Over the past few years or so I’ve gotten heavily into Jazz but my mama raised me on gospel and soul. Holy roller that she was (and still is) she had me in Sunday school, serving as an altar girl, youth u(r)sher, and a host of other activities at our church in Seattle. So I got my fill of gospel music. With regard to soul, I swear I’d seen Al Green a dozen times at locations up and down the West Coast, including British Columbia, by the time I was twelve courtesy of my mother’s reignited teenage infatuation. I’d also seen my Auntie throw herself at Smokey Robinson’s limo following a show at Bumbershoot. I’d had my mother cover my ears to protect me from curses being hurled by Chaka Khan at the lighting tech during a local concert and I’d seen more failed pimps and old playas (in short sets and straw fedoras no less) at an Ohio Players concert my dad drug me too when I was in the eighth grade. So it’s not like I could have just sifted through my parents old records and discovered Jazz music. It came to me more indirectly.
A clerk at defunct Seattle record store Orpheum recommended Cassandra Wilson’s New Moon Daughter to me as a pre-teen so I picked it up, enjoyed it and a few months later was intrigued to hear her on “One Shine” from Illadelph Halflife. I got into legendary drummer Art Blakey via a Starbucks Jazz compilation my mom picked up for me on a Soy steamer run but I came to a good deal of Jazz through hip-hop. So I’ve compiled a short list of hip-hop songs that introduced me to jazz, jazz songs sampled by hip-hop artists and hip-hop-influenced jazz I’ve been listening to recently.
“Planet Rock” by Jason Moran (Modernistic, Blue Note, 2002)
Having signed to preeminent Jazz label Blue Note in the late nineties, Houston native Jason Moran’s released just over half a dozen albums the last of which, Artist in Residence, dropped in September. This is his take on the Bambaata classic Planet Rock from his 2002 album Modernistic.
“The Doo Bop Song” by Miles Davis (Doo Bop, Warner Bros., 1991)
I highly recommend Miles Davis’ autobiography (as told to Quincy Troupe). It’s a great read and he’s surprisingly forthright from openly criticizing other musicians to trying to account for his violence against women but what also emerges is a committement to developing his sound. At the end of his life this took the form of this collaboration with Easy Mo Bee. Miles died before the album was completed. Critics have ben pretty hard on it but I remember seeing this video of the rap video show. I liked it then and still like it now.
“Variations (On a Conspiracy Theory)” by Russell Gunn (Ethnomusicology Vol. III, Justin Time Records, 2003)
Grammy nominated trumpeter Russell Gunn has toured extensively with DJ/Turntablist Neil Armstrong of the 5th Platoon collective. An East St. Louis native who was raised on hip hop, he incorporates it pretty nicely into his music especially his Ethnomusicology series. The Atlanta based Gunn has just released with his group Bionix, Krunk Jazz, which despite the name is quite listenable.
“Respect the Architect” by Guru feat. Bahamadia and Ramsey Lewis (Jazzmatazz Vol. II: The New Reality, Chrysalis, 1995)
It’s really a shame that Guru chose to embark on that irrational rampage against audio engineer Young Guru. It was foolhardy and only sullies his name for a new crop of listeners who may not be familiar with the Gang Starr legacy. Midlife crisis aside no one has come close to fusing Jazz and hip hop like Guru. The Jazzmatazz series is classic. This track from Volume II is my favorite. Ramsey Lewis is a pianist equally at home playing Jazz and R&B and Bahamadia was and still is a phenomenal emcee and is in my all time top ten.
“Mrs Parker of K.C.” by Eric Dolphy (Far Cry, Eric Dolphy Prestige 1960)
Eric Dolphy didn’t mean anything to me until I read Ntozake Shange’s Liliane. At one point the narrator says, “I heard Eric Dolphy in his eyes.” I thought it was sick line and I just assumed that I’d like Dolphy’s music. I don’t. At least the two albums I downloaded. The clarinetist may have been a genius but he’s not easy listening and I can be lazy. But I mention him because he’s a major figure and he was sampled on the Del classic “Catch a Bad One” according to The Breaks. If my ears are correct the sample’s about 6 minutes in.
I really recommend going to hear some live Jazz. It’s a different experience than listening to a recording and for those of you who are aspiring beat makers you might get a little inspiration or find a sample source or two. So NYC metro, I started a Jazz listening group this past summer after noticing that I was often the only young and/or black person at a lot of shows. The listening group is a diverse mix of young folks and we check out a low cost or free Jazz shows in the city every month. E-mail me if you want to join us.