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Jazz Meets TikTok: Three Artists Share In Their JazzToks

Jazz Meets TikTok: Three Artists Share In Their JazzToks

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I had no idea when I was putting together the video that my life would completely change.
—Stacey Ryan
The TikTok social media platform was created in 2017 but it wasn't until 2020, with the help of a global pandemic, that the app really took off. It has amassed tremendous growth with over 100 million active users each month—and that's in the U.S. alone.

With the bite-sized video format, TikToks can be hugely engaging, offering artists an accessible way to be seen and heard. While many might dismiss it as only for Gen Z or viral dance trends, it's actually a credible and potent tool for artists to build and connect with their audience in a way they may not have found before—especially with touring limitations.

As I found myself first exploring TikTok during the pandemic (at the urging of my college-aged daughter), I saw only a handful of jazz artists. As I dug a little deeper, I started to notice music students. They were creating videos that infused humor, jazz history and original music, and they were getting decent views. It made me think there was more potential that wasn't being tapped into.

At that time, I was working closely with saxophonist Tom Scott on his podcast series and just for fun, I challenged, or rather guilted him, to work with me to produce some TikTok content. I wanted to see if his expansive body of work could somehow be of interest to TikTok-ers.

With his newly minted TikTok account, we were immediately blown away (pun intended) by the response. Suddenly, Tom---who, like many others, has been sort of forgotten about in jazz circles---was interacting with enthusiastic music fans—of all ages. Many knew his work well (even if they didn't realize it was him on the track) along with many who were discovering him for the first time.

Tom's TikTok videos covering his work in pop and jazz were getting hundreds of thousands of views. We found ourselves working hard to respond to the many comments and questions followers posted. The TikTok audience loved seeing Tom's posts and they were especially grateful to be let in on his behind-the-scenes insights. To date, Tom has posted over 80 TikToks with more on the way, and he is currently working on new music that his followers will be the first to hear.

This experience led me to further investigate what was happening on jazztok and what follows are three interviews from three very different personalities who have found success on the platform, beginning with Tom.

Tom Scott

All About Jazz: What led you to TikTok?

Tom Scott: I first heard about TikTok from my granddaughter and assumed it was an app strictly for kids.

AAJ: How did you approach creating your first TikTok content?

TS: I wanted to acquaint viewers with my pop music history. Most of my content appears in pairs. First, I play a solo from one of the pop records in which I was a guest. Following that, I describe what it was like meeting and recording with that artist and/or producer. I also incorporated my jazz repertoire and created original performances just for my TikTok audience.

AAJ: How has your TikTok content evolved since the start?

TS: It is still evolving! I've done some duets now (John Mayer, The Backyardigans "Castaways" which was a viral trend, Jason Marsalis) and some standalone entries—concert footage and original music. Next up, I'll introduce new music and then look forward to talking about it with my followers. In a way it is like when I used to play at Donte's with the original L.A. Express band. We started to play these funky jazz tunes and the crowd responded so well that we shaped more music based on their liking which led to that successful first album. TikTok has an intimacy like that especially if you're engaged with your people and observant. At this point in my career, it is exciting to have the ability to interact with fans of music who genuinely care. This is positive and inspiring and why I got into this business in the first place.

AAJ: What has been your greatest discovery using TikTok so far?

TS: I was very surprised at the number of middle aged and older adults using it. Also, it was a surprise that there was such interest in the back stories of my career—what it was like working with Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, etc. I also have a deep jazz career that I am looking to share in the near future that includes Gerry Mulligan, Oliver Nelson, Don Ellis and others.

AAJ: How would you describe your TikTok content?

TS: It's a series of snapshots of my sizable and diverse career as a musician.

AAJ: You and Jason Marsalis collaborated on an original tune called "Gumbo Funk" exclusively for TikTok. Do you see TikTok as a viable medium to create new music and a positive medium for a jazz artist?

TS: TikTok provides a way to introduce jazz artists to the ever-growing audience that uses this app every day. And now that the duration of videos has been increased, jazz artists can display their music in a more meaningful way. So yes, it is both good for jazz and for jazz artists provided you work at it and take it seriously but also have fun with it and have realistic expectations.

AAJ: What can you see happening in the future on TikTok for artists like yourself?

TS: Now that TikTok has such a huge audience—and extended the length of its content—it's a fantastic place to showcase one's talents.

"TikTok is good for jazz and for jazz artists provided you work at it and take it seriously, but also have fun with it and have realistic expectations."

