The Return of the Blues: Revitalized Jazz in Modern Music

By Erin Caine
Elm Staff Writer

Though the jazz age of the Roaring Twenties has long passed, jazz’s influence on modern music all around the world is still undeniably potent. To some, jazz may seem like an artifact of a bygone era, something with a place today only in hotel lounges and oldies stations on the radio. In reality, jazz hasn’t disappeared at all since its golden years in the mid-20th century. It’s changed its form and expanded to encompass and influence other genres of music and forms of artistic expression.
A genre that originated in New Orleans, jazz from its genesis onward into the 2000s has always been hard to pin down since it involves a wide range of styles, cultural spins, and subgenres. Below is a list of just some of the forms the genre has taken in recent years:
1. Jazz in lo-fi hip hop: The term lo-fi is short for low fidelity, which is a type of sound recording involving deliberate flaws, distortions, and background noises. The overall effect creates a dreamy, nostalgic, and candid style. Lo-fi hip hop tracks often enhance the wistful atmosphere by sampling segments of well-known jazz standards, or they root the melody in a relaxed jazz piano refrain. Some artists, such as the Japanese producer, Nujabes, dabble in more than a single style, combining unlikely elements. Nujabes’ song “The Final View,” samples jazz oboist Yusef Lateef’s song “Love Theme from Spartacus” while adding a hip hop drum loop, original percussion and instrumentation, and a voice track in the background speaking the words: “I have traveled for an eternity…”
2. Jazz in visual media: A renewed interest in the genre can perhaps be attributed to movies and TV shows that deal with the performance or the history of jazz music, or involve jazz as an aesthetic choice. In the late 90s, the anime “Cowboy Bebop” gained western appeal with its boisterous jazz soundtrack, written by the legendary Yoko Kanno and performed by the Seatbelts. As an aesthetic choice, the soundtrack helped to enhance the show’s western accessibility, a raucous and stylish soundscape that followed the antics of a bona fide cowboy, Spike Spiegel.
The 2014 drama film “Whiplash” introduces audiences to the grit and struggle of a music student trying to realize his ambitions of being a prominent jazz drummer. From the intricacies of tempo and technique to grueling early-morning tryouts, aspiring to the top of the jazz world is no easy feat; watching the main character struggle through and come out on top inspires in us a deep respect for jazz musicians.
3. Fusion in popular music: The fusion of jazz and other genres has existed since the late-’60s, when artists like Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa combined it with rock and funk. In contemporary music, jazz-influenced popular artists such as Amy Winehouse have taken it a step further, paying homage to their influences while also creating their own distinct and original sound out of even unlikelier combinations. Winehouse has a history in the genre; she was a vocalist for Britain’s National Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2000 and her influences include jazz vocalists such as Sarah Vaughan. Her early work was an eclectic blend of jazz, soul, and R&B, while her later work put a more contemporary spin on the sound. Songs like “Mr. Magic (Through the Smoke)” are even jazzier than their original recordings, incorporating a big brass band.

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