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New Frontiers of Jazz
Icons among us

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Jazz, the great American art form, is so great it’s been a problem. How do you keep going, changing, staying vital, fresh, when the shadows of the greats are so long and deep?

There’s Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, and on and on.

So is jazz now? Or is jazz then? A new documentary tours the new horizon of jazz. The new icons. New names. Benevento. Blanchard. Glasper. Shipp. Jason Moran. The Bad Plus. And their sound.

This hour, On Point: on the new frontier of jazz.

What, who, does “jazz” mean to you? Miles? Monk? Dizzy? Or somebody new? And if it’s too new, too different, is it still jazz? Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us from New Orleans is John Comerford, president of Paradigm Studios and executive producer of the big, new four-part documentary, “Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense.” It’s currently airing on the Documentary Channel, Mondays at 9 PM, with the music and voices of a whole new pantheon of jazz.

Also from New Orleans, we’re joined by Alan Evans, drummer with the jazz/funk band Soulive. They’ve recorded with Chaka Khan, Dave Matthews, Talib Kweli, and John Scofield, and opened for The Rolling Stones, The Roots, and John Mayer. Their latest album is “Up Here.”

More links:

Here’s the music heard in the segment ins and outs during this show, in the order played, with links to the artists’ websites:

“Fleur de Lis” – Nicholas Payton, from the album “Into the Blue”

“Flow, Pt. 1″ – Terence Blanchard, from the album “Flow”

“Blue Skies” – Robert Glasper Trio, from the album “Mood”

“Principle” – Greg Osby, from the album “9 Levels”

“I Know You Know” – Esperanza Spalding, from the album “Esperanza”

“End of the World Party” – Medeski, Martin and Wood, from the album “End of the World Party (just in case)”

The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff reviews “Icons Among Us.” On the LA Times music blog, Chris Barton reviews the film and features some video clips. “Icons Among Us” on MySpace features more video.

Here’s an 8-minute trailer for the film and an excerpt featuring Soulive (from YouTube):

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://www.mattlaurence.com Matt Laurence

    I’d just like to note that jazz is now one of the many “pure” spices that flavors music today, of which the majority can be considered fusion. The New Your Ska-Jazz Ensemble, Take 6 (gospel and jazz), Theivery Corporation (electronica, world and jazz), The New Deal and Sound Tribe Sector Nine (electronica, jam music and jazz), bands like Galactic and artists like Stanton Moore and Skerik (merging rock, jazz, funk and jam band styles), Claude Bolling and Jacques Loussier and even some MJQ blending classical and Jazz. Jazz is everywhere.

    For my money, however, albums like Birth Of The Cool, Giant Steps and Time Out pretty much form the cornerstones.

    There’s pure, and there are countless delicious melanges. Many of the recipes are pretty tasty, regardless of their ingredients.

  • http://www.mattlaurence.com Matt Laurence

    OH, and to hear what I think is the true future direction of jazz, check out the incredible, angular Steve Coleman and Five Elements or the equally mind-blowing M-Base Collective, or Medeski, Martin and Wood.

  • Jack

    What was the name of the group who played the “psycho circus” tune. I liked it.

  • http://www.mattlaurence.com Matt Laurence

    And yes, thank you for including Soulive!

    Let’s not forget jazz meeting its past with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Django-style throwback groups like Gypsy Hombres and Colorado’s Sacrebleu!, and countless others.

  • Patricia Timms

    I saw the first part in this series. I love music but I’m not so well versed in jazz. This docu was not only informative, but enlightening and funny. It seemed like the film itself was a musical piece – building suspense along the way and working up to a a crescendo. I loved it – it’s got rhythm!

  • Valkyrie607

    I’m feeling the discussion.

    It’s funny, when you played that clip of Charlie Parker, I felt bored. Like, I recognize this, I know it’s great, but I really don’t want to listen to it for more than a minute. The clip by Skerik, on the other hand–it had so many layers to which I can relate.

    Am I a terrible person?

  • Valkyrie607

    One of the best live performances I ever saw was Ben Allison’s group playing with Mamadou Diabate.

  • http://www.mattlaurence.com Matt Laurence

    And in the “keeping it alive” category, let’s not forget the big band stylists such as Brian Setzer, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and even artists like Joe Jackson whose album “Jumpin’ Jive!” is always in regular rotation on my iPod.

  • tb

    Where would your guests put Bill Laswell in the continuum of jazz or, more broadly, improvised music?

    One point: innovators in the arts tend to do their thing and move on to…do something else. Be what they are, regardless of labels. Miles never stood still. Coltrane kept moving. Hendrix changed night to night.