—Tom Scott, @tomscottjazzman

Jason Marsalis

Drummer and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis has been on TikTok for a while now and has built a strong following. Jason has created more than 100 TikToks that are not only creative but also engaging and personal.

On his TikTok handle, Jason offers up excellent drumming and vibes tips, creates interesting music-themed videos and shares legendary stories from his father Ellis and his brothers. He also duets and stitches with other musicians, and recommends albums and artists.

Jason's hometown of New Orleans serves as the backdrop for his TikTok travels as he takes us along on rehearsals, gigs and other zany activities that he riffs on. Jason is a shining example of how to successfully practice content creation and audience engagement on TikTok. Dare I say this Marsalis brother is leading a renaissance of a different sort?

All About Jazz: What led you to TikTok?

Jason Marsalis: I first heard about it on the news. Then, I found out that musicians were using the app so I decided I would open an account and give it a try.

AAJ: How did you approach creating your first TikTok content?

JM: I wanted my first post to be an introduction into who I was. That's why my first posts were at the drums. The vibraphone posts soon followed.

AAJ: How has your TikTok content evolved since the start?

JM: I've realized all of the ways the app can be used. For example, you can create videos using people's questions or comments. Also, I was on someone's livestream and I was commenting telling a story. I realized I could make videos telling stories. That's been an addition to the videos.

AAJ: What has been your greatest discovery using TikTok so far?

JM: My greatest discovery has been all of the people who use it, how, and getting familiar with different creators I've never heard of.

AAJ: How would you describe your TikTok content?

JM: Entertaining and informative with music content.

AAJ: What has surprised you about being on TikTok?

JM: All of the ways that one can create content and all of the devices the app has at your disposal.

AAJ: You and Tom Scott collaborated on an original tune called "Gumbo Funk." Do you see TikTok as a viable medium to create new music and a positive medium for a jazz artist?

JM: TikTok is a viable medium because you get exposed to many artists that don't have national exposure. Many artists use the medium to showcase the music they're creating and they have another avenue to build a fan base. I see TikTok as a positive because your videos can travel anywhere and a person who has never heard the music may be exposed to it.

AAJ: What can you see happening in the future on TikTok for artists like yourself?

JM: I see more of a fanbase and more ways to create music and connect with people. For example, a trumpeter named Grace Fox formed a big band of young women that she met over apps like TikTok and Instagram. So for me, I can see more collaborations with people in the future.

"There are so many things that you can do with the app, it really sets it apart from just about anything else."

—Jason Marsalis, @jasonmarsalis

Stacey Ryan

Multi-instrumentalist and "Queen of Jazztok" Stacey Ryan started TikTok in 2019 and quickly built a steady following during the pandemic offering clever cover tune interpretations, solo performances, duets and stitches and original compositions. All of which resulted in her going viral, making it onto The Tonight Show and getting signed by Island Records.

Earlier this year, Stacey became one of 2022's TikTok viral sensations with a lyrical duet challenge that earned her high praise and more followers—with 1.3 million to date. She recently released a new single "Fall In Love Alone" and is working on her first recording. And did I mention that all of this is a result of her being on TikTok?

That's pretty good for the Montreal native who was studying jazz in Quebec and reluctant to use TikTok at the start. What makes Stacey's success so inspiring is that she uses TikTok masterfully and was able to not only show off her true musical talents through the app but she built a fanbase without performing anywhere or even having a recording. She built her career one TikTok at a time.

She is an artist in her early 20's who grew up listening to jazz and then studying it but is not a traditional jazz singer. You can hear and feel her jazz breadth underneath everything she does but she is a singer and artist of today in every way. She is a great example of the next generation of emerging artists who understands how to use a platform like TikTok to engage and create an emotional connection with their audience.

All About Jazz: How did you get into music?

Stacey Ryan: Music was always around me growing up. My dad plays piano and he would always put music from the '60s, '70s and '80s on his stereo.

AAJ: Who are some of your main musical influences & why?

SR: My influences range from Tori Kelly and Yebba to Al Jarreau, Simon and Garfunkel, Michael Jackson, Joni Mitchell and so many more.

AAJ: Aside from your singing, you play guitar, piano and bass. Are you a singer who plays instruments OR an instrumentalist who sings?

SR: So I consider being a singer as being an instrumentalist (voice being my instrument), so I would say I'm a multi-instrumentalist.

AAJ: What led you to creating your own TikTok?

