The world of jazz criticism was thrown into mayhem during the 1960s. Jazz had begun to move into new and unanticipated places. Artists like Ornette Coleman, inspired by Avant-Garde musicians, did away with harmony, rhythm, and melody. Miles Davis began to include electric instruments and delved into rock and funk for new sounds. By the 1970s the seeds had been planted for what would later be a fusion between hip-hop and jazz. Gil Scott-Heron, an important progenitor of hip-hop, began to perform spoken word poems over jazz music.
Jazz critics were split into two camps. One group embraced the change and believed these influences could contribute to the evolution of jazz. The other group argued that these new sounds should not be considered jazz and were in fact of inferior quality to “real” jazz. These two camps remain divided to this day. Two bloggers for jazz.com recently weighed in on the debate. Jared Pauly wrote two articles in which he defended the blending of hip-hop and jazz and gave an in-depth history lesson on how the two have intermingled throughout the years. Alan Kurtz, jazz.com’s so-called “resident curmudgeon”, retorted with his own article.
Although both bloggers make good points, I am prone to agree with Jared Pauly. Mr. Kurtz seems to focus solely on low quality hip-hop artists, rather than those that have creative new ideas. One such band is Yesterday’s New Quintet. Oddly, this quintet is comprised of only one member, hip-hop producer/rapper Madlib. Madlib records himself playing various instruments and then samples these recordings to create a unique sound that blends hip-hop, jazz, and electronica. Madlib, like many other artists who blend jazz and hip-hop, are a boon to jazz music, not a detriment.