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Jazz: Grandparent to Hip Hop

Meghan Stabile & DanMichael Reyes

The Latin expression nanos gigantum humeris insidentes translated as dwarves standing on the
shoulders of giants rings true in all art forms. The apprentice must sit at the foot of a master to
inform his or her research. This idiom rings clearer and louder within the jazz scene today where
its many practitioners sit at the foot of numerous masters across genres and generational gaps.
Todays landscape provides exciting new opportunities to infuse outside influences that inform
an ever-changing jazz scene. While jazz musicians have always had an omnivorous approach to
their practice, taking in different musical idioms to help shape their sound, the marriage of jazz
and hip-hop has slowly but surely taken over the culture at large by storm.
Artists today like Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, Marcus Strickland et al,
are a few names of artists who are comfortable hanging in the hardest hitting jam sessions as
well as lacing tracks for a hip-hop recording date. Their music has become the soundtrack for a
generation of listeners under age 50 and is reinvigorating the jazz world in a way much like the
fusion scene in the 70s. Their ability to jump across genre lines comes out of an epoch where
each artist grew up paying as much attention to the way hip-hop producers like J Dilla
programmed drums on a midi production controller (MPC) as well as Elvin Joness ride pattern
on his cymbals behind Coltranes solos.
The best example of this was demonstrated in Kendrick Lamars award-winning 2015 release To
Pimp A Butterfly (Aftermath/Interscope, 2015) where acclaimed jazz musicians like Glasper,
Washington, and Martin contributed their talents alongside trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire,
drummer Robert Sput Searight, and bassist Chris Smith (to name a few) to create a rap album
that blurred the lines between jazz and hip-hop. The opening track, Wesleys Theory starts off
as a space-induced P-Funk trip followed by the second cut, Free, a hard-swinging modal
groove with McCoy Tyner-esque quartal voicings from Glasper that sounds more like it belongs
side-by-side with a Trane record from the 60s than a rap album from 2015.

Although we would like to be able to discuss every innovator who has helped move the music
along, its also quite impossible to do so. This is why different magazines and different websites
with their own particular flavor and lens of how they interpret the music exist.
Revive Music launched in 2006 as a boutique live music agency comprised
of innovators, musicians, and music lovers documenting and foretelling the
stories of authentic and original music and how they have influenced todays
popular music. In keeping with that modus operandi, this essay focuses on the innovators
within jazz and outside its immediate conventional genre boundaries that helped shape the sound
of jazz today. This isnt a definitive historical account on how we got here today; just brief
thoughts on how the marriage of hip-hop and jazz came into being.
Its almost impossible to talk about the shape of jazz today without mentioning Miles Davis. This
is an artist whose discography embodies the history of modern jazz. From his early days as a
sideman for Charlie Parker, his first and second great quintet, all the way up to his electric bands
in the 80s and early 90s, Miles embodied the very definition of what it meant to be an
innovator. It comes as no surprise then that Miles final and ultimate album Doo-Bop (Warner
Bros., 1992) was produced by hip-hop producer Easy Mo Bee. It is also no great stretch to
assume that Miles would have explored hip-hop further. Producer and pianist Robert Glasper
echoed this sentiment recently when he wrote that Miles would have certainly worked with
legendary hip-hop producer J Dilla in the liner notes of Everything is Beautiful (Blue
Note/Columbia/Sony Music 2016).
Glaspers deep respect for J Dilla (born James Dewitt Yancey) isnt a big secret to anyone paying
attention. At home, I have my Rhodes and drum-set set up, Glasper recounts for an 2013 NPR
article titled Why J Dilla May Be Jazzs Latest Great Innovator. Well play a Dilla beat for
literally an hour, because it feels so good, and thats all that matters to me. It takes precedence
in Glaspers relationship to music so much that hes released three renditions of his oftenimitated Dillaludes, where his bands perform beats by J Dilla in a suite-like manner.

Other, earlier examples of the blending of jazz and hip-hop also extend to artists like Branford
Marsalis whose 1994 studio album release Buckshot LeFonque (Sony) featured DJ Premier as
On the other side of the coin, hip-hop producers have always taken a page from jazz records as
part of their practice. Stones Throw Records producer extraordinaire Madlibs Blue 2003 Blue
Note Records release Shades of Blue exemplified what the fabled labels archives would sound
under the baton of the famous Beat Konducta.
The amalgamation of jazz and hip-hop reached its first signs of commercial success during the
late 90s with the neo-soul movement championed by the members of the musical collective
Soulquarians. Founded by Questlove of The Roots, DAngelo, James Poyser and J Dilla, the
Soulquarian sound is still a model and benchmark for up-and-coming artists today whose
primary focus are lush harmonies, deep basslines, and more importantly deep drum grooves that
owe as much to funk and R&B as to straight ahead jazz..
Today in 2016, we come full circle in this cycle. In its early days, hip-hop sampled jazz records
and today jazz musicians are re-interpreting modern day ensembles as an MPC. The four-bar
loop has been re-purposed as an improvisational vehicle for the soloist while the rhythm section
takes its cues from hip-hop grooves and rhythms. With the success of albums like Robert
Glaspers Black Radio (Blue Note, 2012), Kamasi Washingtons The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015),
and Marcus Stricklands Nihil Novi (Revive/Blue Note, 2016), jazz has been ushered into a
glorious new golden age where the beloved time-tested traditions of jazz musicianship meets the
production chops of todays modern day studio.
The recent release of A Tribe Called Quests (ACTQ) latest record, We Got It from Here Thank
You 4 Your Service (Epic/SME, 2016), saw the ATCQ enlist the talents of keyboardist Masayuki
BIGYUKI Hirano, Kris Bowers, Casey Benjamin, Louis Cato and Mark Colenburg, all of
whom also enjoy healthy careers as jazz musicians.

Another prime example of a hip-hop calling upon the help of jazz musicians to provide music for
emcees to rap over is Commons Black America Again released in 2016 via Def Jam and coproduced by Karriem Riggins (whose performance credits include backing jazz legends like
Betty Carter, Ray Brown, and Mulgrew Miller as well as working with the late J Dilla) and
Robert Glasper.
There are countless other examples where jazz is being infused with hip-hop sensibilities -- much
too much to contain in this essay at least. But the new phenomenon doesnt come as a surprise
given the qualities of both genres. In its early days, hip-hop relied on samples taken from
different genres. Being an avid hip-hop listener comes with the territory of learning where those
samples come from. Liner notes from LPs and CDs act as more than just background stories on a
given record, they serve as footnotes for further exploration. Much like a researcher going to
libraries and bookstores to look for source material used in an academic paper, hip-hop
aficionados hit record stores to dig through crates in search of the original records that were used
as samples for their beloved songs.
On the other hand, jazz has always moved along with popular culture as well as adapting new
grooves under its swing. From the Spanish Tinge, first coined by Jelly Roll Morton, jump blues,
soul jazz, bossa nova, the rock fusion scene of the 70s, the umbrella of jazz extends to cover
many different styles.
The recent trend of jazz musicians working with hip-hop artists is an event that was bound to
happen. Many of the jazz practitioners mentioned above are well schooled within the hip-hop
and the straight-ahead traditions. Its a generation of musicians who can play On Green Dolphin
Street but also flip it on its head and interpret it as ATCQs Jazz (Weve Got).
This union is perhaps best echoed by Revive Big Band leader Igmar Thomas when he recounted
that All of it really is one; it comes from one place. You can call jazz the great-grandfather of
hip-hop. It might speak differently, it might dress differently, but thats your son.