Why Jazz Still Matters: Exploring Its Impact on Music and Society

Jazz has been a part of the American music scene since its inception, and it has been a source of inspiration for musicians and audiences alike. It has been a status symbol for some, while others have found it too technical and difficult to appreciate. Jazz has also been closely linked to race in the United States, as African-American musicians were instrumental in its creation and African-American audiences were important in their creative responses. Whites have also played an important role in jazz's dissemination, ownership, and critical reception.

Jazz has had a profound influence on other forms of popular music, such as rock and hip hop, and it has become a lifestyle for many young music lovers. It has also had an impact on literature, art, speech, dress, and even drug use. Each of these aspects of jazz is the subject of academic and critical study in various fields. Jazz studies have become an interdisciplinary field of research and pedagogy, with its own magazine, Jazz Perspectives.

Despite its declining popularity compared to other popular music forms, jazz is still held in high esteem in business and art as a sophisticated artistic expression. It is often used as background music in luxury establishments, museums, galleries, and commercials that promote exclusive products. Jazz is also taught as a formal course of study in many colleges and universities. The rise of jazz-R&B-hip hop fusions in contemporary Los Angeles offers an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which jazz matters to today's black audience.

Drawing on recent Afrofuturist art and theory, as well as Amiri Baraka's analysis of “the same changing” in black music, this essay traces the importance of the work of artists such as Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, Thundercat and Robert Glasper. Their music shows that jazz matters not only in itself but also in its continuous capacity to engage in cross-genre dialogues for musicians and audiences alike. The story of white jazz pianist Dave Brubeck's 1960 tour cancellation due to segregationist policies highlights the ways in which he leveraged his whiteness to support integration efforts. His commitment to civil rights activism inspired him to adopt a new musical and promotional strategy that united commercial interests with political ideology. In the 1970s, pianist Keith Jarrett emerged as a major jazz innovator. He managed to make completely improvised solo piano music that was both critically acclaimed and popular among young audiences.

This essay examines the musical and social circumstances of jazz music immediately before his arrival and how he unconsciously exploited those circumstances to make his success possible. The debates around La La Land (2016) tell us a lot about the current state of jazz and perhaps even its future. This article explores why jazz still matters today by examining its impact on music and society.

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