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Moving Jazz Forward: Swinging, Soul, Passion and New Ideas

I was reading a few reviews of some rock releases last week. As a musician I played rock for years and have the ringing in my right ear left as a gift of that era. I enjoy the music along with great soul, R&B and of course jazz. One thing I hardly ever hear said about rock is how it’s being rehashed. Or artists being worried about repeating history. There’s a fundamental way to play it. These rhythms and harmonies have been the same for decades since the inception of the music. There were exceptions with so-called art rock bands like Yes and King Crimson, but all in all, pretty much the same.

Early on, when rock first started, the volume was lower because they didn’t have the gear back then that they do today, but technically the drummers played considerably softer. That may have been because they had to. Same with soul music. Incredible how different the touch is today in rock and soul verses back in the 50’s and most of the 60’s. The music was more elastic too back then, but the eighth note really straightened itself out over the years and became more pattern-oriented.

I’m bringing all of this up because you constantly hear in jazz about the concern of repeating the history. The question should be asked, what is being repeated and what should be? If you’re swingin that’s different than repeating ideas. There is a profound difference. You’re SUPPOSE to swing playing jazz and swinging transcends a walking bass line and a dotted eighth note cymbal beat. It’s the most significantly important foundation of the music. To commit to playing jazz you have to swing and have an emotional understanding of the blues. It doesn’t mean you have to play a 12 bar blues. You have to be able to improvise on a high level. Understand phrasing. If you don’t, your music will sound like it just came out of a freezer. Cold. Lifeless.

Too many in jazz blur the lines between ripping what is perceived as repeating history from an idea perspective vs. what is necessary to play the music. A car needs a battery to run. Jazz needs to swing to feel good. Funk needs to groove to feel good. Etc. That’s not repeating history in the sense of emulating an idea. The ideas are on top. To write you have to understand the use of grammar. Again, fundamentals. That’s not an old concept, is it?

There’s too much jazz being played that lacks soul and passion because musicians are playing out of fear of repeating, ironically, the things you should. It’s somewhat of a misconstrued history. Avoiding the things that shouldn’t be avoided, trying to be different. Many critics even write about the music this way. Blasting musicians that are swinging and doing what they’re suppose to be doing fundamentally but shaping it as a perception of simply playing the old. That’s a twisted narrative and completely misses the point. Critique the ideas if you can and if you can’t, you shouldn’t be writing about the music.

There’s so much of the music not swinging today or played with deep soul and passion that it’s become somewhat pervasive in influencing how people are hearing and feeling jazz. Swinging and understanding blues isn’t old. Fresh ideas are what moves the music forward and musicians should be careful in trying to avoid what is actually necessary in bringing the music to life. – Jae


“This show is a major reason that I am the musician I am today. I love it!”

— J.R.