I found this post on a Vancouver Jazz website about 5 years ago. Someone put up an article that a British writer named Stuart Nicholson had written for the New York Times. The article was from 2001 and called "Europeans Cut in With a New Jazz Sound and Beat". He later made the premise for the article into an entire book called " Is Jazz Dead? Or Has it Moved To A New Address?". Although I have huge problems with the article and the book, I ordered the book and read it in order to see how a more in depth excursion into Nicholson's premise would look. Some of the information here is kind of irrelevant, because the scene, heck, the entire world, has changed a lot in 5 years. But I'm reprinting the article and my reaction to it as a young, dumb 35-year old (who should have started a blog then when he had more energy and had fewer 10 month old sons. Anyway, keep in mind that this was a while ago, but I welcome your comments as to how you think things may have changed and whether or not you think anything I or Nicholson says is valid. As always, anybody who gets out of line will be deleted. It's ok to be passionate-just don't call me names.
June 3, 2001
Europeans Cut in With a New Jazz Sound and Beat
By STUART NICHOLSON
LONDON -- FOR years Americans have regarded European jazz with the same tolerant smile they reserve for Japanese baseball. But something is stirring in the Old World. A generation of musicians is emerging from Europe's jazz underground, and now they're raising a tolerant smile at the mention of American jazz. Talk to them about the current state of the music, and it's as if an old and dear friend has passed away. They believe American jazz is retreating into the past while Europe is moving the music into the 21st century.
The highly praised Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft spoke for many recently when he said: "I think American jazz somehow has really stopped, maybe in the late 70's, early 80's. I haven't heard one interesting American record in the last 20 years. It's like a museum, presenting stuff that's already been done."
In the past, European musicians largely marched in step to whatever developments were coming out of America, striving to keep abreast of successive shocks announcing the new beginning with ragtime. But now a small group of musicians, most notably in France and Scandinavia, is taking the creative initiative and going its own way with the music. These musicians are embracing the liberating potential of jazz as dance music, taking elements from the European house, techno, drum 'n' bass and jungle scenes, and in so doing are re-establishing jazz's long lost links with popular culture. It is unlikely, however, that the new music will be in evidence at this year's JVC Jazz Festival, which begins in two weeks.
The music, called the European new jazz by musicians and critics, is not strictly acoustic, like much of mainstream American jazz, yet neither is it completely electronic. Bending improvisation around familiar and unfamiliar sounds and rhythms, this European jazz is moving out of the jazz club and into club culture, and young people are willing to line up around the block to hear it. While there have been experiments by American jazz musicians in combining jazz and hip-hop, like Miles Davis's "Doo Bop," Gary Thomas's "Overkill" and Don Byron's "Nu Blaxploitation," the results merely confirmed the seeming incompatibility of jazz and rap. In contrast, drum 'n' bass is not too far removed from driving jazz rhythms and can easily accommodate jazz improvisation. This reliance on specifically European club-culture styles differentiates the new music from the kind of experimental jazz coming from the Chicago underground and the New York downtown scene.
A feature of the European jazz is that the rhythms are a mixture of acoustic and sampled sounds. Electric basses are out, upright basses are in, and drum kits are pared down to snare, bass drum, high-hat and cymbals. Turntables and samples create haunting, often ambient backdrops against which the improviser plies his craft. The Norwegian trumpet player Nils Petter Molvaer, who has studied North African styles, makes music that is a mix of ethnic roots and modernity. In his playing, the minimalistic grooves of European house easily relate to African music. Similarly, some accents in rhythms like 7/8 and 9/16 are based in an old tradition of North African ethnic music; when played with electronic delays, they appear to make the rhythms float within the ambient soundscape.
Not surprisingly this new European music has raised cries of "is this jazz?" from purists both in America and in Europe. That question always greets experimentation in any artistic genre. Fans of New Orleans traditionalism similarly railed at the popularity of the big bands in the 30's and be-bop in the 40's. Even today, free jazz and Miles Davis' electric music, for some, hold a tenuous place in jazz history.
Certainly, European new jazz is not what jazz was but is a vision of what it can be. Nor does it compete with jazz's past achievements in the way today's jazz mainstream is doing. If jazz history tells us anything, it is that the music, until the last decade or so, has always been a reflection of its time. The new European jazz is unmistakably music of today.
"European jazz has liberated straight- ahead jazz from its harbor and has sailed away," said the French pianist Laurent de Wilde, who played on the New York scene for several years. "Keeping tradition is a great thing, but it's not the only thing. You have to keep tradition but at the same time keep evolving."
