The “western tunes and African beats” born and raised in the roaring twenties have created the worldly mix that now defines typical American jazz, encapsulated in the works of Dave Brubeck and Wynton Marsalis, among a myriad of others. Timeless classics such as “Take Five” and “Autumn Leaves” fill the playlists of admirers.
Many listeners, however, neglect a seemingly obvious element of jazz: its malleability. This, in combination with its inherent susceptibility to outside influences, has created an era of jazz literature that aptly represents the culture-crossing world we live in today. Over the past couple of decades, artists have emerged from places like Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe with new music built upon a common foundation of the American jazz we know and love.
In 2015, Arabs around the world recognized the characteristic tunes of Um Kalthoum, an internationally-acclaimed Egyptian singer, songwriter and film star of the 1920s, in Lebanese quarter-tone trumpet virtuoso Ibrahim Maalouf’s fifty-minute tribute suite to the former artist. Nate Chinen of the New York Times describes the various “jazz allusions in the suite — to John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, even John Zorn’s group Masada — but they were fleeting, and part of a larger picture, unique on its own merits.”
Hailing from the previously Asian spectrum of artists, Japanese keyboardist Keiko Matsui sets the stage for innovation with her groundbreaking smooth-jazz, jazz-fusion and new-age styles of music. Born in Tokyo but currently residing in L.A., California, Matsui takes aspects of both Western and Eastern musical tradition to create her works (in her own words, “catching notes from the silence and then simply placing them together.”
Music is just one facet of today’s increasingly diverse and inclusive melting pot societies, but its influence on people (and vice-versa) makes for art that defines the century.