  • Bruce Raisner

    When asked what his favorite music was, Ray Charles said “good music”…

    The most important jazz artists – yesterday and today – are those that have a unique voice. Dave Douglas has it. Nicholas Payton doesn’t. Matthew Shipp has it. Geoff Keezer doesn’t. Wayne Shorter has it. Wynton Marsalis doesn’t.

    Jazz needs to be respected and preserved. But it will be the new voices that keep it alive.

  • mr.independant

    Alan Evans’ is right his band does not play jazz in the sense of swing and the 2 and 4 beat.

    They play funk and groove music, it is great music that’s for sure. It is improvised and tilts hats towards jazz.
    It’s good music, period.

    I have to say someone who listens to artist from Bessie Smith to Joe Lovano and Soulive it seems to me that what Duke Ellington had to say on the subject still holds, it don’t mean a thing if it don’t have that swing. To me all great music swings. Bach swings as much as Coltrane, only on different beats.

  • http://www.tombarlow.net tom

    As a contemporary visual artist I understand compleltely the position that Jazz occupies in relation to it’s glorious past. The critic from Seattle was right. What many experts cannot admit is that there are periods of any art form that are decadent –that is, a period of low quality, or diffuse quality– and there are periods of greatness full of pioneers.
    PS a great period is about to dawn in visual art. Maybe in Jazz, too???

  • Marshal Parks

    To be or not to bop…that is the question.

    The music is a constant conversation between past, present, and future.

    No one ever gets it just right, and that’s the beauty of it, the ambiguity of it.

  • sixerjman

    You know that Soullive is IN THE POCKET ba-by! Can’t fAke the funk. :)

  • http://www.socialistjazz.blogspot.com todd mason

    It should be noted that the series is playing on the Dcoumentary Channel (US), which is also broadcast as one of the digital feeds of several PBS stations (notably WNPT in Nashville and KBDI in Boulder), and some Doc programming, including this series, is cleared by independent public station WNYE in New York City.

    I’ve only seen the first episode, which I like, but seeing more performance would be nice (admittedly, the more performance, the fewer comments and fewer artists that can be featured in a less-than-four-hour project…the Burns travesty at least had some time to spread out.

  • http://www.mattlaurence.com Matt Laurence

    Who was that caller who had played with the Evans’ bands in New York in the early nineties?!? My band, yeP! was on that same circuit and played many of those same venues and festivals! The Schleigho Ho-Down in 1997 was our last live gig, and I believe the 1996 Ho-Down included two Evans Brothers projects (Lettuce and a duo they had put together – I believe this was before they were part of Moon Boot Lover?)

  • mr.independant

    Valkyrie607 bored by Bird? hmmm. each to their own.
    I never tire of him or Lewis Armstrong.
    I also listen to Steve Coleman and Gilad Atzmon and bands like Fly, Larry Grenadier -Bass Jeff Ballard -Drums, Mark Turner – Tenor Sax

    Getting bored with Charlie Parker, no that is a statement.

  • mr.independant

    Getting bored with Charlie Parker, now that is a statement.

  • BethB

    Chill. Jazz IS. It’s living, mutating now.

    All unique art forms and “movements,” including jazz—are informed by the past, the present, the future, last night’s dinner or argument, the neighborhood, the personal, life-changing experiences, the gut, salt, peppers, vinegar, apples and oranges–

    We can’t let the “perfect” become the enemy of the good, or the real. But at the same time, in rejecting the straightjacket of the “pure,” we can’t also simply just create some new “right” way, that defines what’s authentic jazz, now. What or Who is pure blood in 2009 America, anyhow?

    Stop worrying and keep breaking boundaries, even if those new buildings use bricks from the past while throwing bricks at it…. But hey, if some folks live in the past, it doesn’t stop me from doing what I want. Jazz is a big-enough tent for us all.

  • AvantJazz

    Expand your horizons beyond the US and straight-ahead jazz.

    From Sweden

    The Thing: Mats Gustafsson / Ingebrigt Håker Flaten / Paal Nilssen-Love

    Best drummer evah!!

  • Monica

    Jack- to answer your question- it was Skerik

  • Heather

    that is funny! i wasn’t “bored” at the charlie parker point but i knew quickly that it might start being compared and debated before they even had a chance to talk! i tuned in to hear something other than charlie parker.. at least it moved on quickly!

