BY BENSON IDONIJE
ALTHOUGH the younger players of jazz have not brought any innovation of significance to the music over the years, some of them need to be commended for keeping the spirit of the music alive and, in essence, helping to perpetuate the true meaning and culture of jazz.
Indeed, the freshness of their approach is a clear indication that something new is bound to happen at some point. Cassandra Wilson, Joshua Redman, Terrence Blanchard, Roy Hargrove, Cindy Blackman James Carter, Christian McBride, Geri Allen, Dee Dee Bridgewater among many others are currently contributing to the development and evolution of jazz as an art form. Some of them are even receiving accolades and enjoying the confidence of devotees. It’s just that nothing phenomenal, nothing extraordinary and remarkable has happened yet.
Although her recording career has been somewhat erratic, Cassandra Wilson, one of the current top jazz singers, has succeeded in breaking the barriers of conventional jazz singing. She is a vocalist with a distinctive and flexible style who is not afraid to take chances. In live setting, the direction of her vocal style is often determined by the inspiration she gets on the spur of the moment. Her mood, phrase choices in terms of improvisation are dependent on the rapport she establishes with an enthusiastic audience.
At a recent version of the North Sea Jazz Festival, she turned out to be top of the bill whereas she was not billed to be. Her performance attracted a huge audience, which refused to move to other festival venues because the session was so sizzling and captivating.
Cassandra has a remarkable album out that has added something fresh to the development of jazz- as a result of her determination to experiment with various elements and approaches. Recorded in 1968, Loverly won a Grammy for Cassandra whose profile has become big as a jazz singer and composer.
In specific terms, the experiment that earned the Grammy for Loverly is unquestionably traceable to the introduction of African rhythms to the music through Lekan Babalola, a Nigerian percussionist whose rhythms helped to change the concept and pattern of her music, bringing about a new direction.
One of the great avant garde tenor players, Dewey Redman, the father of Joshua Redman who died a few years ago, never in all his years received any where near the acclaim that his son, Joshua Redman gained in ’90s – even though Dewey was an innovative player.
Every few years, it seems as if the jazz media goes out of its way to hype one young artist, over praising him to such an extent that it is easy to tear him down when the next season comes.
DownBeat, Jazz Times, Jazz Journal, Straight No Chaser–all of them are usually full of eulogies for these hitherto unknown artists.
In the ’90s, Joshua Redman became a media darling but in his case, it was not an empty hype, and he largely deserved the attention he got.
With a recording career that began only in 1993, Joshua Redman has quickly become one of the premier saxophonists of his generation.
Redman got his first tenor saxophone at age ten and became one of the featured soloists of Berkeley High School’s widely acclaimed jazz ensemble. In 1991, he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College, where he also was elected membership into Phi Beta Kappa.
Setting his eyes on becoming a lawyer, he achieved a perfect score on the Law School Admission Test and was accepted to Yale Law School. Before entering law school, Redman moved to New York City with some musician friends and practised and performed regularly. He also took first place in the 1991 Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz Saxophone Competition. And because Redman enjoyed these experiences so much, he decided to postpone law school to become a professional musician. Redman hasn’t looked back ever since.
Joshua Redman released over six recordings as a leader in just five years and each enjoyed overwhelming success. He has since come up with some albums that devotees describe as ground-breaking.
In his young career, he has performed and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Dave Brubeck whose notable quartet featured the legendary white alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. Others are the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, B. B. King, trumpeter Clark Terry, ex-John Coltrane pianist Mc Coy Tyner, among others.
His consistency, exuberance and fresh approach have shown that Redman is a truly gifted individual, artistically and intellectually. His quick, meteoric rise is unusual, yet well deserved.
Trumpeter Terrence Blanchard is not only one of today’s most acclaimed players of the instrument but also one of his generation’s most prolific composers. His musical heroes include Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Duke Ellington.
A Texas native who now lives in New York City, Roy Hargrove is one of today’s leading jazz trumpeters. He began playing cornet in his elementary school band, switched to trumpet, and began listening to such masters as Louis Armstrong, Maynard Ferguson, Clifford Brown, Freddie Habbard, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
Hargrove has established his unique voice. With a sound equally forceful and lyrical, he has released numerous recordings, which have enjoyed critical acclaim.
Cindy Blackman is perhaps the leading female drummer on the scene today. Many have attributed her success to the fact that she is alone in a terrain that is a male turf, but the truth is that she is greatly talented and creative. She counts Tony Williams, the drummer whom Miles Davis discovered for his talent in the ’60s, as her greatest percussion influence.
Influenced early in her life by the vocalists her parents listened to around the house, Dee Dee Bridge water became a good singer. She moved to New York in 1970 and soon became the lead vocalist for the Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, a big band co-led by a trumpeter and drummer. She also collaborated with legends such as Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
The list of young musicians playing pure, straight ahead jazz is not as long as it used to be. A good number of them are being attracted to the popular groove where ‘smooth’ jazz has continued to prevail for commercial reasons. Notwithstanding, the beat goes on.