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Is Jazz the New N*gger?

Is Jazz the New N*gger?

The homie Murph asks a question that has been haunting me for a minute.

Amazingly he’s launching this real talk missile from behind enemy lines. He’s definitely invested in fighting the good fight and I marvel at how he persists in the face of indifference.

In this case, his wake up call is too crucial to be ignored, even for someone like me who was devouring the Harper Brothers, Giant Steps and Headhunters in high school.

I don’t keep up like I used to. The last new jazz record I bought was indeed a Robert Glasper album, but it had been a long time since I sought out and tracked down the newest happenings in the jazz world. I still dig for classics but I don’t put in the same amount of work compared to the soul, hip-hop and electronic nuggets I’m always chasing.

I actually prefer to consume my jazz in the live setting. The dynamics of a jazz combo are more gratifying to me that way: observing how the pianist comps the changes, how the drummer embellishes the soloist’s lines, creating a push and pull conversation. Subconsciously though, there’s an element of doing my part to pay the life support bill. You can experience really great jazz for free in DC but occasionally I’ll pony up the big dough to catch someone who’s on my personal checklist of people I need to see. I’m acutely aware of the fact that few in my age range do the same thing, and pretty much no black people younger than myself have similar priorities.

As more and more jazz legends pass on, many of whom have labored in obscurity, I can’t help but see the future of hip-hop. It’s current state of inanity is rapidly digging a deep grave of obsolescence. By the time cats like Ken Swift, KRS-One or even EPMD are ready to take their final bow, will the generation raised on Weezy and Soulja Boy even care? Will black people ever acknowledge the amazing peerless career that The Roots have had or will they get one of those belated Lifetime Achievement Awards 20 years after their final record?

It’s really not looking good.

And if we really are on the way to discarding jazz like an old pair of shoes, there goes another huge component of a collective black soul that’s on its way to being a memory.

6 Replies to “Is Jazz the New N*gger?”

  1. There’s Jazz the art form — which will always survive — and then there’s Jazz the commodity. Like Blues and (now) Hip-Hop, Jazz the commodity has never been extensively developed or explored. I believe part of the explanation for this is Jazz, like science, doesn’t jibe well with mass production and commercialism. The downside of postmodernism is its demands upon producers to hew to set formulas as a hedge against risk. You can’t simply put inspiration on an assembly line.

    Without active patronage, Jazz, Blues, and Hip-Hop are all doomed to reside in the dusty back shelves of museums, libraries, and (some of) our memories. If you’re waiting on corporate America to seed a machine for cultivating and exhibiting these genre, you’re naive. It’s incumbent upon those of us who really care to organize and maintain the types of vehicles — be they boutique record labels, media outlets, endowments, repertoire houses, etc. — that will lend the music a stage.

    At that point, it’s left on the general public to discover for themselves. The main responsibility of leaders is to open the doors.

  2. great comment, MIB. thanks.

    and definitely no naivete over here about the motivations of the corporate machine.

  3. Fierce

    its kinda weird how the 90’s era of hip hop was so big on cultivating that i even picked up on Roy Ayers, Cal Tjader, Chick Corea, Wes Montgomery, , etc. and really started researching records to find out who was who. Growing up, my parents played the Michael Jacksons, Diana Ross’, and Lionel Richie’s. I grew to love jazz without growing up around it and still appreciate to this day.

  4. kevin

    what do you think of saxophonist Matana Roberts’s video response?


  5. I wasn’t hip, Kevin. Thanks for the tip. I feel her (although she could be more succinct) and I don’t feel that Murph’s blog is any less valid.

  6. John Murph

    I’m the author of the “Is Jazz The New N*gger” post on’s “Beneath the Underdog.” While I understand and sympathize with Mantana Robert’s initial reticence towards the article and it’s association with, I think that I should clarify that my post was a mini protest within the system. I was basically airing out my frustations of constantly fighting for jazz to be recognized, respected and trumpeted with the same regularity and incessance as hip-hop and R&B. And seemingly losing the battle yet again during Black Music Month.

    And yes, I admit using “N*gger” in the title was alarmist. But I had to catch readers’ eyes, for better or worse. If I wrote something on the lines of: “Please listen to some jazz, pretty please,” it might not have gotten any response.

    To my defense — and perhaps it’s a weak one — I’d rather had written a protest blog with an alarmist word in the title than another one of those glossy mainstream pieces arguing that jazz sucks, because Miles, Monk and Duke are no longer with us (remember the notorious GQ article a few years ago) or those frequent “Jazz Is Born Again,” pieces, because jazz never died.

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