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Jazz And Its Future

With Newport’s Jazz Festival opening this weekend, we talk jazz in America — where it is and where it’s going — with jazz great Terence Blanchard, Jonathan Batiste and NPR’s Patrick Jarenwattananon.

Jazz great Terence Blanchard has released four albums and composed a number of Spike Lee films. He's the artistic firector at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Washington. (jhderojas/Flickr)

Jazz great Terence Blanchard has released four albums and composed a number of Spike Lee films. He’s the artistic director at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Washington. (jhderojas/Flickr)

The Newport Jazz Festival opens this weekend, and there will be great old names and talents in the spotlight — Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, the great octogenarian Wayne Shorter and his quartet.

But there will be younger talent aplenty, too.  And new sounds of jazz — Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Amir ElSaffar, Jonathan Batiste.

And a bridge like Terence Blanchard.

This hour, On Point: Batiste and Blanchard are with us. We’re looking at jazz and where it’s headed.

– Tom Ashbrook


Terence Blanchard, five-time Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer, arranger and film score composer. (@T_Blanchard)

Jonathan Batiste, jazz singer, multi-instrumentalist and bandleader. He performs with the trio, Stay Human. (@JonBatiste)

Patrick Jarenwattananon, jazz critic, producer for NPR Music, editor of NPR’s A Blog Supreme. (@blogsupreme)

Interview Highlights

Terence Blanchard at WBUR. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Jazz musician Terence Blanchard joined us live in studio. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Terence Blanchard on creating his music:

What’s happening here is kind of like a melding of a lot of musical genres together, trying to take composition and the world of jazz to a new place or a different place, trying to bring in my background as a film composer, my background as a person who loves classical music into the world of jazz but not forgetting the tradition of jazz.

Blanchard on young audiences and the evolution of jazz:

There are younger people who are in the audience … When people have that argument [that the audience is "graying"], I think a lot of that is because certain musicians are trying to uphold a tradition. We have to constantly move forward.

This music is an evolutionary thing. It has to evolve daily, and it has to be relevant. If you those elements in your music, you’re going to attract younger people. You’re going to attract people who are into things that are happening now. It’s not to say that we don’t respect our traditions and our history — we do, and you can hear that in the music — but the other side of it is you have to move forward.

We have to take all of who we are and bring all of those things together to create an art form that’s unique and really our own sound.

Patrick Jarenwattananon on the new generation of jazz musicians:

One of the great things about this jazz community is that so many of the people who gained the respect of the jazz community come through the same sort of educational models. They come through more experienced band leaders, like Terence, and maybe they’ll then choose to go off in a different direction themselves, but they still come from this place of learning and a lot of practice and tradition-absorbing.

I guess you could say that Robert Glasper is an example like that. his first few albums demonstrated this great, deep knowledge of how to play ding-ding-a-ling jazz but recently with his experiment band, which will be at Newport, he’s been really reflecting the blend of hip hop and R&B and how modern jazz could sound.

One caller — John from Washington, D.C. — made the argument that jazz is something smart, educated people are “supposed” to like. Jarenwattananon responded:

It can be hard to convince fellow 20-somethings to come out and see a jazz show. I think there is a certain expectation among a certain group of folks that this is some thing that we’re “supposed” to like. It’s been branded as America’s classical music. This great American product that we’re supposed to appreciate in some intellectual way that is part of our cultural understanding. And of course I believe all that stuff, but I think there is a disconnect in trying to get from that stage to bring people actually out into the audience. Oftentimes when they actually come to the shows, a lot of people are entranced. But there is that gap between making jazz which is something that people talk over versus something that people will actively go to.

No, you don’t have to like jazz, as Blanchard pointed out:

As a jazz artist, it’s not like we’re trying to beat everybody over the head and say, “You have to like jazz!” That’s not the issue. The issue is do you find something in the music? In any art that happens — sometimes you can go to a museum and some things will hit you very different than other pieces, other works. I think jazz has a tendency in this country to be painted with one broad brush, and that’s what we have to start to realize: that there are a lot of different facets and elements to this music.

Blanchard on the controversial nature of defining jazz:

Jazz has always been a controversial music because people always want to try to define exactly what it is — “It’s this, it’s that.” At a certain point, Dizzy Gillespie was not considered jazz because those guys were playing too many notes.

