Jazz in a Changing World


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Jazz has influenced many other genres of music and, likewise, many other genres have influenced jazz from its very beginning. What is really exciting about the scene at the moment is just how much enrichment it is getting from the rest of the world. It works both ways, of course; jazz musicians from countries which have, until recently, had very small scenes are benefitting from warm receptions in established venues. Audiences are benefitting from having an increasingly diverse range of artists and music styles to experience. In part due to improved accessibility along with the evolution of the Internet and other media, new music is finding appreciative and enthusiastic audiences.

What helps is multimedia and the way producers of documentaries, films and other productions have become more adventurous and tuned into the hunger for change from audiences. In 2005, two French documentary makers, Renaud Barrett and Florent de la Tullaye (aka Belle Kinoise) became fascinated by streetwise, disabled musicians busking for change near the public zoo in Kinshasa, in the Dominican Republic, playing rumba-based Latin jazz and using parts of old bikes and planks cobbled together for transport. The group looked after each other, even adopting a younger street boy as trainee vocalist.

Renaud and de la Tullaye filmed the band's progress from 2005, taking such an interest that even when all the group's instruments were lost in a fire, the two filmmakers helped them start again. Staff Benda Belilli was introduced to the world via the documentaries and the Internet. Belgian record producer Vincent Kenis offered the group a chance to record its first album, Tres Tres Fort (Crammed Discs, 2010). From living on the street, eking out a meager living, leader/singer Ricky Likabu, guitarists/vocalists Coco Ngambali and Theo Nsituvuidi, singers Djunana Tanga-Suele and Kabamba Kabose Kasungo, bassist Paulin "Cavalier" Kiara-Maigi, drummer/vocalist Cubain Kabeya and satonge player/vocalist Roger Landu—the satonge being an instrument that, invented by Landu, resembles an electrified tin can and wire that adds eerie tones to many of the band's tunes—found themselves the unlikely purveyors of Latin rumba jazz roots to the wider world.

As global communication improves, new jazz scenes are emerging around the world—or, rather, existing scenes in lesser-known countries are gaining visibility and growing steadily. Influences from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia are intermingling to change, hopefully forever and for the better, the face of jazz.

Years ago, musicians from abroad like British saxophonist Joe Harriott had to travel to mainland Europe or America to play, but now countries far and wide are revealed to have their own scenes—in some cases, extant for many decades. Eastern Europe has contributed Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and sadly deceased violinist Zbigniew Seifert, Lithuanian pianist/multi-instrumentalist Vladimir Chekasin and Hungarian pianist Daniel Szabo. From Japan come guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi and saxophonist Kaoru Abe.

Amongst the many South American artists to emerge over the decades are include, from Brazil, saxophonist Ivo Perelman, guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, while Argentina has brought saxophonist Gato Barbieri and bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi. Out of Africa, beyond legends like trumpeter/vocalist Hugh Masekela and singer Miriam Makeba, come saxophonist Moses Khumalo, harmonicist Adam Glasser and multi-instrumentalist Bhekumzi Hyacinth Mseleku. Clearly, the list of jazz artists from around the world is growing and nearly every musician now has a current favorite young rising jazz musician from outside the West.

Europe, too, is currently a melting pot of exciting players. Free form drummer Terry Day has traveled across Europe and Asia, recently returning from Japan. He commented that the Barcelona scene in Spain is buzzing right now with artists such as drummer Javier Carmona bringing new sounds to the rest of the continent.

North America, of course, continues to be a major force with venues like Casa Del Popolo in Montreal, Canada, and American clubs like Chicago's The Hideout and New York City's The Stone, all providing arenas for free players from around the world to play. Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, however, cites Europe as being just as influential, with venues like Poznan, Poland's Dragon Club and, in Austria, Wels' Schl8hof, Nickelsdorf's Jazz Galerie and Vienna's Blue Tomato. And, of course, Café Oto, Ryan's Bar and The Vortex all provide varied programs, including world artists, in London, England.

