Jazz is dead.
The art form gained its momentum from the 1920s to the 1970s due to the inspiration of innovators. Louis Armstrong introduced the world to the blues. Billie Holiday ripped out our heart strings with her soulful melodies. Duke Ellington revolutionized what is possible for a soloist within the ensemble. Dave Brubeck taught the world to swing. Thelonius Monk provided us beauty in simplicity. Miles Davis brought it all together from bop through modern jazz.
Since then, there has been nothing new to hear except imitation and repetition.
These complaints are not uncommon among jazz critics. Yet, like most broad strokes and generalities, they ignore exceptions and current innovations. Some of the complaints arise from how jazz is passed on in modern musical education. Current music conservatories, high schools, and music programs at universities throughout the world will teach jazz in a clinical fashion, with students breaking down the innovations, riffs, and improvisations of the past masters to learn their craft. In this way, many jazz performances feel like starched linen instead of the cool comforting cloth of rich, soulful music. It can feel a bit false to hear privileged students singing the blues. The same piece is played over and over again. Traditionally, many jazz performers felt they should never play the same piece the same way twice.
A couple decades ago, at my children’s high school, a young pianist became infatuated with jazz. Like many geniuses, he became consumed in the art. Scott Bradlee honed his skills through hours of practice and professional training and then struggled to make ends meet in the New York jazz scene, until one day he came up with a crazy idea. He would gather together some of the best talent and his closest friends in his tiny New York apartment and record a video of a jazzed up version of a modern pop song and then post it to a new social media platform called “YouTube.”
5.58 million subscribers later, and over a billion views of his videos, Scott Bradlee‘s Post Modern Jukebox has moved out of obscurity to become the premier talent collective of popular modern jazz. At any time, he will have three tour companies of musicians performing chart-topping tunes of the 20th and 21st century throughout the world.
Since its origin, jazz music has borrowed from and plagiarized the great themes of its time; you can find jazz throughout the world, whether it be in concert, folk, rock, pop, or cultural music.
Scott Bradlee shows us that with jazz, there are still ways to improvise, adapt, and entertain, as long as music plays a part of our society.
If you want to see a true display of Scott’s talent, go to his personal channel and watch one of his daily 2-4 hour all request jam sessions, where he would sit down at the piano, with an iPad stream of his followers making song request mix and mashups in every known jazz style. These afternoon jam sessions were the soundtrack of my quarantine experience.
This is the fifth of his concerts I’ve been to. Obviously, I’m a fan. Spend a little time on his YouTube channel, or attend one of his concerts, and I’m willing to bet you and your family will begin to appreciate jazz also.
When we arrived, we were barely past the ticket scan when a generous woman in line for refreshments stopped me to see if my kids would like a PMJ poster. When we were seated and got to enjoy them, we discovered they were autographed (maybe LaVance Colley, Jason Prover, Adam Kubota, Lemar Guillary, Blake Lewis, Sarah Potenza, Dave Tedeschi). That’s the treatment we love when we go to the Kimmel Cultural Campus Miller Theater.
In tonight’s performance, there were some stand-out musicians and pieces.
First, the children loved the Mario mash up tap dance. The choreography and precision were riveting. The instruments were entertaining.
Second, Sarah Potenza sang In the Arms of an Angel and was grabbing my vote as a favorite when she suddenly mashed up with O Holy Night. The vote was secured.
Third, after a brief intermission, Blake Lewis favored us with Radioactive. Again, grabbing for my vote for second half favorite when he broke into mechanical vocals and dance and the vote was secured again.
Fourth, the children were enthralled with Gunhild Carling, particularly her vast array of instruments and especially playing three trumpets at once.
The critics may claim jazz is dead.
Long live jazz.
*we were invited to facilitate a feature, all opinions are our own*