Over the past number of years, I've been excited to hear the expanding cross-pollination between jazz and other genres - and particular with genres such as R&B, soul, funk and hip hop. On one hand, this interest is purely practical - with greater cross-pollination comes greater potential audience crossover, and, hopefully, a larger audience for jazz in general. At the same time, I feel that the results of these cross-pollinations are helping to re-establish jazz as a dance music - while any good jazz should get you moving, a certain style of jazz being created today seems designed specifically to get you onto the dance floor.
There are many reasons for this blending of genres, as musicians have easy access to a much wider variety of music than ever before; as certain styles of music resonate more readily - or are more readily available - depending on where a musician is living; and as musicians perhaps seek to reach audiences that are listening to more music than ever. But is there some underlying "genetic code" which facilitates this crossover, some musical element which makes jazz friendly to other styles of music, and vice versa? With his Special Project called "The Jazz Gene", this Friday at Small World Music Centre, Thomas Francis seeks to dig into the question.
For "The Jazz Gene", Thomas returns to the research he did while completing his thesis for his Master of Arts in Composition at York University. His thesis explored the relationship between jazz and hip hop, but also the role jazz music has played on the evolution of Black music in the 20th century. On Friday, he'll explore the concept in a unique fashion, presenting two separate but related concerts: in the first, he'll establish some of the fundamentals of jazz which he will then demonstrate, in the second, to have played an important role in the evolution of hip hop. With "The Jazz Gene", Thomas is certainly going beyond "just another gig" - a key tenet of the Special Projects criteria.
But the Special Projects panel was drawn to more than just the unique nature of the presentation. On the tracks submitted with the application form, Thomas is playing with some of this city's serious jazz musicians - people like Robin Claxton, Alexis Baro, Alex St. Kitts, Larnell Lewis, Justin Gray and more - which, the panel felt, leant true credibility to the project: when exploring the influence of jazz on hip hop, it makes sense to have some outstanding jazz players in the mix! The panel also noted that rather than explore the crossover concept relying solely on covers of jazz or hip hop classics, Thomas has created original material - music which sounds great, and which aptly demonstrates a jazz foundation and hip hop influence. (With a seriously deep pocket.)
With "The Jazz Gene", Thomas is not looking to define or redefine either jazz or hip hop, but rather explore what's fundamental to each style, and how they relate. I look forward to going along for the ride.
"The Jazz Gene" runs this Friday, February 22 at the Small World Music Centre. First show at 7 pm, second show at 9 pm; tickets are required for each (or save $5 when you buy tickets for both). Complete information is available on our website.
I look forward to seeing you there!