Jazz’s rich history and its undeniable impact on every genre of music has allowed it to sustain for decades, making it one of the most relevant forms of music today. The ever-evolving musical form is taking on a vibrant, more upbeat cadence and tone

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“Contemporary jazz is for the hip-hoppers who have gone to college, graduated and now have corporate jobs,” Frank Goss, regional manager of Close Up 2 Contemporary Jazz Lounge, told the Defender. “You can’t really take hip hop to corporate, and so there is a huge influx of young professionals who are looking for an alternative and the alternative is contemporary jazz.

“Also, unlike traditional jazz, this is music you can dance to-dancing is back in the jazz repertoire,” he said.

Using traditional jazz as a foundation, contemporary jazz can be considered a melting pot of music. With the genre’s popularity around the world, it continues to evolve, taking on the local and regional cultural influences and sounds and creating a whole new subset of jazz music.

As Goss puts it: “[Jazz] morphs; it is a living, breathing art form. It’s constantly changing-it went from big band to bebop and then from bebop to jazz with greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and then Miles Davis came along and pushed the envelope even further. And now a lot of the major players are younger and are really pushing the music and becoming creative with it. They’re borrowing from R&B, pop, reggae and even classical music like Beethoven and Bach.”

Contemporary jazz music is just about everywhere, and as a leader in this new movement, Goss’ main objectives are to continue providing a platform that allows the music to grow even more and give the musicians who play it the opportunity to further create and push the envelope. Goss, who has been in this business for 30 years, is achieving this through daily live performances at the Chicago and Atlanta locations of Close Up 2, as well as by producing a contemporary jazz and neo-soul festival in Atlanta, along with a partnership with the Chicago Jazz Festival.

One of the musicians moving this genre along is Rockford, Ill., native Harlan Jefferson. Jefferson has been a musician for 30 years and plays the alto saxophone, soprano saxophone and flute; he also sings. He performs with his award-winning band So So Tight all over the Midwest and said that his style of contemporary jazz is “smooth and creamy like your soul on a warm summer day.”

“My style of contemporary jazz blends a mixture of soul, gospel, reggae, funk, hip hop and traditional jazz,” he said. “When I was a teenager studying music, I also was a hip hop DJ on the side to make extra money. Most of the young people from that era moved away from hip hop and pop to contemporary jazz because most of the up-tempo and slow grooves are danceable, recognizable and at the same time, it can be soothing. My music is like an outreach ministry. Myself and others like me have gained fans through our craft from people who typically wouldn’t like jazz until they heard our music because it’s so diverse.”

Audley Reid, a saxophonist who’s been in the music business for 30 years, said that the styling and feel of the music writing differentiates contemporary jazz from the traditional style, but also the fact that it is appealing to a younger audience.

“We are dealing with a younger generation of listeners,” he said. “The young writers and performers are tapping into the current social and economic environment. Music and the various styles must change because of the personalities of the writers and musicians. The word ‘jazz’ in some people’s view takes you back to the Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington era. We are dealing with new sounds and approaches that in some areas make contemporary jazz more economically appealing. The level of musicianship impacting contemporary jazz has opened up the jazz world [overall] to a broader audience.”

Guitarist Buddy Fambro, a Chicago native, speaks along a similar line, saying, “I think contemporary jazz is continually finding new audiences. It tends to serve as the bridge for listeners seeking familiar contemporary rhythms supporting extended instrumental improvisations. If you grew up listening to Earth Wind & Fire in the 80s and like the sound of a pianist spontaneously adding melodic ideas, then it may be a more natural progression to start listening to Joe Sample playing ‘Carmel’ or Ramsey Lewis playing ‘Sun Goddess.’ Then as your ears open up to more possibilities, you might go back to explore more traditional settings of jazz piano, such as Oscar Peterson or Ahmad Jamal.”

No matter the style or the listener, it is clear that jazz-in all its forms-will continue to be an influential part of music. Jefferson said, “Contemporary jazz will be around forever because the soulful performance requires a deep sense of calling. Well-played jazz is one of the deepest expressions known to man. It flows from the heart and is therefore capable of reaching the heart.”

Fambro added: “I really cannot predict where jazz music is going. I will say that it is constantly evolving and is the sum total of all its proponents. Technology has greatly influenced jazz in the last 20 years and will probably continue to have a significant influence. Whether or not it is creating new instruments or new distribution systems for people to listen, jazz will thrive!”

Copyright 2012 Chicago Defender

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