In France, venues like Paris' Sunset Sunside offer traditional jazz as well as free form concerts, enlisting musicians from across the globe. Stephane Portet, from the club says, "The small venues are the most important places to make jazz bigger."

Saxophonist Evan Parker cites Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, New York and Chicago as the best places to see improvised and free jazz outside the UK, but many players are also finding new markets. In Lisbon, Portugal, saxophonist Andy Sheppard recently found an enthusiastic and open-minded audience.

Wherever there are musicians to create a scene, jazz finds its place. Alan Wilkinson, saxophonist and resident musician at FLimFLam in Ryan's' Bar, London says, "Apart from in London, where the scene is relatively big, 'free' music happens where there are enthusiasts/musicians to create a scene. This happens all over the world—from Korea to Lebanon, Israel to Argentina and the USA, Canada, Turkey and in most European countries."

Many jazz players incorporate influences from other cultures, creating free music which changes, evolves and continues to appeal to a wider audience. Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon's music has a Middle Eastern tinge, and Indian music has long appealed to jazz players because it developed in its own way without the influence of either Western classical composers or early jazz. It has always been based on improvisation, microtones and solo interludes on different instruments, much like free form and other subgenres of jazz.

In China, with the Cultural Revolution having long since opened up the country, jazz clubs are thriving. Musicians have been intrigued by the instruments and sounds of China. Reed pipes feature on many tracks and the country's traditional music bases much on pentatonic scales. Much of its music was written to relate stories, so Chinese musicians possess an innate sense of connection with their audience, which lends itself brilliantly to jazz. Beijing has even had its own jazz festival in 2006-9 and there are established venues where jazz musicians perform.

Indian music has long been a rich source for free-playing musicians, having developed in a completely different way from Western music. The instruments are often different and offer ranges outside that of more conventional western instruments. Much Indian music is not written down but created in the moment, as its players relate a story. Scales and set cadences are sometimes ignored in favor of emphasizing a point or creating a mood—something to which, once again, jazz players can easily relate.

Instruments in countries like India and China offer musicians new timbral ranges and, with microtonality, new notes to play. In China there are the two-stringed erhu fiddle, the 21- or 25-stringed plucked guzheng and the Chinese flute, while India has, amongst many others, the sitar and pakhawaj drum, on which musicians can experiment and exchange ideas.

Japan's exposure to jazz was, prior to the end of World War II. Limited because it was, for a time, banned; later, however, the influence of American and Eastern jazz musicians has led to the country hungering for jazz music of all kinds and it has a huge following. I worked with Japanese people for several years and jazz was one of their passions. Japan, they reminded me, was a closed society for a long time, which meant it developed music and arts in isolation with a distinctive style. Jazz music was new and exciting when it arrived. For awhile, Japanese players were considered imitators of the American jazz style, an identity they disliked. However, Japanese culture is very creative and soon influences from its own instruments—like the three-string, banjo-like sanshin the harp-like kugo—found their way into jazz tunes and Japanese musical styles infiltrated the music. Now, jazz clubs thrive with music which offers both a fusion of Japanese and American jazz and some very identifiable Japanese styles. Pianist Yosuke Yamashita, organist Akiko Tsuruga}} and young drummer Tiger Onitsuka are all received with enthusiasm by audiences across the world.

Straight-ahead jazz, of course, has its place and is a wonderful subgenre unto itself. However, things have moved on through free form, improvised, electro and many other variants which have developed over the past half century. Jazz is now offered to the wider world in many forms. It can be found with Latin beats, with Indian timbres and with throbbing drum 'n' bass. Markets are discerning, yet they are also more open to new ideas; more willing to try another way.

Jazz music is changing and yet it remains the same—variable, pliant and truly music of the people. Due to multicultural influences and the changing world in which we live and play, jazz is now offering many more things to far more people. People are finding the music youthful, energetic, global and open to change; above all, there is clearly something for everyone.

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