SR: In November of 2019, I was sitting in the break room at the job I used to have, and my friend was pushing me to download TikTok. I kept saying I didn't want to but caved in eventually and never looked back!

AAJ: How did you approach creating your very first TikTok video and what was the response like?

SR: The first TikTok I ever made was actually right there in the break room, and I used one of the pre-made templates on TikTok. It was so bad but I still laugh at it today.

AAJ: What TikTok video went viral and started the rise of your account?

SR: My first viral moment was when a video of me singing "If I Ain't Got You" in my closet at 3 am started getting more views than I've ever gotten. It's at 470k views right now and I distinctly remember taking a shot of gin when it hit 50k views because it felt so huge at the time.

AAJ: How would you describe your TikTok content and can you tell us how it has evolved over time?

SR: My TikTok content has always been a mix of well-produced and thought-out arrangements, most often jazzy ones, and on the fly, quick, acoustic videos. I don't do as many arrangements as I used to, because I've been in and out of the studio working on new music and so many more things.

AAJ: Your TikTok description is "Queen of Jazztok"—how did this come about?

SR: I did give myself that title, but so far no one has told me I shouldn't have so I think we're good. I did go to jazz school and jazz is a huge part of my musical style and I love to incorporate it into everything I do.

AAJ: Can you talk about how you engage your TikTok audience (e.g. commenting, dueting, stitching, breaking music down harmonically, etc.)?

SR: I guess it's just a mix of posting things that I really love and care about, and letting fans know that I see them and am listening to what they're saying.

AAJ: Your TikTok content is enjoyable because you sing in a variety of styles fluently including jazz, r&b, pop and more. Can you tell us how your artistry is affected by having such a seamless and diverse palette of musical appreciations?

SR: With an abundance of different musical styles as my main influences, it's very easy to lose my main vision and what lane I want to be in musically. I think I've succeeded in creating a unique sound that says "STACEY RYAN" but it can be challenging when all genres of music are constantly in my head.

AAJ: As an artist, what has been your greatest discovery using TikTok so far?

SR: Definitely the fact that people who have no idea who you are can discover you in a matter of seconds. TikTok is really the first platform to do that to that extent and I think it's definitely changed my career in a really good way.

AAJ: What has surprised you about being on TikTok?

SR: You never really know what to expect. Sometimes a video that I worked on for a while does fine, but then another video I threw together in five minutes goes crazy viral.

AAJ: 2022 has been a great year for you on TikTok especially given the virality of your videos—can you share a few of those highlights with us?

SR: The big one is definitely the open-verse challenge I put out for my original song, "Don't Text Me When You're Drunk." I had no idea when I was putting together the video (keep in mind that the song had just been written and basically did not really exist yet) that my life would completely change. Did I know that this video would garner the attention of over 300 million people and make it to the Tonight Show? Never in a million years.

AAJ: Did TikTok play a role in your recent signing to Island Records?

SR: It did! Thanks to that viral moment, a lot of people not only discovered me, but also got to discover me as a musician and artist. I got contacted by a lot of labels, but in the end, I am so happy I signed to Island Records and the team is amazing!

AAJ: What can we expect from you musically now that you are signed to a major label and will you continue being active on TikTok?

SR: I like to think of it as the same old me but now with a team of people behind me and helping me to be the best artist I can be. I want to keep the mix of well-thought-out TikToks, and the super-casual ok the FYP* ones as well and also keep in touch with my audience.

AAJ: What advice would you give other artists looking to start their own TikTok account?

SR: My best advice would be to be consistent. Not only with your uploads but also the quality of your uploads. If you put time and effort into your videos, people will see it eventually. Another thing is to not rely too hard on the likes and views, because it's so easy to get discouraged when a video is not doing as well as you hoped.

AAJ: What can you see happening in the future on TikTok for artists like yourself?

SR: Just sharing my music on the platform and having fun with it!

"You never really know what to expect."

—Stacey Ryan, @staceyryanmusic

Going Forward...

Tom, Jason and Stacey are excellent working examples of how using TikTok regularly can build and serve an audience interested in jazz. And even though each of them create different kinds of TikTok content exploring different sides of the music through their own artistic expression and personalities, the fact remains that their jazztok's are compelling. Positioning them and the music in an inclusive and openly visible place can attract more attention and interest. That is a very good thing at this point in time for the music.

My only question now is why aren't there more jazz artists embracing TikTok?

* For You Page (FYP) is the first page you land on when you open TikTok. It's a curated feed of videos that TikTok's algorithm thinks you will like based on your interests and past interactions.)

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