So when you start talking about this music, it’s been an evolutionary process … you have all of these musicians who are doing all of these various things now. It’s one of the reasons why people are confused when they come to hear my band because sometimes they think of us as a contemporary band and all of a sudden we start to play standards, and they think, “Well, wait a minute. What’s going on?” The thing is we’re just trying to have fun playing music and not trying to live by a certain set of definitions that really don’t apply to who we are as creative artists.

Don’t live in New York, Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles? You might have issues seeing a live jazz performance, and that’s a problem, said Jarenwattananon:

Outside of the major jazz cities, it’s harder to see this music on a consistent basis. It’s just become economically unviable for many jazz clubs to exist out of those large areas. I think you do see a lot of musicians now beginning to tour to do one-night hits at a major theater instead of doing a few nights at a club. Or play at the local university. Wherever there’s enough money to make it viable for a jazz group to actually tour across the country. And that is an issue that we do need to figure out — how to more properly fund it so people can see it live because, let’s face it, it is such live music. You’re not getting the same thing if all you’re doing is listening to jazz on a record.

Jonathan Batiste, 26, on learning from the older generation:

That’s how you learn the music. You have to have somebody’s that been there and done that. And you just soak the music up from them. And there’s a lot that you learn. You look at it and you learn it vicariously. You don’t even have to take a lesson playing or go through something that they’re telling you. You just watch them and play with them and more time goes by and you learn more.


Not available on Spotify but played during the hour:

“Personalities” by Fabian Almazan

“Let God Lead” by Jonathan Batiste

“Al-Badia” by Amir ElSaffar

From Tom’s Reading List

NPR Music: 5 To Watch: Newport Jazz Festival Debuts: “In recent years, Newport Jazz has held surprises throughout its entire lineup, thanks to programming designed to bring more names into the fold.”

Associated Press: 59th Newport Jazz Festival Stars Cole, Hancock: “The festival begins Friday with performances by Natalie Cole, her uncle Freddy Cole and the Bill Charlap Trio at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.”

The Atlantic: The End Of Jazz: “There is no reason to believe that jazz can be a living, evolving art form decades after its major source—and the source that linked it to the main currents of popular culture and sentiment—has dried up.”

The New York Times: Homophobia In The Ring Delivers Fatal Blows: “Toward the end of Terence Blanchard’s ‘Champion,’ which received its premiere this week at the Opera Theater of Saint Louis here, the protagonist, Emile Griffith, relives the terror of being attacked by homophobic thugs.”


The Terence Blanchard Quintet plays from their 2009 album “Choices” live at WNYC’s “The Greene Space” in New York City:

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  • jefe68

    I’m very into jazz, listen to a huge swath of music from Louis Armstrong to Coltrane, Rollins, Miles, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Joe Lovano to Ibrahim Mallouf.

    The future of jazz is not only here in the US it’s coming from all over the world and from the sons and daughters of recent immigrants to the US. Seems to the future seems bright and full.

    What’s needed is more support and venues for musicians.

    Check out Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Mallouf:

    Indian/American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa:

    Pianist Vijay Iyer who was born in Buffalo, NY and is of Indian Tamal decent:

    Colin Steele, trumpeter and composer from Scotland:

    Also from Scotland Sax player Phil Bancroft:

    British based Israeli Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon:

    British Saxophonist/composer Julian Arguelies:

    Hiromi, from Japan:

    Canadian saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett:

  • Shag_Wevera

    Jazz no longer effectively describes the genre. It has become too large to be accurately categorized together. I like Bossa Nova, Wynton Marsalis, Miles Davis, and Big Band/Swing. Are these really all the same thing?

    • jefe68

      Yes, they are related as they are coming from the idea of improvisation and swing. Bossa Nova, as all latin music is born out of the influx of Africans into the Caribbean and Central/South American culture.

      Marsalis, Davis and Big Band/swing music are definitely related.

  • adks12020

    I’m a big fan of both traditional jazz and more modern hybrid styles. Medeski, Martin, and Wood; Joe Lovano; John Scofield; Mary Halvorson; Bill Frisell; Charlie Hunter; Greyboy Allstars; Robert Walter, and Marco Benevento are my favorite acts that are currently touring at the moment.

    I never get sick of the 70s funky/fusion of Miles; Herbie Hancock; Mahavishnu Orchestra; Return to Forever; and the classic greats like Coltrane; Dizzy; Wayne Shorter; Charlie Parker, and Monk though.

