Jazz has always been a fairly contentious genre when it comes to playlisting, I learned this lesson very early on. Around ten years ago, I added some classic Blue Note jazz tracks to one of the first playlists we ever made, only to overhear customers immediately complaining, “Is this jazz? Uh, I hate jazz!”
Jazz can divide a crowd, but when carefully curated, it is one of the best ways of introducing an air of sophistication to any space.
African American immigrants in 1920s New Orleans created jazz, and ever since then the genre has been through multiple revolutions, all met by varying degrees of mainstream acceptance. Every generation has had their own version of jazz: it evolved from swing to bebop to cool jazz through the 1930s to 1960s, smooth jazz in the 1980s, then acid jazz and nu-jazz in the 1990s.
At Open Ear, we get asked for jazz all the time, but its ever-evolving nature makes it particularly tricky to know exactly which ‘jazz’ the customer is referring to, and this then leads to confusion over which styles of jazz our customer may like or dislike.
Album covers from famous Blue Note Records releases.
‘Cool jazz’ from legends such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, to many, might represent both timelessness and quality, but might also alienate other listeners when they stray into the more ‘free’ end of the spectrum. ‘Smooth jazz’ might make a musical connoisseur’s toes curl at its very mention (Kenny G!), but also serves its purpose very well when setting the mood for dessert in a five-star restaurant. ‘Nu-jazz’ became synonymous with bland coffee table music following a brief period of popularity in the ‘90s when you could hear Kruder & Dorfmeister and Compost Records gently playing in every fashionable coffee shop on the high street. Having said that, it did help bring jazz music into the electronic age...
Kamaal Williams At The Jazz Cafe, Camden.
International Jazz Day this week gave us time to reflect on the current state of jazz today. It’s an exciting time, and for those readers in London in particular, it will have been hard to ignore the new revolution currently taking place. Bubbling for a few years now but brought firmly into mainstream consciousness following cover features in the likes of The Guardian or guest shows on BBC Radio 6 Music, the new sound of British jazz is a youth movement that has recently exploded. Largely rejecting the electronic elements of the nu-jazz era, a seemingly unlimited amount of new musical ideas have since appeared, giving jazz music a new lease of life and an appeal to the millennial generation.
Ezra Collective accepting an award for Best Jazz Album award at Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards.
Gilles Peterson, as expected, was an early champion with his WorldWideFM radio station and Brownswood Recordings label being behind many key recent releases. Event promoter Jazz: Refreshed provides an excellent platform, alongside exciting new venues like Ghost Notes and Total Refreshment Centre. Historic jazz spots such as Ronnie Scott’s have helped catapult the credibility of underground labels like 22a, Brownswood and Rhythm Section by enthusiastically welcoming them through their hallowed doors, in the footsteps of so many greats before them.
“London's sound is less a riff on classic African-American jazz than a polyglot party music of the city's minorities – with calypso and dub, grime and Afrobeat as much its building blocks as Coltrane's ‘Giant Steps’.” - Piotr Orlov, Rolling Stone
Offering a controversial twist on the word, new artists have formed the future of jazz music. The ‘We Out Here’ compilation brought together most of the main protagonists, including bandleader Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and Joe Armon-Jones. These artists and labels are driving forward a new sound that is simultaneously connecting with the youth and bringing the older jazz heads out of retirement. Excitingly, the music joins the dots between a myriad of genres including cool jazz, nu-jazz, afrobeat, hip-hop, beats and trip-hop.
Shabaka Hutchings on the front cover of JazzWise.
What does all this mean for you and your playlists? Well, alongside being an exciting new form of music that we would encourage you all to check out, at Open Ear we are particularly excited about the way this music connects between the old and the new and brings together a variety of genres in the process.
The most successful playlists are ones that merge genres and eras together but retain a specific identity. This music’s versatility means it can sit comfortably next to artists as diverse as Kendrick Lamar, Fela Kuti, Gil Scott-Heron and Sade. Just like classic, cool jazz, this modern take on the genre can lend an air of sophistication, coolness and credibility to playlists, but also introduce freshness and the innovative edge that nu-jazz once did. It can even sit comfortably among more traditional jazz in a high-end hotel or restaurant, to bring a classic ambiance subtly up to date.
We’ve been enjoying adding our picks of modern jazz to a number of playlists throughout our library, so if you’d like to try out some cutting-edge cool in your venue, drop us a line.
Playlists to explore:
Downtempo Jazz & Bossa
1/5/2018 | Written by Brian d’Souza Managing Director and Founder of Open Ear