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Jazz in a Changing World

Sammy Stein By

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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.

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