music is not a zero sum game.

I suppose I'm distressed because my experience that night finally forced me to accept that jazz will never again assume immediacy in popular culture. In fact, "immediacy" might convey my sentiments more that the word "relevance"...

I do not concur, however, with your implication that the quality of popular music is proportional to a musician's technical skill. In fact, I find the democratic accessibility of hip hop and rock an asset, not a liability.

Still, I greatly admire the accomplished musicianship you and Micah possess. Harper's talent as a musician, on the other hand, is lame.

the unthinking lemming said...

I didn't necessarily mean to imply that "the quality of popular music is proportional to a musician's technical skill." There are plenty of examples to prove otherwise. I prefer to think that jazz has traded part, OK, a lot of its asset as a popular musical form for the asset of sustainability as an artistic discipline. I have my doubts as to whether Hip-Hop or Rap can make the same transition.

Happy In Bag said...

If it's not already obvious, I'd like to clarify that I've never heard Harper play a single note. If he's just a tenth as accomplished a musician as he is a writer, he's pretty darn good.

Anonymous said...

Well, I kind of don't wish to perform for "hundreds nightly." mostly because I'd be totally content with just 50 people a night. Hundreds kinda scares me, and would they shut up and listen? I think we should give up on the L.C.D. and focus on our future audience, while trying to repay our debt to the past before it's too late. We had a great thing at Eddie Saunders' rehab center for him on Sunday. Luqman, Lucky, Wallace, Raynola, Sauna Clark, Brian Morihan, Loren, Charlie Gatschet and yours truly gave about a two hour musical tribute to the man. Eddie was beaming from ear to ear the whole time. It was the best he's looked in a while. I'm glad we were able to light him up a little. If only we could slip him a joint somehow........