Happy 2013 International Jazz Day! We assembled a roundtable of historic and influential musicians that will be in Turkey today for International Jazz Day to shed some light on some issues concerning jazz music today. Read on below as Robert Glasper, John Beasley, Keiko Matsui, George Duke, and Terence Blanchard give some insight on a few questions we posed to them!
More jazz musicians are studying music formally in college nowadays. Is this a good thing for the progression of the art form?
Robert Glasper: I think it’s great for the music scene because without school, jazz would be dead. Literally all of the people that are relevant in the jazz world and are under 50, all came from school. They all came from some sort of jazz school—including even your Branford’s and your Wynton’s. Myself, Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman. All of those people that are really driving the scene now—especially people younger than that—come from school. I myself came from a performing arts high school and I got a full scholarship to college for jazz. If there was no reason for me to get a full scholarship for college, I wouldn’t be in New York. Nobody would come to New York because you can’t afford it. So there is that thing that gets you a scholarship to get you somewhere else. Music was that thing and that’s why New York is still thriving with all of these great musicians coming through. That’s also why jazz is still alive with the younger people; they’re doing it in schools. There are no more jazz clubs anymore. New York has more than most and New York is scarce. There’s no real jazz radio stations anywhere either—maybe 16 in the US. So other than schools, there is no other way to keep it thriving with young people.
At least what school does is get a bunch of musicians together. Not everything that you learn in school is the greatest. I’m not saying every school teaches you the correct shit, but at the end of the day, it gets a bunch of young bad cats with like-mindsets that love jazz together so that they can play the music and keep it alive.
John Beasley: Well I think technically yes. If you’re a young guy and frankly if you have money or you’re good enough to get a scholarship, you can go to one of these great schools and not have to worry about making a living. You can spend all of your time studying and practicing and playing with guys your age. That’s a great thing for any subject. The drawback to that is you are not getting firsthand gig experience or playing with older musicians a lot of times. If you are playing with older musicians it’s in a kind of controlled environment. So that’s a drawback and also in this day and age, there aren’t a lot of touring bands that go out for a long time. There’s no school of Art Blakey or Miles Davis or whoever.
Keiko Matsui: Compared to different eras, I think this is a very wonderful development because there are more and more people that have the opportunity to study music. Also I heard that music programs are being cut in elementary schools in the US because of budget problems. Some great musicians started from the marching band or school band, so some people are missing this kind of opportunity. I think it’s great to have more schooling.
George Duke: The more educated you are, the better off you’re going to be in terms of trying to making a living out of something. It can only help; it’s not going to hurt you. Education, no matter what you’re doing, is the key to success beyond being motivated and being talented. You’ve got to have the nuts and bolts.
Terence Blanchard: Well that depends on what they’re learning in college [laughs]. But I think in general it is a good thing. A lot of young kids are learning the fundamentals of their instrument, the fundamentals of theory and harmony, and the history of the music, which is always a great thing to understand. Then in the case of the Monk Institute and the Manhattan School of Music and some other places, there are these great teachers that are visionaries helping students develop their craft.
If you were to teach one lesson to musicians, what would it be?
Robert Glasper: Don’t worry about breaking rules because a lot of times the teachers who are teaching you are musicians who never took risks. A lot of times that’s why they’re teaching and never really perform or never had a career in performance. They never take risks and they are a part of the cookie-cutter jazz scene, which was the scene where everybody sounded the same because “this is what jazz was supposed to sound like. And I’m going to teach you what it’s supposed to sound like.” Not many schools teach you to be an original thinker.
Jazz is very much about legacy; it’s like an ex-girlfriend that won’t leave you alone. Listen, I love Duke Ellington, but I’m working away now so don’t get mad. They’re like, “Don’t leave us! What are you doing?” We’re progressing like every other genre. When you don’t progress like every other genre then you get left behind—like jazz is left behind right now. It’s one-percent of the music market, literally. So I would definitely tell people to not ignore their influences. Stay current. Love the history, learn the history, but don’t be held back by the history.
John Beasley: I would teach them to develop the skill of being fearless. Jazz is really the art of playing one note and then going to the next note without any fear. Develop your own sound. To me, you get through that by being fearless.
Keiko Matsui: For me, music is like prayer. I feel that being connected to your soul and your emotion is important. I travel to different places and different ethnic areas, but I always feel that music connects us no matter where I am. I think this is a great form of art. Music is like a mirror; it reflects your thoughts and your spirit. So it is very important to share this experience with others and meet people through this music.
