How artists like Kamasi Washington, Esperanza Spalding, and others are Making Jazz Relevant and Interesting to Millennials

by Ayanna Jacobs-El

Over the past few years, a number of artists have been able to foster an interest in jazz music among a younger audience. Artists like Kamasi Washington have been playing sold-out shows and festivals around the world and have a large fanbase of millennials who have come to embrace and love jazz music. Many popular jazz artists also blend other styles like R&B, hip-hop, and rock to reach and appeal to a wider audience. This resurgence in jazz popularity is both exciting and important to the growth and development of the historic American genre.

This year alto saxophonist and producer Terrace Martin, tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, and keyboardist Robert Glasper have teamed up to form the collaborative group called the Pollyseeds. The project will include other musicians and the debut album, called The Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1, will be available on July 14th. The first single entitled “Intentions” has a smooth old-school funk sound mixed in with some of Martin’s slick alto saxophone playing towards the end. With a unique blend of Funk, Jazz, Neo-Soul, and R&B the supergroup’s debut is sure to be a fan favorite. Both Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin have worked with rapper Kendrick Lamar on his 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly. By collaborating with mainstream artists like Kendrick Lamar jazz artists are exposed to listeners who may have never discovered their music otherwise.

Four-time Grammy Award-winning bassist, singer, and composer Esperanza Spalding is another artist that has gained popularity among millennials and older listeners alike. Her unusual and evolving compositions mixed with her virtuosic playing abilities, gorgeous singing voice, and trendy style make her appeal to listeners of all ages. Spalding shows that jazz musicians of today have the ability to craft their own sound, showcase their personalities, and expand the boundaries of the genre.

The band Snarky Puppy is another example of how jazz music is being embraced by millennials. The group has a steady touring schedule and has released multiple well-received albums. The entire band performs at an extremely high level and their compositions are distinctive, engaging, feature interesting rhythmic elements, and memorable melody lines.

Other groups like BadBadNotGood are also pushing the envelope of what jazz music can be. The Toronto-based group features compositions that showcase their love of jazz and hip-hop and got their break through when they uploaded a piece based on the music of Odd Future. The group has gone on to release multiple albums, collaborate with well-known artists like Kaytranada, and performed at huge festivals like Coachella.

The few artists mentioned in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. Christian Scott, Thundercat, Roy Hargrove, and Hiatus Kaiyote are a few other artists that are popular with millennials. With this new generation of Jazz musicians, the genre will continue to evolve for many years to come.

ARE YOU A FAN OF ANY OF THE ARTISTS WE MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE? ARE THERE ANY OTHER JAZZ ARTISTS THAT YOU THINK APPEAL TO MILLENIALS? LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!

About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting www.ayannajacobsel.com.