Jazz, traditionally speaking, has evolved as a result of jazz musicians waiting for it to evolve. When getting somebody exposed to the genre, the inclination is to tell them to “listen to the greats”, but over such a large period of time with development to the genre in so many different aspects, it’s hard to distinguish the many contexts when it’s all thrown under one genre. Every jazz musician has his or her own list of unsung heroes that have contributed to the music.

Having much less exposure in media than many other genres of music, the genre has changed the way that its’ players have looked at the industry. As of now, there are many schools of thought in the way a jazz musician should operate and for this reason a student will find him/herself fumbling lots of conflicting advice. Keeping this in mind, while studying music I have resorted in finding as many teachers as I can who have opposing mindsets. You have teachers that stress the importance of your ability to be hired, as freelancing has historically been a staple of the jazz musicians’ bread and butter. Others focus on the artistry, exploration, and innovation of the music, and others stress the preservation of history, while some don’t really care as long the music to sounds and feels good to the audience.

Historic photo, but is almost a fairytale to the youngin's...

Historic photo, but is almost a fairytale to the youngin’s…

Said teachers might even agree on a lot of things however, for example that jazz is a prime example of ‘real music’, or that the era that birthed jazz music was the ‘real deal’. After years of an upbringing of shedding every tune in the Real Book in 12 keys, or learning 50 different re-harmonizations of the ii-V, and realizing the importance of connecting with the instrument, it’s easy to just look at somebody using auto-tune over a song that has nothing but triads, drum machines and four-on-the-floor and dismiss it as ‘fake’ music. I feel that as long as you know yourself and your values, you can regard anyone’s advice in a constructive manner at the same time as taking it all with a grain of salt.

Most of us Jazz musicians hardly believe we can be greater innovators than John Coltrane, or have a larger cultural impact than Miles Davis. We hear Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette as the rhythmic gods that they are or listen to the compositions of Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter and assert that their level of talent is unobtainable; when in reality we breathe the same air and have the same amount of hours in a day as they do. It’s almost like we are living in an age of overbearing reverence and many of us have lost touch of an inherent attitude of jazz, which is taking the past and bringing it to the present in an innovative way, asserting the younger/current generation as the real torchbearers of the music. Today, most of us don’t even consider the parallels in the past within music and its audience. At times we forget Jazz was a music people needed an open dance-floor for, in premieres of symphonies where the occasional riot would occur, or the way a quarter note walking bass-line feels compared to a four-on-the-floor house song.

Smalls Jazz Club in NYC, rows of chairs

Smalls Jazz Club in NYC, rows of chairs.

Technology has certainly made an impact on music, as well as the education. Today, we have copyrighted books with all the songs you’ll never bother to transcribe, recorded play-alongs, and play/rewind/slow-down functions, all of which were inexistent in the bebop era. Perhaps the reason they grooved so hard was because they didn’t have so many crutches to their music development. Nowadays we are witnessing increasingly useful technology unfold at a faster rate. We must be careful in adjusting and easing ourselves into this new technology, and learn to really use new technology as a tool to better our lives and humanity, just like we did with the wheel. If you look into history, you notice that technology really dictates the type of songs that are written.

Justin Poon

Justin Poon

Justin Poon is an eighth-semester guitar principal at Berklee studying performance and electronic production and design. He is heavily involved as a performing musician, producer, DJ and sound designer. As a founding member of Affiliated Gallery, a creative design group based in Toronto, Justin is involved in film scoring and sound design. He leads "Innovation is Forever", a two-hour non-stop electronica music show every 2PM Tuesday on The BIRN.
Justin Poon