Therein lies a fascinating European paradox. At the turn of the 20th century, many European artists blamed "the tradition" of Western culture for stifling creativity, particularly in classical music. The composer Darius Milhaud and other French artists of his generation, including Ravel and the Paris-based Stravinsky, looked beyond European traditions to the vitality and exuberance of jazz . Milhaud's 1923 ballet "La Création du Monde" was hailed for its strong jazz influences. Now jazz itself is looking beyond its boundaries for a new vitality and exuberance.
In France, the enigmatic Ludovic Navarre's group, St. Germain, has had considerable success in combining French house music and jazz. Released last year, the group's album "Tourist" has already sold more than 600,000 copies, mostly in Europe. To put this figure into context, sales of 10,000 in the jazz world represent a hit record. In bars, restaurants, clubs and clothing stores across Europe, St. Germain's "Rose Rouge" has become ubiquitous with its insistent 4/4 vamp and the now-famous sample of Marlena Shaw singing "I want you to get it together."
With fluent, lively improvisation from the trumpeter Pascal Ohse, the saxophonist and flutist Edouard Labor, the keyboard player Alexander Destrez and the guitarist and reggae pioneer Ernest Ranglin, St. Germain is reaching young audiences in a way that has relevance for them, through dance — just as jazz did in the Swing Era. This idea was not lost on Jazz at Lincoln Center, which presented the "For Dancers Only" tour last year. But the title of the tour says it all: it was taken from a 1937 hit record by the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.
The flute virtuoso Malik Mezzadri, who has occasionally played in St. Germain, said recently: "St. Germain has changed the way the public thinks about jazz in France — don't put it in a box. You listen, you dance, this is what my generation wants, the dance."
Mr. Mezzadri is a charismatic figure on the Paris jazz scene. Mere mention of his name is enough to fill any club there, and the makeup of the musicians and the music on his latest album, "Magic Malik," reflect the racial diversity of Paris, that most cosmopolitan of European cities. "In my band, I have South American, African and Cuban musicians," he said. "I grew up in the West Indies, in Guadeloupe, and this is a population that came from Africa, with slaves." His music is rhythmically unambiguous while bursting with pan-ethnic frissons.
Something of the excitement of the current Parisian jazz scene is captured on "Candombe" from the saxophonist Julien Lourau's album "Gambit," which was recorded live at the New Morning Club last year. With Mr. Mezzadri as a featured sideman, the music is intense and compelling as Mr. Lourau's tenor sax riffs mediate the ebb and flow of the powerful drum 'n' bass- influenced grooves. "I want to play for people my own age and even younger because I think jazz is not elitist," Mr. Lourau said.
The new crop of Scandinavian jazz artists was inspired by an earlier generation, particularly the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who achieved international recognition on the Munich-based ECM label run by Manfred Eicher. In the mid-90's, young musicians like Mr. Wesseltoft, Mr. Movaer, the drummer Audun Kleive and the guitarist Eivind Aarset, all of whom are Norwegian, rejected the contemplative calm of what Mr. Eicher called the "Nordic tone" and began experimenting with dance-based grooves. Mr. Wesseltoft formed his own record label, Jazzland, and his album, "New Conception of Jazz," sold more than 40,000 copies across Europe — remarkable sales for a small independent label. "Jazz is American, of course," he said. "But I feel the techno and electronics scene is more European. The beats I'm using, the grooves, I feel I'm not stealing from the black American music scene."
In 1998 Mr. Aarset recorded "Electronique Noir" and created one of the best post- Miles albums. "My approach has come out of the Nordic jazz thing inspired by people like Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal, and the serious ECM approach to music mixed with techno beats," he said.
Mr. Molvaer's 1997 album, "Khmer," has sold more than 100,000 copies in Europe. It led to Mr. Molvaer's nomination for the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize 2000 and several awards, including the annual prize of the German Record Critics, and was voted Jazz Record of the Year by LA Weekly.
One of the most talked about groups currently on the European circuit is the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (or E.S.T., as they call themselves), which saw its latest album, "Good Morning Susie Soho," shoot to No. 15 on the pop album chart in the group's native Sweden, alongside the likes of Madonna and Radiohead — a significant achievement for a jazz piano trio. Highlights of this album, along with those from his 1999 release, "From Gargarin's Point of View," are to be issued by Sony Jazz in the United States in August as "Somewhere Else Before."
