Jazz music hits us in places we cannot always articulate. The importance of jazz for American culture might just explain why. During the 1920s, jazz found its way into every aspect of American culture, from poetry to fashion to the Civil Rights Movement to the Women’s Liberation Movement. Jazz music highlights the massive change that was taking place during an earlier period and continues to signal all that has transpired for us to enjoy jazz as it has transformed over the years to be what it is today. Here are some jazz artists we should be paying attention to:
Referred to as the saxophone virtuoso, Washington is credited with spearheading the rejuvenation of jazz music within the past years. His talent led to the heavy contribution of Kendrick Lamar’s hit album, To Pimp a Butterfly, bringing jazz to a new audience. Washington continued to uphold Lamar’s maxims on identity as a Black American, crediting him as the ‘jazz voice of Black Lives Matter’. His hit album, Harmony of Difference, delineates songs that embark on a journey, ultimately leading to Truth. Listen to his key song, Truth.
Stephen Bruner “Thundercat”
Thundercat is most comfortable with exploring the darker side of human psychology, as most evident in his album, It Is What It Is. Even his album from 2013, Apocalypse, was produced after one of his closest friends, jazz pianist Austin Peralta, passed away from an overdose. Thundercat also played a monumental role in the production of Kendrick Lamar’s famous album, To Pimp a Butterfly. It Is What It Is was also created following Mac Miller’s death, which also occurred from a drug-related cause. Thundercat uses jazz to communicate themes such as uncertainty, fear, and heartbreak and encourages his listeners to treat the painful aspects of life as a continual part of life. For those who are looking to tap into the difficult parts of reality as a means for personal growth, Thundercat is the jazz artist to lean on.
Here is another talented jazz artist who also played a major role in producing To Pimp a Butterfly and contributed to the multi-instrumental element of the album. His latest song Pig Feet is a testament to police and racism being a much longer period of his life than music. It’s a piece that touches upon many themes a lot of us can relate to today. His jazz works continue to reflect the issues black men face with law enforcement and continue to keep those who passed away under police brutality on the forefront of current events.
Stephen Ellison “Flying Lotus”
It only makes sense that the artists we like so much are part of an interconnected network. Flying Lotus is also involved with producing To Pimp a Butterfly and has received a Grammy award for his work with that album. His most recent album, Flamagra, is the culmination of the skill set and talent he acquired in the last decade and points to other music artists who have contributed to this work.
Shabaka is known as the focal artist in London’s jazz scene today. Oscillating seamlessly between the clarinet and saxophone, he is known as a masterful reed player. His latest album We Are Sent Here By History explores the apocalypse from the future, asserting that for new establishments to be founded, existing ones need to be dismantled. He believes that artists and musicians are historians and that the oral narration of history over-generation is the original documentation, long before written records were developed. Listen to his most recent album to reflect on where we came from and where we are headed.
What better way to introduce yourself as a jazz musician when the music genre itself is a part of your name! Her latest album Love and Liberation received a Grammy award for best jazz vocal album. This album focuses on self-empowerment, maturity, and cultural identity. She emphasizes the importance of the name of her album. She believes love and liberation go hand in hand. To love is to liberate and to liberate oneself or another is a reflection of love.
Often referred to as a sound visionary and not your everyday jazz artist, McCraven continues to push the boundaries of jazz music to create a unique style to hallmark his productions. Makaya acknowledges the importance of being someone who has a mixed heritage and he wants his multi-varied identity to be reflected in his music. Therefore, he continues to intertwine jazz with other genres, to redefine music beyond its genre and create a greater community within the musical realm. In his new collaboration, We’re New Again, he revitalizes themes of living with fear, the vision of home, confronting our mortality, and the esoteric yet profound effects that familial love has.
Moses Boyd is the culmination of various music genres, drawing upon jazz, dance, rock, electronica, afrobeat, and pop. This is heavily reflected in his latest album Dark Matter. Boyd’s inspiration for his music comes from what is around him, and frankly, what is around us -- the tragic fall of the Grenfell Tower in England and the lack of funding from city initiatives to ensure safe housing. It is these dark themes that his music reflects and draws his audience to his work.
The Necks are an Australian trio producing jazz music. Their latest album Three is embellished with classical undertones, creating a meditative experience for any listener. Don’t be misled by the name of the album -- this is The Necks’ 21st album! For those looking to get lost in jazz tunes, percussion cymbals, and the piano, this album will do the trick!
Wilma releases his first album ever, A Western Circular, but don’t be fooled. He has been in the music industry for quite some time. Working with artists before, he co-produced several pop songs. However, his latest release unveils his emotions, even though his voice is not on the album. Archer uses this album to explore his journey with life and death, encouraging his listeners to find the beauty from pain. His instrumental use of the organ in his music captures the dichotomies, beauty and pain, life and death.