Spotify has found a sharp increase in young people streaming jazz music. Is this trend the start of a new era for the genre?
Spotify recently faced controversy, and even handed out refunds, for aggressively promoting Drake’s album to every one of its users. Many non-Drake fans were bothered by this. There was other music they wanted to listen to. And while you might assume that these alternative choices would be other pop, rap and R&B stars, for many that couldn’t be further from the truth. More young streamers than ever would rather be listening to a genre that had its heyday many blue moons ago. They’d rather be listening to jazz.
Jazz has become hugely popular with young listeners
Speaking to the BBC, Spotify revealed that the number of young listeners (under 30) streaming their Jazz UK playlist had increased by a whopping 108% in the past six months. Other streaming services have found similar results.
At the time of writing, the regularly-updated playlist kicks off with a track from London multi-instrumentalist Tenderlonious, which is steeped in jazz tradition with a clear 70s fusion influence towards its conclusion. The playlist also includes tracks like ‘Wildfire’ by Jordan Rakei and ‘Wasting Breath’ by Julia Biel, which undeniable take influence from jazz musicians and structures, but are perhaps less capital-J jazz than many of the others.
According to the BBC, the rise in young jazz listenership has been reflected in ticket sales for jazz gigs. The artists packing venues with jazz fans span young guns bringing their fresh take to the form, and older veterans who have already mastered it. Last year Courtney Pine embarked on his Black Notes from the Deep tour with special guest vocalist Omar. The saxophonist and his band brought audiences the style of modern, soul-inflected jazz they themselves pioneered, and which is rapidly regaining popularity with young listeners.
More traditional jazz tours have been successful, too. Mica Paris’ Mica Sings Ella tour saw the UK R&B icon performing her own interpretation of Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal jazz classics with an orchestra. Commenting on the recent rise in jazz-influenced R&B and rap, as influenced by Solange and Kendrick Lamar, Mica Paris said it’s all down to being inspired by the greats. “When you make music inspired by the greats, you music will never date,” she told MN2S.
It’s possible that young listeners are turning to jazz because they themselves have unprecedented access to the music of the greats. Thanks to online streaming, it’s easier than ever to explore the late-80s, early-90s jazz renaissance that Courtney Pine and Mica Paris embodied, and to follow that thread all the way back to Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong. This music has always sounded timeless, but only now has it been so easy to find without, well, a time machine
Young jazz artists are helping the genre flourish
It’s not a coincidence that this increased interest in jazz music has emerged while new artists are taking the genre in new directions. US saxophonist Kamasi Washington has found huge success with his recent feature-length albums The Epic and Heaven and Earth, proving music fans still have an appetite for two-hour plus albums in the age of social media. British saxophonist YolanDa Brown has been building a dedicated fanbase worldwide with her political take on the genre, which included last year’s Love Politics War.
Outside of ‘pure’ jazz, the genre has had a huge influence on hip-hop and R&B. Kamasi Washington worked with Kendrick Lamar on his Grammy winning album To Pimp A Butterfly. Jazz pianist and producer Robert Glasper continues to work with R&B singers on jazz-influenced tracks. Dat Brass have made a name for themselves fusing jazz and hip-hop. Bands like Hiatus Kaiyote and The Internet are bringing jazz-funk fusion into the 21st century.
With all this activity, it’s fair to say that we are in the middle of a new jazz renaissance, but it would be more accurate to say that jazz never went away, it just took listeners a while to find it again.
Main image by Jimmy Baikovicius from Montevideo, Uruguay – 19° International Jazz Festival of Punta del Este | 150111-2052-jikatu, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link