Curiously, British jazz musicians have only tentatively embraced the club-culture rhythms that largely emanated from London. The saxophonist Courtney Pine is the best-known exception. His album, "Back in the Day," shows that he has moved a considerable distance from the 1980's, when he was seen as Europe's Wynton Marsalis. (He even recorded with Mr. Marsalis's father, Ellis). His latest album uses samples and computer-generated rhythm tracks, underpinning some torrid soloing on soprano and tenor saxophone.
ALL these Europeans readily acknowledge that jazz is America's gift to the world. But what impact will this fast-changing European scene have on American jazz? Initially, the effect is most likely to be felt financially. Money, as Cyndi Lauper once famously sang, changes everything. Europe has historically been a key market for American jazz in album sales, in its extensive festival circuit and in year-round gigs. Just how important was once highlighted by a comment made by George Wein, the producer of the JVC festival: "No Europe, no jazz."
If American jazz remains fixed in the certainties of the mainstream, European jazz musicians may move into the space long occupied by Americans. Indeed, Mr. Svensson is doing just that. Recently he was on the cover of two major German jazz magazines as well as the influential French magazine Jazzman. He was also hailed by the German news weekly Der Spiegel as "The Future of Jazz Piano" (along with the American pianist Brad Mheldau), and his "Good Morning Susie Soho" was named album of the year in a poll conducted by the critics of the British magazine Jazzwise, an award that has hitherto been the province of American jazz albums.
The emergence of the European new jazz poses the intriguing question of whether American jazz can maintain its stance without lapsing even further into high-art marginality, given its dependence on the European market. As the American saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Moore, who now lives in the Netherlands, put it recently: "In America there's more pressure to be conformist, and players can work a lot more if they play tunes in a traditional way. In Europe there's a larger audience that grew up listening to experimental jazz over a 25- year period, and they appreciate not hearing the same thing all the time."
Suddenly there is real possibility that the stewardship of the music may no longer remain exclusively American. "Europe is going to be the place for jazz," Mr. Svensson said. "We're ready now. We like to sound different."**
Stuart Nicholson is a London-based music critic and author. His most recent book is ``Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington'' (Northeastern University Press).
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company | Privacy Information
OK HERE IS WHAT I WROTE IN THE VANCOUVER JAZZ FORUM
Don't Believe The Hype! of Stuart Nicholson
OK, for those of you who have read the piece by Stuart Nicholson and also may have read the November Jazziz piece on E.S.T., this is my opinion about the whole issue of Europe v America in terms of innovative jazz. I think Mr. Nicholson is highly misinformed and his piece is , well, I want to say he has oversimplified to the point of spreading propaganda. At the worst, the article is complete BS. To imply that there have been no interesting CDs released by Americans since the 80's must mean that Mr. Nicholson just doesn't seek out any new artists. Hey, Nicholson. Here's a partial list of American artists who aren't named Wynton Marsalis who are doing stuff that doesn't "retreat into the past".
Gary Thomas( while I'm mentioning him , in the article, it says that" While there have been experiments by American jazz musicians in combining jazz and hip-hop, like Miles Davis's "Doo Bop," Gary Thomas's "Overkill" and Don Byron's "Nu Blaxploitation," the results merely confirmed the seeming incompatibility of jazz and rap." I appear on Gary Thomas' Overkill, and we had 3 sucessful tours in Europe.The Europeans SEEMED to like it. Why are Jazz and Rap incompatible but Jazz and Drum and Bass compatible( as N goes on to say)? It seems arbitrary to me.I doubt N knows about the artists that influenced that particular CD, they are as diverse as Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Billy Harper, not to mention Messian.)
I could go on listing musicians unknown to Nicholson, but I think now is a good time to discuss the notions of what is "new" and "different" and what really isn't, and why it even matters.
I was unfamiliar with Bugge Wesseltoft and Laurent De Wilde, two musicians mentioned in the piece who feel that European jazz musicians are
pushing the boundaries more than American musicians in general. I searched them out on the web and listened to a few sound samples. Since we are all over generalizing here, I will say first that I think Wesseltoft and De Wilde are obviously fine musicians, but essentially they are playing a form of fusion( some call it jazz rock), Which is a product of the American music scene of the 70's. Which was 30 years ago. So who is really living in the past? Fender Rhodes is not new. Playing hip jazz lines over funk beats is not new. Synthesizers are not new. What Nicholson should say is that these Europeans have more recent point of departure than SOME American musicians. Namely the Wyntons and Marcus Robertses. ( I'm not bashing them either, I think they have their place and a right to their stylistic preference and belief. Marsalis and Roberts inspired me in my early days.)Furthermore, the use of electronics and turntables and hip hop or techno beats, without there being a foundation of quality improvisation or composition or performance,is just gimmickry. Chick Corea, Stanely Clarke, Lenny White, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul( an Austrian)all had serious roots in the JAZZ TRADITION. Yet they were all forward thinking, and they had a foundation in their approach which made their musical concept strong, regardless of what instruments or electronics they used. Herbie can swing and play over chord changes with the best of them.