  • John_in_VT

    Ask what happened to clarient-based jazz ala Goodman, Artie Shaw, etc. Is there a clarinetist to listen to today? Why has sax and trumpet taken over? And what does Terrence think of the Preservation Hall’s new album?

    • jefe68

      Well there is Eddie Daniels, Anat Cohen (Israeli), John Carter, Don Byron, Ken Peplowski, Dr. Michael White,
      Paquito D’Rivera (Cuban), Jimmy Giuffre to name a few.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

      bro, search recent fresh air show. the jazz critic reviewed a bluesy lp by a player/professor – was real nice.

      • jefe68

        That was Darryl Harper, heard that as well.
        Very nice music.

  • adks12020

    James Farm’s (Redman, Parks, Penman, Harland) album is a really cool album with a mix of contemporary music and jazz.

  • Nicabod

    Why on Earth are you /not/ broadcasting in stereo? You’re five decades behind the times, technically, and I think you’re insulting the musicians by providing inferior sound.

  • Dave Lister

    It’s good to hear what the new innovative players are doing. My own history with jazz is that in the 70′s, I was a white kid who grew up in NH and I came to jazz through a circuitous route.
    We listened to mostly progressive rock in high school, stuff like King Crimson and Soft Machine which was heavily jazz influenced. That led us to Miles and Coltrane and fusion bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. From there eventually to Ornette Coleman and all the way to Art Ensemble of Chicago.
    What it all had that attracted a bunch of white kids in NH in the 70;s and 80′s was the almost limitless imagination and experimentation. IMO that has been missing from jazz ever since the 90′s when Wynton became the defacto spokesperson and arbiter of what is and is not real jazz. There was (or seemed to be) a long period where jazz was only looking backward and if that is fading away then maybe a lot of younger people will rediscover what I did when I was in my teens and 20′s.

  • David Garten

    The best jazz I’m hearing today is being written, curated and played by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra at Birdland and Symphony Space in New York. ALJO’s music is traditional, progressive, inclusive and eclectic all at the same time. He’s making huge strides in, as he says, “continuing the conversation that was interrupted between swing and clave.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

    our Montreal Jazzfest is less jazz than ever, happened slowly but surely…the programmer books quasi popular free main events to draw numbers. the seated shows ticket prices are extravagant to say the least(sad). Terrence sorry we missed you @ Miles from India in july 2009,Nic Payton played… long live jazz baby

  • Julie Keller

    Totally agree with the young guy from New Hampshire who just called in. Wally’s in the South End of Boston is a fantastic jazz venue, filled with young people–players and listeners– It takes forever to even get a seat on a Wednesday! That’s testament to how popular jazz is among young people in New England. If only we could have similar venues in other parts of the country.

  • Bruce94

    Thanks OnPoint for an excellent show featuring the depth and breadth of an art form that has evolved in so many directions that any effort to define its future would be a daunting task. As a piano player who was taught by an aficionado of Teddy Wilson and who later gravitated to the music of Davis, Hancock, Coltrane and Bill Evans, I remain keenly interested in today’s topic. And as someone who lived most of his adult life in New Orleans, I really enjoyed hearing from Blanchard and Batiste (although I’m more familiar with Alvin Batiste’s music than I am with Jonathan’s).

    I was also glad that you got to the student at Berklee College of Music–a program that I applied to in a previous lifetime as a college sophomore and ultimately decided not to pursue in order to complete my degree in an unrelated field (I had lots of energy back then, but was short on talent). Berklee is such a huge asset to the community and resource to students, practitioners and promoters of jazz. On my last visit to Boston, we were in the neighborhood and got to listen to a free concert by faculty–an incredible experience for someone like me, who was a white kid raised in the suburban South many miles away from the nearest jazz club.

    This time next year if all goes as planned (i.e. if imminent move to MA happens), I’ll be purchasing tickets to the Newport Festival. As a veteran of dozens of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals, I’m looking forward to experiencing this event for the first time and also having the opportunity to appreciate music at the various jazz venues in the area.

  • turnerware
  • John

    Here’s a question for Tom or the On Point staff: I was driving while listening to your program, and aside from my interest in jazz and the topics discussed, a non-jazz piece was played at the into to the show. Tom announced the artist, but I had no way of writing it down, yet I’m very interested to explore that artist further. if you have time, kindly email me to let me know the name of that artist or group. The broadcast was on 8/2/13. Many thanks!

    • MordecaiCarroll

      I think it may have been the Robert Glasper Experiment – but don’t quote me on this!

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