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Feature

Plenty to come in the 21st century

What will happen to jazz in the new century? It will thrive. Not just in the US but in Britain, India, and believe it or not, Azerbaijan. A look at brilliant young artistes who are carrying the torch forward


I walked into a music shop in downtown Bangalore and picked out a cassette. I handed it over to the proprietor, MV. "Let's check this out," I said.

He started playing it, then looked carefully at the album cover and the information on it. "Who's this guy Nicholas Payton?" he asked, obviously liking what he heard (Fingerpaintings - The Music of Herbie Hancock, played by Payton on trumpet, Mark Whitfield on guitar and Christian McBride on bass).

MV is several cuts above the average music dealer in Bangalore because he knows quite a bit about jazz and is playing it whenever his customers don't want to hear something else. But it was hardly surprising that he hadn't heard of Payton, a New Orleans native of about 25 whom I'd heard just a few months earlier on BBC radio. Payton had been duetting with Doc Cheatham, a 91-year-old trumpeter who'd played with Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday and whom I'd last heard of supporting Dizzy Gillespie in 1992 - when that 74-year-old, a mere stripling in comparison, was celebrating 60 years in jazz!

This was 1998, and Cheatham died a year later almost with his boots on. The extraordinary synergy between two musicians 67 years apart in age shows that jazz is not about to age and die; the young will respect and absorb tradition even while they innovate and advance.

Whitfield is fairly well known, but McBride is perhaps the most famous of the youthful Fingerpaintings trio. You might call him a young veteran if it were not for the fact that even the 58-year-old Hancock, a virtuoso pianist and composer, is just about attaining the status of a veteran himself! McBride's album Gettin' to It finds him alongside other young musicians such as Roy Hargrove on trumpet, Joshua Redman on tenor sax, and Lewis Nash on drums, all equally famous. Hargrove, McBride and other exciting young musicians have played from time to time with the veteran vocalist Betty Carter, who died last year. Both McBride and Redman feature on the album Young lions, old tigers by the elder statesman-pianist Dave Brubeck, who has high praise for all the "young lions" he has celebrated on the album. Hargrove, Whitfield and McBride also co-star with other young musicians on a CD called Jazz Futures that Music World was offering at the throwaway price of Rs 150 when it opened in Bangalore!

For the most part these musicians are well entrenched in mainstream jazz, what one can roughly describe as hard bop. Somewhat older than them (around 40) and among the most esteemed jazz musicians of the present are the Marsalis brothers, Wynton (trumpeter) and Branford (tenor and soprano saxophonist). They ought to be in hard bop but aren't quite.

Let me explain: both were discoveries of the great drummer Art Blakey, who is credited with being both the main force in the growth of hard bop and the discoverer of a series of young musicians, whom he used to induct into his band called Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Branford has not stayed exclusively in hard bop, having made extensive forays into jazz-rock fusion and especially hip-hop. But on his own albums Trio Jeepy and Renaissance as well as on Dizzy Gillespie's New Faces he was a trememdous be-bopper or hard bopper.

Wynton has for years been digging backwards into the traditions of jazz, from Dixieland to swing, with a special emphasis on Duke Ellington. He's the Musical Director of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, based in New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Every year the orchestra specially performs Ellington music, in particular some of Ellington's quiet, deep, reflective suites such as the New Orleans suite (including A portrait of Louis Armstrong) and A portrait of Ella Fitzgerald.

I might mention in passing the violinist Regina Carter and the singer-pianist Diana Krall to illustrate that the young jazz musicians scene is not wanting either in women or in vocalists. In passing only, because I've very recently reviewed Carter's new album and will do as much this month for Diana Krall's.

Amit Heri, Indian jazz musician It's time to turn our attention to young jazz musicians outside the US. A couple from India, Trilok Gurtu and Amit Heri, figured in my survey of Indian jazz earlier this month. The percussionist Gurtu, especially, has been wowing his peers around the world. On the British jazz scene, I should first take note of the accomplished pianist Julian Joseph of Afro-Caribbean origin. Although unlike some other Britons of Caribbean origin, such as the Jazz Warriors, he does not work in Caribbean-influenced music, his acknowledgment of his debt to American giants such as Ellington, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock and his placing himself in that mainstream tradition probably have a quite a bit do with his black roots. In contrast stand Django Bates (pianist/ keyboardist/ French horn player) and Iain Ballamy (saxophonist), who have absorbed something from various European folk traditions and also been quite adventurous in producing unstructured, chaotic sounding but very inventive music.

Britain has also for decades played host to many South African expatriates. The latest in that line, who became famous just before the advent of non-racial democracy in his home country, is a pianist called Bheki Mseleku. He combines classic piano technique with South African tradition. So great is his appeal that for his second or third album, Timelessness, he had several of New York's contemporary jazz greats falling over one another to be his guests.

You might think the last country on Earth to have a jazz tradition is Azerbaijan, but you'd be wrong. Jazz came to this Caucasian republic along with American workers in its first oil boom before the Soviet era. A man called Mustafazadeh picked it up, bootleg, in the Stalinist '30s and passed it on to his daughter before his death. On his advice, Aziza Mustafazadeh combines jazz virtuosity on the piano with Azeri folk music, adding a naughty, swinging singing voice. Like Mseleku, she got warhorses on the American scene to join her in Dance of fire. She's not the only young musician to show that in the new century, this century-old musical tradition, combining the fire of innovative performers with the dance of great rhythms, will stay young, alive and kicking.

Jazzebel





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