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For the Record Series

On Jazz

Kate Carter for Revibe Toronto

This article and playlist are designed as a mini crash course on jazz. We focus on genres and other musical elements that are lesser known and/or are surrounded with stigmas due to the initial lack of knowledge on the part of listeners, music broadcasters, and critics. We believe in the essentiality of understanding the roots of the music we consume. This piece can serve as an introduction to the genre or some essential history to add to your music fan portfolio. If you already know all of this, we’ve got a playlist that you’d love too. Listen to get your dose of past and present-day artists influenced by and influencing jazz.

The white mainstream view of jazz as a predominantly white genre today reflects the pervasiveness and prevalence of culture co-optation in media. Jazz is not white, it arose in the early 1900s in New Orleans. As a diverse city for the South, many music styles thrived and combined, and jazz is a result of various musical influences, predominantly from African-American life in the South. Blues is especially recognized as forming the fundamental foundations for jazz and it too is a product of African-American experiences and expression.

The pioneers of jazz paved the way for the genre’s evolution and allowed more artists to thrive and each make it their own. Now, there are all kinds of jazz across the globe, with and without vocals, in different languages with different instruments, though they remain unified. A great deal of hip-hop stems from jazz influences as well. A Tribe Called Quest is one popular group that has taken significant inspiration from the genre, through sampling and instrumentation.

Jazz is not pretentious, as it can often be presented or viewed by those who are less familiar with it. There has been a relatively recent wave of distaste for jazz as it is perceived as an elitist, overly complex art. This is not a view held by all though it is a viewpoint echoed by many who are influenced by the white mainstream. A disconnect forms between the origins of jazz and the prevalence of white musicians in jazz today. Those who are unfamiliar with the roots and culture of jazz look to those who take up the most space in the genre and its charts and draw the conclusion that jazz musicians are, and therefore jazz is, pretentious and elitist. When this happens, there is less respect for the music and this isolation continues through mainstream conversation. This process repeats itself to the point where this negative association to jazz becomes common––a genre collectively understood as unappealing. But how many people who hold this view can explain why? Though this would never actually take away the cultural knowledge and value of jazz music, if it is maintained within white mainstream conversations, it does function as a sort of whitewashing. This turns people away from the music and therefore artists who are seeking audiences, before they’ve even taken the time to really listen. Jazz is rich and significant, find the passion and pain and talent and resilience that every note holds.

One of the many incredible things about music is that it is all influenced and influential. Here’s a playlist including great Toronto artists, and other Canadian and non-Canadian artists who have made significant contributions to the genre, have influenced or been influenced by jazz. Not all of these artists are jazz artists but they have all used elements of jazz and blues in unique ways. Music can be appropriated in beautiful, respectful ways, with genres, flows, instrumentation intertwined and intersecting to create revolutionary fusions. There are endless possibilities. Understanding music history is an essential part of participating in music consumption and creation. Music unites people, and educating oneself on the roots of the world’s music can make all the difference in one’s ability to appreciate it and the people it represents.