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The Infinite Improbability Drive - In Defense of Esperanza Spalding, Jazz


10 jazz pieces to go along with my column on reaction to Esperanza's Grammy win and the state of jazz in America.


Ahoy fellow 8tracks listeners!
For these Infinite Improbability mixes, I've decided to make it as interactive as possible. If there is a particular tune that should be added to the list, I’ll add it to the mixtape.

8 tracks
1 comment on The Infinite Improbability Drive - In Defense of Esperanza Spalding, Jazz

I can’t recall the last time I paid attention to a Grammy Awards show.

Usually, the event flies completely off my radar mainly because the Grammys is an awards ceremony that typically recognizes chart toppers and mainstream trend setters. It is what it is. No big deal, really. I put on my ambivalent face and I continue on with my life. This year, however, was intriguing with historic upset wins by The Arcade Fire and Esperanza Spalding for Best Album and Best New Artist respectively.

I was thrilled by each of their wins as they provided quite the shock to the mainstream establishment which has reigned over major music awards ceremonies for a number of years. While I was impressed with The Arcade Fire’s win, I was ELATED with Spalding’s seemingly improbable victory over Drake and teen sensation Justin Bieber. Unfortunately, my shock transformed into stunned disbelief when Bieber and Eminem followers alike threw a nationwide temper-tantrum after the show, underscoring the poor reaction fans had over both wins, especially over Spalding’s victory. Granted most of Bieber’s followers, making the most noise of the antagonists, are predominately middle schoolers and tweens, the vitriolic response from the American population was an sadly accurate litmus test for the state of music culture, and in particular, America’s truest form of music, jazz.

As rock and roll picked up steam in the 1950s and 1960s and as mainstream pop started taking off over the past 20 or so years, jazz has been in what is seemingly an irreversible decline in popularity since the late 60s. Jazz went from being the hottest form of music in America to a niche genre that is perpetually eclipsed by mainstream powerhouse genres such as pop, country, and R&B. The legacy and contributions of America’s finest composers and truest of performers, from Ellington, to Blakey, to Davis, have been all but replaced by cheap theatrics and performance enhancing technology. If you look back at this year’s Grammy’s and compare Spalding with Bieber, it was Spalding who demonstrated her talents on both vocals (sans auto-tuner) and the up-right bass, which is not an easy instrument to master. Her versatility and musical depth runs light-years deeper than Bieber’s who can dance and sing to a 3 chord pop song but not a whole lot else. In the end, it should boil down to legitimate talent, and, this time around, the right call was made.

But her win, while out of the blue and, won’t do much to change the state of music in America. Jazz has unfortunately been relegated to the outermost fringes of existence in American music culture. Many view the genre as stale and archaic, which are two of the biggest misconceptions in all of music period. Jazz is explosive, unplanned. It bends and contorts the rules of music as it relies on pure human talent and constant exploration, adding a subtle dangerous quality to the music. Experimental rock/electronic music often does it’s part to attempt to push the boundaries of music, but it lacks the raw, organic class that jazz seems to effortlessly capture. No other genre pushes harder to both define and throw away the laws of music. And it all originated from the minds of great American composers and musicians. The fact the decision to recognize an up and coming contemporary jazz musician who embodies the best of both traditional jazz composition and modern sensibilities is met with such a harsh backlash has been the best indicator of the poor state of American music this country has seen in a while.

This article is my attempt to do my part to both preserve this gift of jazz and to educate others to recognize the genre and pass it along. It’s not the easiest of genres to get into, so I’ve chose 10 pieces that are accessible and entertaining to serve as solid starting points but are complex enough to illustrate what sets jazz apart from all other genres.

Rather than going into intense piece analysis, I’ll only say a few words about each composition. I want this to be an exercise in listening and in picking out the details you find interesting in these pieces. After the list, I’ve posted an 8tracks mixtape with each piece in order for you to listen to. Put it on during your homework or if you need to listen to something as you relax outside or whenever really. Let it sink in and do its job and I guarantee you will take something away from this list and the genre itself.