George Duke: You can never have the ultimate grasp on the nuts and bolts, but you can get pretty close. Once you’ve got that together, you have to figure out what to do with it. That’s where it gets hard—everything else is pretty much memorization. The business side of music is definitely changing and I don’t know what that paradigm is right now. I used to be able to say, “Well, if you do A, B, and C, you’ll make a living playing music.” However, I choose to look at the glass being half-full and not half-empty. It’s kind of like being in the Wild West; I don’t know where the dust will settle.
But if I were to be with a student towards the end of their college career who knew the nuts of bolts of what they were doing, I would tell them that when the door opens you can peek around the corner, but you’re eventually going to have to just walk through that door. In other words, take advantage of your opportunities when they come about because they may not come around again. There are fewer opportunities in music right now, but the ones that are there are there. With the internet as the great equalizer, you need to have an online presence and get yourself out there without a middleman. For jazz musicians, I don’t think record companies are as important as they were years ago. But the main thing for students is that once you have the nuts and bolts, act on that and get out there as much as possible because the other part in all of this is experience. You have to go out and get it.
Terence Blanchard: Never lie to yourself. We all struggle with who we want to be versus who we are. When we come to terms with that, then we’re better off. There’s room for everybody’s voice and vision.
As far as the jazz idiom goes, do you think there is any jazz musician who is super underrated that people should be listening to, but don’t look at enough?
Robert Glasper: Mulgrew Miller. Him in general, but all of his live concerts especially. A lot of times it’s not about the record because some people don’t record as well as they play live. You have to see some people live to get it and Mulgrew is definitely one of those people.
John Beasley: Millions of them, sure [laughs]. Wayne Krantz and Bob Sheppard for sure. Also me!
Keiko Matsui: I admire many great artists and there are too many to name. I’m very interested in classical composers as well. I would tell people to look at artists outside of jazz as well. Music has no boundaries. My music has elements of classical, rock, jazz, world music, and others. So it’s hard to pick one artist.
George Duke: Wow, there are a lot of those. I think there are quite a few young musicians and quite a few are coming from New Orleans actually. I think a lot of them are still in school and you don’t hear about them because a lot of the guys that were promoting jazz 20 years ago are not around anymore. They were like fans and we need more of them in positions of power. That’s a tough one though. I’ve been to Berklee College of Music and seen some incredible musicians.
I know Marcus Miller is taking around a band of young guys and made a record with them. I think it’s very important to keep the music young and keep it hungry. I think it’s incumbent upon guys like Marcus and me to hire young folks. Stanley Clarke and I have a 21-year-old drummer named Henry McDaniel. He’s a good guy, he just needed some experience, and so we took him on the road with us. He’s learned more in this last year-and-a-half than I think he did anywhere else. So it’s incumbent upon us to keep these musicians visible, but they are out there.
Terence Blanchard: There are some younger musicians for sure. Ambrose Akinmusire and Lionel Loueke are both developing as voices of their own definitely.
If you were putting together a new Real Book of sorts, who would you put in there?
Robert Glasper: That’s a good question. I’d put in some Radiohead, some Björk, some Dilla, Anita Baker, Lionel Loueke, Brad Mehldau, Kendrick Scott, Brian Blade. There are a lot of people. And that’s my point, just people playing music that you can’t necessarily trace it back to 1930. You shouldn’t have to sound like that. Nobody listens to Chris Brown and says, “Hey, I don’t hear any Marvin Gaye in your sound.” You don’t have to trace everything back through history. It’s already a part of history, that’s why we’re here. It’s kind of a given.
John Beasley: The Yellowjackets, John Patitucci, Michael Brecker, Chris Potter. That book really needs to be updated doesn’t it?
George Duke: Me [laughs]! Obviously it has to continue to grow. You can’t just rehash everything from the past. You need to be inclusive and some of the young guys that are out there will be a part of that book, no doubt. There will be new jazz standards made. The main thing is that these guys need to remember to make sure and keep the melody in the music. Rhythm is wonderful, but put the two of them together and you’ve got a great pie. You put rhythm and harmony together with a great performance and that’s the great triad. In terms of what’s going to end up in those books, who knows? There are some great composers around today though.
The darling of the jazz world nowadays is Esperanza. She’s become very strong, she’s a good-looking girl, and she can really play. She’s got a really bright future. I particularly like Robert Glasper as well. He’s got a bright future too. I truly support that he is pushing the envelope and that is important for this music because that’s what has always separated jazz from a lot of other styles—it pushes the envelope. It doesn’t just stand still, even though lots of fans of the music would love it to stand still. That’s they’re right, but musicians should be free to be as inclusive as they want. So I support people like Esperanza and Robert Glasper who are pushing the envelope of the music and taking it into the future. You can’t find better people than that.