    to Valkyrie : I think the producer did name jeff ballard though and is not a valid musician that was left out of the doc. ballard is a name that can only be quickly referenced ( and quoted ) because this producer obviously “gets it.” if he didn’t “get it,” he would have referenced a name much more mainstream. although, that is the problem. what name is mainstream ? this is the problem that tom didn’t seem to understand. i would be pretty shocked if any of these musicians have any “burden” that they carry through life with them just because they happen to play in the “jazz” idiom. jeff ballard music really is jeff ballard music. alan evans music is alan evans music. soulive music is soulive music ( which alan evans contributes to as one of the voices that make up that sound we know as “soulive”)

    when i am at any one of the films featured musicians live shows, the LAST thing i am thinking is .. ” so is this the song that is jazz guys? or this one ? no? oh, wait.. it is ??
    no. hell no.
    i am in whatever moment that soulive is creating for me, the audience member, to become part of that unique live performance. that performance, that song.. it only existed in that moment and it will never exist again .. quite that same way. it too , will evolve the next time they improvise on that song again. soul LIVE. it is a live art.

    where were all these comments during the call in ? phone questions?

    alan evans isn’t really phased by the confusion though. obviously. the sad part is that we have to keep defining things. it just exists. take what you can from it. what you want. don’t define it further into confusion hell.

    i haven’t seen this documentary yet but i am really excited that they are letting the musicians be the ultimate voice for the series. the music and the personalities can go a long way. however, the music needs to be heard, so i hope the music is being shown in a wide array.

    i am sure they left several musicians out you guys, is it possible to talk to every kick ass musician you hope for when embarking on such a massive project? nope.

    however, i just hope it becomes easier to view this series. what a shame if it too goes largely unnoticed.

    that would be very jazz though! hard to sell to the masses

  • Fred Carl

    I’m happy to hear about this documentary. But I am reminded of a talk I heard in the early 1970s by Pearl Primus, the great African American anthropologist, choreographer and dancer, who noted that her studies of dance/movement traditions in the African diaspora taught her that every tradition she had observed or studied had those people who kept to the tradition and those who pushed into new territory, and that both lines were important features of a vital cultural tradition. This conversation is also tied to a quote, again from the 1970s, by Ornette Coleman, who said that the division of music into categories–jazz, rock, whatever–is a function of the commodification of music into various categories so that they could be sold. People who are into the tradition will play and compose in that tradition and those who see other possibilities will move there. It all means that the form is alive. But this notion that one or the other is “wrong” is ridiculous and tied to market concerns–which I understand given that musicians need to make a living and forces external to them have a huge role in whether they do that or not. But be clear–this conversation and these arguments are NOT about the music and its validity.

  • zoi

    Funny that no one has mentioned the fusion jazz group “Pat Metheny”.

    I’m not a jazz expert, but I sure love Pat Metheny’s innovaton in modern jazz. To me, His music shows contour, and his guitar will take you on a trip and tell you stories!

    Not everyone one of his albums are great, but most of them are, especially his own “Secret Story”, he invites you there without a formal invitation, you just have to find your way there!

  • Terry Jones

    Blah blah…Just…THANK YOU for the show! “Jazz” thang has always been strangled by too many wordy-jerks parading their “theories” to make themselves feel clever,and impress others.Just FEEL it!!!! And,again,thanks,Mr.Ashbrook.(And,you know Yardbird,Miles,etc. would say…Go ahead!

  • Mob Rules

    All I have to say is SEX MOB. If you follow the family tree of New York’s Sex Mob, you will find yourself exploring some of the best in new music. They call it jazz, but they have a much broader pantheon of “standards”. How they left out Steven Bernstein, Tony Scherr, Briggan Krauss and Kenny Wollesen, I’ll never know. Here is a partial list of the people they have worked with: Kansas City Band (from Robert Altman’s film Kansas City), Jim Thirlwell’s Steroid Maximus, and Hal Wilner’s Leonard Cohen , Doc Pomus, and Bill Withers Projects, Diaspora Soul, Diaspora Blues, Diaspora Hollywood, and Diaspora Suite. Roswell Rudd,Sam Rivers, Don Byron, and Medeski, Martin & Wood, Aretha Franklin, Lou Reed, Linda Ronstadt, Digable Planets, Sting and Courtney Love. Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble band, Bill Frisell, Rufus Wainright, Marrianne Faithfull, Elton John, John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards, Woody Herman, John Scofield, Norah Jones, Ana Egge, Jesse Harris and the Ferdinandos, and Chris Brown and the Citizen Band, Al DiMeola, Either/Orchestra, Norah Jones, Tom Waits, Sean Lennon, Ron Sexsmith, John Zorn, Jane Scarpantoni
    Kamikaze Ground Crew, Sean Lennon , Pig Pen, Wayne Horvitz, Skerik, Eyvind Kang, Robin Holcomb, Anthony Coleman, Trey Anastasio, Joan Wasser, Hal Willner, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Laurie Anderson, Beth Orton, Cat Power.

    I know that this post is way too long, but
    I’m just sayin’:SEX MOB are definitely icons among us.