Can the aforementioned Wesseltoft and De Wilde? Maybe nobody cares, and I don't expect them to sit down and wail on Stablemates.And if they can , cool. But this article is so black and white and I felt the need to present a different side. Playing angular lines over beats in not new, whether Europeans or Americans are doing it. But how well is it being done? is the question.
I think part of what's going on here is that since Europe truly has supported jazz more than the U.S. in terms of festivals, touring, and funding, that European musicians want more appreciation. And I am not saying that they don't deserve it. I have made 4 recordings of my own with various European musicians(2 duo recordings on Steeplechase with Jesper Bodilsen, a great Danish Bass Player, and 2 CDs for Fresh Sound with Perico SamBeat,Mario Rossy, and Marc Miralta from Spain. These labels don't do any promotion, so you probably didn't hear about it, and I'm sure Nicholson didn't get any free copies, so he doesn't know anything about it either. It's to bad he didn't mention these European musicians, who to me know the tradition and are also forward thinking as well).
I think there is some nationalism , some snobbery, and some deluded thinking going on here. Not to mention possibly some anti Americanism due to , what's his name, I think it has a W in it somewhere. (I talked to one European Jazz Producer who didn't want to come to New York anymore because of the invasion of Iraq. I had to explain to him that I seriously doubt that any musician recording for his label could possibly be in favor of the war. He had a hard time with that.)
Don't forget that European musicians have it a lot easier than American musicians who move to New York.Yes, musicians in Europe have tons more funding and I imagine it's a lot less competitive on a local or national level. Can we help it that New York continues to be the Mecca of Jazz musicians, despite dwindling audiences, funds, and support from Record Labels? I remember a great Danish saxophone player who moved to New York in the late 90's. He had already won the equivalent of a "grammy" in Denmark, yet wanted to try his luck in the Big Apple. Well, the only gig he did was a gig I called him for at Smalls, and I paid him a grand total of 30 U.S.Dollars. Within 6 months, the Great Dane said,
"Screw this"( How do you say it in Danish?)and moved right back to Copenhagen, and jumped right back into touring and making award winning recordings. Yea, the support sucks for Jazz here, is that our fault?Also, Is it our fault that many of the musicians really doing some innovative, or at the very least not super straight ahead, don't see the light of day due to the Diana Kralls and Jane Monheits blocking the view? ( I've considered moving to Europe considering how bad it is for creative music in this country.)
I may explore my displeasure with the lack of fairness in Nicholson's article at a later time, when I have a chance to do more research. But finally, I must mention the Esborn Svennson Trio, who I think are good players, but hardly worthy of the "future of Jazz" award. Again, here we are led to believe that because you draw from influences later than 1960, that you are an innovator. Poppycock! It sounds like Keith Jarrett from the 70's(30 years ago) to me. Which is fine in and of itself. So I don't but the last paragraph-"Suddenly there is real possibility that the stewardship of the music may no longer remain exclusively American. "Europe is going to be the place for jazz," Mr. Svensson said. "We're ready now. We like to sound different."----Sure, you don't sound like Oscar Peterson or Earl "Fatha" Hines , but innovative and different, hardly. Electronics, Schmelectronics! What's really going on in the music?(By the way, I always find it funny that artists who are so over hyped always sound really arrogant when they are quoted in articles. Why is that?) Anyway, my point is, don't pee on my leg and tell me that it's raining.
By the way, if you had mentioned Christof Schwitzer, or Akamoon, or Nils Wogram, these are some Europeans who I think are doing something possibly innovative- Or a least with an even more recent point of departure.
And Don't Believe the Hype! There are plenty of forward thinking Jazz musicians from the USA.
PS Don't get the wrong idea. I love Europe and Jazz musicians form Europe. I think anybody can learn to play. But just the notion that Europeans are forward thinking in Jazz and Americans aren't reminded me of going to Discos in Germany and Switzerland in the late 90's. People were still dancing to ABBA and Culture Club. Doesn't that say it all?
PPS I do think socially Europeans are way ahead of America. Check out a book called THE UNITED STATES OF EUROPE and it will change the way you think about World politics.