Terence Blanchard: Definitely Lionel Loueke, Fabian Almazan, Ambrose Akinmusire. When you talk about jazz standards, you’re talking about tunes than can withstand the test of time—that’s a high standard. If I had to pick someone from the pop genre it would definitely be Stevie Wonder more so than anyone else.
How does the international jazz scene compare to the US jazz scene? Does it follow the same trends?
John Beasley: I think nowadays, it’s all kind of the same. We’re all listening to Europeans more and of course they’re listening to us. The same thing with Japanese musicians as well. Of course we’ve been listening to Brazilian musicians, Cuban musicians, and African musicians for a long time now. But I think Europeans really caught up and they’ve got their own sound in a way. The world is so much smaller now. Back when Duke Ellington was first going to Europe, they were freaking out and going, “What is this?” It was like music from another planet or something. The internet and more travel have changed everything. Nowadays we’re able to go to Europe for one gig and come right back.
Keiko Matsui: I just came back from an Eastern European tour and in different parts of the world they have so much interest in jazz. I think jazz is a form we can share more. Even if we don’t know each other and don’t speak the same language, we can play the same material and that starts a conversation.
George Duke: I don’t think so. It’s kind of cultural. I think there is a certain amount of regional music that jazz has kind of taken on and I think that’s a good thing. Unfortunately I think radio has lost that. You used to be able to go into one city and you could tell where you were based on what the radio was playing. It had more of a regional feel. I don’t mind that with jazz. Jazz has pretty much always been international and it’s nice to see regional difference between how people play. When we come to town we sound a little different, so we compare notes and things like that.
Terence Blanchard: The scenes are different in some regards and that’s normal. Everybody is not going to follow the same track. It changes from city to city. For me, that’s what music should be. It shouldn’t all be the same all over the place.
With International Jazz Day in Istanbul, Turkey this year, do you see any connections between jazz and the Erteguns and Atlantic Records who came from Turkey?
John Beasley: There’s a huge connection. The Ertegun’s father was an ambassador to the US. Actually Herbie tells this story great. But back in the day the father loved jazz, so when guys would come to DC, he’d invite them all to the embassy to hang and play. At that time people thought because they were black they would be coming in the back door, but the Erteguns immediately put a stop to that. So it was both racial and the actual music that they helped. On another note, the Turks have been making the same Zildjian cymbals for hundreds and hundreds of years. They’re the best cymbals in the world.
George Duke: Obviously those were two of the greatest entrepreneurs for music in general. I worked with both of them and they both were incredible people as well as musicians. I guess it’s a testimony to how the music has affected people from across the world. The music affected them and then they said, “I want to promote this.” They put their money where their mouth was and I think it was an incredible thing.
Terence Blanchard: When you look at Turkish music in general, it’s had a huge impact on jazz and all American music as well. That’s the thing that I love about art in general. Obviously American music has given a lot to the world culture, but when you go to Turkey and hear traditional Turkish musicians play their historic forms of music, you sit there and go, “Oh, I can see how that influenced some rhythmic concepts that we use in jazz.”
Moderated by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)
Robert Glasper is currently working on his followup to the Grammy Award-winning Black Radio with the Experiment. The new album features guest spots by Norah Jones, Patrick Stump, Jill Scott, Jahi, Faith Evans, Bilal, Jazmine Sullivan, and more.
Keiko Matsui is putting the finishing touches on her 24th studio album in the US. She recorded in San Francisco and New York.
Look out for John Beasley with his 17-piece MONKestra Big Band capturing the spirit of Monk’s unique quirkiness, offbeat accents, punchy dissonances, in his fresh arrangements of Monk’s and other classic and original compositions.
George Duke will be releasing DreamWeaver, an album he considers to be his “most honest album in several years” on July 16th, 2013. The album features the likes of Christian McBride, Rachelle Ferrell, Teena Maria, Lalah Hathaway, Jeffrey Osborne, BeBe Winans, Freddie Jackson and Howard Hewett among others. The passing of Duke’s wife Corine was the impetus for recording, making it sure to be a powerful statement.
Terence Blanchard is set to release his new album, Final Magnetic, on Blue Note Records May 28th, 2013. The album features compositions and performances by Brice Winston, Fabian Almazan, Joshua Crumbly, Kendrick Scott, Ravi Coltrane, Lionel Loueke, and Ron Carter. Moreover, on June 15th, the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis will combine forces to premiere Blanchard’s first opera, Champion, an “Opera in Jazz” based on the story of the boxing champion Emile Griffith.