  • miles davis

    It’s too bad that these threads always end up becoming name-dropping threads. Many people decry why their favorite artist was left out. Get over yourself. Of course people are going to be left out. It’s too bad many decide take it personal.

    What many people don’t know about Pat Metheny is that his records are HEAVILY edited and some of his live shows are lip-synced. How in line is that with the spirit of jazz (spontanaiety, etc.)?

    For someone to say that Dave Douglas has a voice and Nicholas Payton doesn’t obviously needs to do some more listening. They both do.

  • zoi

    to miles davis (want to be):

    When you say Pat Metheny live show is “lip Synced”, meaning their instrumental or vocal parts? I assume you mean the vocals. His/their music(referring to him or his group) does have vocals humming, and he/they use it just as one of their instruments.

    I have been to a few of his/their live shows and watch most of his live dvd, NO, the most focal instruments are every bit of “real” live shows, and they are awesome.

    As far as you criticize of his/their heavily edited recording, get over it, because his music/cd are theatrical and dramatic that has layers, yes, it does need lots of editing, just like making a film. His approach is different from conventional jazz, I admire his/their spirit of exploring and experimenting music. That’s what people called “innovated” music without putting themselves in a “conventional” box.
    And he does lots of conventional jazz too.

    I like one of the above comments about just letting the jazz evolve and change, like everything else. So called authenticity is only the earliest form of everything, we appreciate the authenticity as well as evolving from it.

    There’s no need to decry if one of your favorites are not mentioned either, there are too many out there to be covered in this one hour show.

  • mr.independant

    Pat Metheny has played with Ornette Coleman and Joni Mitchell which shows his musicianship as well as an openness to new ideas. His album 80/81 is one hell of a record and features the late Michael Brecker.

    His playing on one of Josh Redmans early recordings, I think it was a live recording from the Village Vanguard, shows a master of the jazz guitar at work.

    I’m not to into a lot of his own records except 80/81, but that’s just a taste thing. Still he’s an amazing guitarist no matter what he plays.

    The Metheny band uses tape loops in concert, and the issue is…

  • zoi

    *****The Metheny band uses tape loops in concert, and the issue is…*****

    Could you tell me why those things should take away the value of being a true musician and artist who compose with his heart and soul, and plays like a master?

  • Miles Davis

    By lip synced I mean that he has his band members learn the solos from a recording, and then they go out and sync their movements with the music, not actually playing. He doesn’t do it at every show, but when he starts a new band, this is what they do for the first few live performances. It’s pretty remarkable considering how large his audiences are and the risk that is involved. Not too take away from his music, he’s great, but it’s something that he doesn’t have to do.

  • Kevin

    Jazz to me means “All Blues”…especially Bill Evans’ piano solo.

  • Kevin

    Hey Miles–I recently saw Pat Metheny, Christian McBride, and Antonio Sanchez in concert. NOTHING lip-synced there, my man! Granted, I know you were making comments about the PMG, but my point is this: Pat has a crossover popularity that very, VERY few others in the world of jazz have. One of my first experiences with jazz was hearing Pat’s music played by marching drum corps. That led me to the music of Miles, Monk, Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. And I’m not the only one out there with a story like this!!!

  • http://www.sueauclair.com Sue Auclair

    Hey, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow and Antonio Sanchez are all coming to Boston June 20. Also they will play with a slew of other jazz icons and up-and-coming artists like Julian Lage at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga New York.

  • zoi

    At times, I really wish I live in MA area, so I can just go more often to Pat’s small moderate live show, it would be great, especially when he plays just his guitar, or with other great musicians.

  • Jay

    Tom, this was a great show which got people talking. Thanks, for shining the light on the talent in my generation(Gen Y too). After all, there’s a wealth of it that often gets over looked by some in the Boomer generation.

  • Christine W.

    Just a question, even tho this is weeks after this great show aired. Why the “dis” about the Ken Burns series? I’m having trouble getting THRU to the last couple of Burns discs because each one is SO great, I watch each one over & over. I’m not sure how far K. Burns goes in time, but is he getting dismissed because maybe he doesn’t cover contemporary jazz? If so, WHY expect everything from one artist???!!! His history of the art form IS needed, and what a job he does!!! And he knits the history of jazz with the history of America so exquisitely. He usually does do HISTORY, so again, why did one commenter say something snide? And, even the guest suggested something negative about the Burns series. Thanks!

  • Kevin

    Christine–I couldn’t agree with you more. The Ken Burns Jazz Series is INCREDIBLE. I watched the series a month ago via Netflix, and was so disappointed when it was over! For some reason, it’s fashionable to dis Burns…I think a lot of it is because he’s focusing on history instead of the present. But given the fact that jazz’s past GREATLY surpasses the present, what’s the problem?

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