Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A Beginners Guide To Contemporary Jazz

Last year I did a survey on the perceptions of jazz. I surveyed people who didn't listen to jazz and asked them what they thought of when they hear the J word. Some of the answers I got were quite surprising, some positive, some negative but what I found most shocking was the fact that the image of jazz was still in a time freeze from the 1940s! Today in Ireland jazz has very little coverage in any form of media. This in turn is causing a huge drop in the number of people attending jazz gigs which then causes this idea that we're all dark sunglasses wearing, chain smoking, beatnik talking musicians. In this post I want to change that image and hopefully you'll find a few things in here that you will like!

I didn't really get into this music until i was 20. Jazz was around me from birth because my dad is a jazz musician but from the age of 12-19, I was into anything but jazz. I spent most of my mid teens playing in a punk band called The Spungos and I was truly happy being in that band but as I got older my tastes started to change and I spent a long time looking for the "right" music. When I first started getting into jazz I didn't dive straight into Miles Davis or John Coltrane, it would take a while to really appreciate those musicians. The first band I remember being really into was a band called White Rocket. They were using influences from various artists outside jazz such as Aphex Twin and Meshuggah who I was listening to at the time and it really appealed to me.

The majority of young jazz musicians playing now grew up in the late 80s early 90s. Most of them started off playing in rock bands before coming to jazz later on but the rock sound has never really left them when it comes to writing jazz. It is not uncommon to hear jazz groups cover pop/rock songs from the nineties and one of the first bands to really take on those tunes was The Bad Plus. Here they are playing Radiohead's Karma Police.

Here is pianist Brad Mehldau with saxophonist Joshua Redman playing their version of Nirvana's Lithium.

Not only are people covering rock songs, jazz musicians are writing lots of compositions with rock elements in them. One of my favourite bands at mixing jazz and rock together are Jim Black's AlasNoAxis. Jim grew up in Seattle Washington, home of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the influence of the grunge scene on him has transcended through his music.

Another group who are somewhere in between rock and jazz are a band called Kneebody. Some critics have branded them "unclassifiable",  a point which I'm not sure I completely agree with. To me, they are a jazz band but this is not a post on what is jazz and what isn't!

This is not only happening in America, it is happening in Ireland too. Simon Jermyn's Trot a Mouse are a great example of this. Simon's music is coming from the "post-rock" side of things and the blend of post rock and jazz works together really well.

Simon's other band Red Rocket can have some really cool heavy moments in some of their tunes.

Dublin based drummer Matt Jacobson leads a band called ReDiviDeR who also uses elements of grunge and rock in his compositions. If you like what you hear keep an ear out for their album release!

And for my own shameless self promotion, I used the end riff from a Meshuggah tune (it comes in at 1:11) to write my own composition.

There are a lot of other styles of jazz going on as well as the rock orientated stuff but I thought I would just highlight this particular style. From being in the jazz scene over the last three years I have come to learn that when it comes to music, jazz musicians are some of the most open minded people I have ever met. They are always interested in getting influences from music other than jazz in order to widen their scope on composition and improvising and it has always been this way even from the beginnings of the bebop era. This is not a post on why you should like jazz, it's more an outline of where you could start if you are interested in any way in this music. Once again due to the medias lack of interest, it is very hard for people to find a starting point and hopefully this is what I have achieved to do. If you did like some of the music on here, please come out to a gig! Also be on the lookout for a free CD of current Irish jazz coming out in the next few weeks.

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