NCPA Jazz Festival: We Asked Musicians About the Timeless Genre And Music Scenes Around the World

Every era, every decade and currently, every year has its own kind of music. Art movements define generations of music-making and tastes of listeners across the globe. In a time of regular change (and Old Town Road’s billboard-dominating phase), jazz is a genre that persists. It continues to breathe in the cultural make-up of society and breathe out a beautiful rendition of it. Jazz, in its improvised poetry, speaks to you. And the sensibilities that lend an ear to jazz music are amplified in musicians who make it.

“Man, if you have to ask what it [jazz] is, you’ll never know.” – Loius Armstrong

While it’s impossible to crack a methodic study of the music genre, understanding jazz is all about perspective. And what better perspective to gain from than that of jazz musicians themselves? Over the weekend, we caught up with performers who have won international acclaim at the NCPA Jazz Fest 2019 to ask all the burning questions about the genre and what it looks like around the world. We asked jazz artists Camille Thurman (music composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist) and Theo Hill (pianist of Mingus Dynasty Quintet) for their take. The result is a music lover’s account of jazz culture:

You have earned a special place for yourself in the industry. How have been able to stand the test of the time?

Theo: I keep practising my music every day, as well as compose, and stay in good shape with my instrument. I also stay in touch with the current jazz scene in New York and also check out the music by newcomers.

What makes you so passionate about a genre that barely makes it to the top of the music charts that are dominated by snackable pop songs?

Camille: This music is REAL music. Jazz’s foundation is built on creative expression and improvisation. This music touches and heals people’s minds and hearts. The range of emotions one can express and perform through the music is limitless and the beauty about this music is that every time it’s performed, there is room for creative growth and for it to evolve differently. Every performance is different. It will never be the same performance, same solos, every night. The fun and excitement of this music thrives through the musician, the creative process and the interaction with the audience. There are not to many kinds of music out there that can do this, at such a high level. With Jazz, there is room for creation; room for experiencing the unexpected and having excitement knowing that whatever is about to happen is going to be real, fresh and thrilling.

Ask a jazz music-maker what made them choose the genre and they will give you an answer that inevitably revolves around the origin of pop culture. Before we had hip-hop circuits, we had jazz and blues poetry carrying the common man’s tongue from one corner of the globe to another.

What’s your favourite thing about jazz culture?

Camille: I honestly believe jazz birthed popular culture. When you observe the legends, they had a way of style, grace, sophistication and were always at the cusp of creation in every aspect of living life. Whether it was creating innovate sounds that inspired people to dance and create new moves inspired by the music or using vivid and creative catchy language in communication to one another, or even simply presenting fashion and style at its most sophisticated level, Jazz was and still is a high conscious level way of living and expressing one’s self. This is what I live about “jazz culture

Most music lovers would call jazz something that belongs in a seasoned (elitist) listeners’ playlist. It demands a higher appreciation than most pop songs do. Regardless of that perception, the current state of the genre stands testimony to its fluid nature. Jazz’s evolution has taught musicians to adapt with time and slowly you see newer influences inspired by different music traditions from around the world.

How do you see the current Jazz scene across the world?

Theo: Jazz is a live tree that is constantly growing. It goes through its cycles. Travelling around the world a lot, I notice a lot of influences from different cultures, which helps the music to evolve.

Keith (La La Land): Jazz is revolutionary. How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist

Does your city have an underground circle of jazz musicians?

Camille: Yes. We have a jazz scene in New York City. I don’t know if we call it underground but I will say there are many musicians on the scene making incredible accomplishments with the music and everyone should know about and hear them. Some of those artists include Antoine Roney, Courtney Bryan, Christie Dashiell, Jerome Jennings, Wilerm Delisfort.

Jazz is revolutionary and you cannot indulge in it as a traditionalist. Jazz tunes were stirring a storm in society long before hip-hop took over with its relatable, radical movement. It continues to be the sound of freedom and the ultimate medium of serving inspiration.

“Jazz is revolutionary!” What’s up with the sentiment going around in jazz traditions?

Camille: Jazz is revolutionary. This music is special in that it allowed many people across nations and cultures to find inspiration through the music (Charles Mingus, Nina Simone, Max Roach) to overcome their own adversities. If people were seeking freedom, jazz provided that through songs of inspiration. If they were seeking healing, jazz provided comfort, peace and love. This art form was created within space of pain and suffering but birthed a sound that provided hope, strength and encouragement to so many throughout time.

The legacy of jazz is filled with tension and resolution in different societies of the world reflected in music traditions. For those who are trying to get into the music scene and need a little nudge, here are some suggestions by Cammile to draw you into it:

  • Dexter Gordon “Go!” — Second Balcony Jump
  • Betty Carter “The Audience With Betty Carter” — Open The Door
  • Charenee Wade “Offering – The Music of Gil Scott Herron and Brian Jackson” —I Think I’ll Call It Morning
  • Chick Corea and Return To Forever “Light As A Feather” You’re My Everything
  • Hubert Laws “In The Beginning” — Mean Lean

Camille Thurman has earned accolades internationally from The New York Times, Jazz Times, All About Jazz and has made appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. First woman in 30 years to work an entire season with Wynton Marsalis and the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Theo Hill is the pianist of New York City’s Mingus Dynasty Quintet a band influenced by the rich musical legacy of jazz icon, Charles Mingus. The band comprises of musicians who have performed with Grammy-Award Winning legends like Eric Clapton.

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