Jazz and inspirationPosted: May 17, 2011
Art runs in my family. My father’s side of the family were a part of the early jazz scene in Kansas City, Kansas, which is often slept on. Kansas City, in general, is historically significant, because it offered more material opportunities for black people. It was a free state, and therefore was a destination for black people, who were trying to escape the Jim Crow south during the great migration. There were more job opportunities for black people with many black owned businesses and industries, such as the Negro baseball leagues. And there was more potential for black people to creatively express themselves through the different arts movements there.
The Kansas City Jazz scene isn’t talked about as much as the Harlem Renaissance, but it played an influential role in the development of Bebop, which was a new jazz sound that broke from the traditional big band standard. Bop was more fluid and less structured and was heavily influenced by the blues. Noteworthy musicians in the scene were Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and I am proud to say my family. My great-grandfather, Herman Walder, was an alto saxophonist who played with Count Basie as well as many other bands at the time. And my great-uncle Woody, my grandfather’s brother, played clarinet and often played with his brother. My grandmother was a singer and had her own band called Marva and the Satellites and her own club called The Satellite Club. My father also played clarinet throughout his youth.
I have always been so inspired by this aspect of my family history. I identified with artists at a very early age, because art was a way for me to express my emotions when I didn’t always have another outlet. It provided me with the abilities to express my dreams about the world I wanted to live in. I wanted to be a jazz musician too and made one weak attempt to learn alto sax in 5th grade by joining the school band, but that never went anywhere. I took to visual art and the written word instead, but always had a very serious appreciation for music, especially jazz music and its rich black history. This early appreciation for the music that came before my generation (blues, jazz, bop, soul, funk) has always lead me to gravitate towards more soulful and jazzy hip hop. Obviously hip hop comes from these earlier musical stylings, but I really appreciate the dj’s who are inspired by jazz, soul, and funk and incorporate it into their music.
It also speaks to how musical hip hop is. Fine art is Eurocentric and therefore my people’s contribution to art has often been marginalized through these fake subcategories, such as ‘black art’ or ‘black literature’ or lets only talk about ‘black inventors’ during ‘black history month,’ while the general ‘fine art ‘category is reserved for European produced art. It always offends me when critics and people in general try to say that hip hop isn’t musical; that it shouldn’t be celebrated as significant art on the same level that Mozart or Beethoven are. It is incredibly musical and innovative. Dj’s are producing new sounds by deconstructing music into all these dynamic layers and putting them together to produce a new song. It is absolutely brilliant.
Jazz music, as a uniquely black American art form, has been a source of inspiration for other black artists. Like I said above, I appreciate hip hop that is on the Jazzier side, but it isn’t just hip hop that uses jazz. Visual artists, such as filmmakers and painters, have used jazz music in the soundtrack of their movies or as subjects of paintings. The above painting is a piece by Basquiat, who often worked while blasting Jazz and bop on the stereo. One hip hop producer, who often samples and uses Jazz in his music is the prolific Madlib. Recently his re-working of old Blue note sessions, Shades of Blue, has been heavily in the rotation. Another funky and soulful artist that has also been in my mix recently is Dudley Perkins, whose beautiful Madlib produced album Expressions (2012 A.U.) has also been providing me with lots of inspiration.
Dudley Perkins and Madlib are both from the same southern California suburb Oxnard. Perkins singing/rapping abilities proved to be a perfect match for Madlibs soulful funky beats; the two collaborated on Perkins first two albums. I really dig Perkins as a rapper, because his flows have this poetic sensibility that is simultaneously introspective and deep, as well as silly and fun. It’s all very honest, and I relate to that a lot. And Madlibs beats are just so sexy with the funky bass and horn samples; the two can produce a dynamic hip hop album.
Madlibs beats can also stand alone. His album Shades of Blue is a remix of the archives from the jazz record company Blue Note. The album is very mellow with some funky tracks sprinkled throughout. It definitely creates a cool vibe that recently inspired me when I was trying to plan out the atmosphere for my birthday party. The earlier part of the evening we were having an art show. I wanted to create a funky mood that made me people want to move around and interact, but not too funky yet where all they wanted to do was be on the dance floor. I wanted people to enjoy looking at the art and chatting with each other. Madlibs Shades of Blue gave me the inspiration and helped set the mood, along with tracks from Dudley Perkins album.
One more artist, who also runs with this same pack, and who also creates a different kind of vibe is the very unique MF Doom. Doom collaborated with Madlib under the name Madvillain and produced the amazing Madvillainy. He also put out a dope album of jazzy instrumentals called Special Herbs; it fits into the overall vibe that Madlib and Dudley Perkins work was creating. I am inspired by these three artists, because they are artists. Their work is not friendly to commercial radio, because they are trying to push the boundaries of hip hop and therefore music. This is what art should be doing; constantly revolutionizing itself and seeking new ways to perceive the world through visuals and sounds. Often artists who do this do not get instant recognition from the mainstream bourgeois industries, such as major museums, production companies, recording studios, ect., They are too afraid to release something that won’t sell and return back lots of profit. Capitalism lowers the quality of everything, because they are seeking to keep things as simple and cheap as possible so it can be mass-produced, put out on the market for maximum return in profits. This has caused art, such as music and cinema, to be simplified into these formulaic packages that are lacking of people’s individual skills and visions. The artist, who do want to do this, often have trouble finding time to do it, because capitalism forces you to spend huge chunks of your time working to survive and most of the time you can’t survive off of your innovative, revolutionary, vulgar art. Perkins, Madlib, and Doom have managed to have success off of their music so that we can have access to it. I think they are all so fresh so I wanted to feature some noteworthy tracks below. Diffuse your lighting, invite someone over, and peep game!