Monday, March 2, 2009

Hip Hop... a doorway to Jazz?

Saratoga, NY
The Christian McBride Band has been in residence here for 2 days, teaching and performing. I had a piano student this morning who was relatively new to jazz, as many young musicians in college are. Usually I learn something from my students every time I teach, and this morning was no exception. He told me that he started out listening to hip hop, and that he was fascinated with some of the samples they used, so he would look up what the sample was on the CD credits, then go find the original album. Somebody sampled Ahmad Jamal apparently, so thanks to that hip hop record, he got into the REAL Ahmad Jamal and has been a jazz fan ever since.

It took me by surprise... I had never thought of hip hop as a possible doorway to appreciating jazz. I've played on a couple of hip hop records, the most well known being the keyboard hook on Slum Village's hit "Tainted" in 2002. That hook actually came from the chords in Billy Strayhorn's intro to "Star-Crossed Lovers" from the Such Sweet Thunder album. But overall I'm not really a fan of hip hop, because I don't like the violence, misogyny and general stupidity of the lyrics of MOST rappers... some obviously are above all that and do carry a positive message. But not many, in my opinion. Anyway... I can't say I'd say no to Jay-Z if he wanted to use a sample of mine, even if the lyrics were a drag!


  1. Nice blog Geoffrey, I've been a fan of your's for a while. I was brought up in the hip-hop era and I later got serious about jazz and improvisation. I just read a great post on Nicholas Payton's blog about Lil Wayne, who happens to be a popular rapper but I have yet to hear his music. Here's Nicholas speaking:

    People want to hear the truth . . . .

    or at least a healthy percentage of them do.

    Folks are tired of hearing bullisht; many of whom happen to be our youth.

    Now some of you may say that gangsta rap is misogynist, vulgar, and violent- and I believe that’s true.

    However, I don’t believe that gansta rappers have the monopoly on misogyny.

    We live in a very misogynist world.

    We live in a very violent world.

    And if it’s not the world you live in, that’s great- but it most certainly is representative of some the disenfranchised.

    Yes, it is true that many of the disenfranchised don’t glorify gangsterism- but it is sadly not newsworthy.

    Gangstas rap about what they live, what they see.

    While I don’t defend their choice of life, I do defend their right to voice it.

    I believe artists of the greatest depth speak on what’s true of their experience.

    What should gangsta rappers message be about?

    Beautiful landscape, a solid education, coming from a stable home environment with both parents?

    The first time many folks from N.O. saw some these things were when they were displaced from the flood.

    It’s cool if you don’t want to hear all the negative things they speak on, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

    However, a good number of folks did- which is why Tha Carter III was the biggest selling record of 2008.

    The people decided, and so it is.

    A decent portion of those purchasers are suburban kids who live in a world completely different from the one Lil’ Wayne grew up in.

    Well, . . . . maybe not so different actually as it’s our world and we all live in it.

    One of the things that ghetto youth and suburban kids have in common is that they see the hypocrisy in what they are told the world is like and how it really is.

    Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE New Orleans, but it is one of the most violent cities in this nation.

    On Mardi Gras day alone this year there were 13 shootings and one murder.

    It’s a dangerous place to live.

    Brotha always walkin’ ’round with a horseshoe on his grill (i.e. an unpleasant disposition on his face).

    Like Katt Williams says, “Whatchu bangin’ at breakfast, nigga?”

    It’s true.

    Walking around in the ghetto like you’re on vacation at Disneyland connotes weakness.

    I scoff when cats tell me in other cities, “Man, be careful- this is the dangerous part of town.”

    I’m like, “Please! Have you ever walked through the St. Bernard or the 1.5 (housing project)?”.

    Housing Project.

    Now there’s an interesting term.

    Just whose “project” is it anyways?

    I digress . . . .

    The ghetto is a war zone.

    That’s why at times you can hear the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire in the rhythm of Wayne’s lyric.

    These sounds are in his head and he puts it forth in the form of music.

    You may say it’s not music, but life is rhythm and rhythm is music.

    If nothing else, great hip-hop is always rhythmic!

    You may not want your kids to hear it, but the truth (or anything else) will surface to those who seek it.

    Lil’ Wayne is THE TRUTH.

    I’m not suggesting that everything thing he says or does is right, but he speaks from the core of his being.

    Kids, as well as adults, are sick of being told lies and are tired of how the story is spun.

    Great artists speak most sincerely, most dierctly- of their experience.

    If that’s getting BJs on the back of a tour bus, so be it.

    The irony is- Wayne’s most likely getting them from the daughters of parents who are amongst his most vehement haters.

    Wayne said in his interview with Katie Couric that he’s a role model for his kids, not yours.

    Some may question how HE can be a model parent.

    LIke him or not, he’s the embodiment of the American dream.

    He’s taken his meager beginnings and turned them into an empire.

    Those two kids of his are going to be beneficiaries of a decent education, compliments of their now suburbanite dad.

    He can provide them with things he didn’t have.

    I feel the criteria of a model parent is that you try to make the life of your child at least a little better (if not a lot) than your own.

    Now THAT’S evolution!

    I’m not saying that even if you are able to identify with Lil’ Wayne’s struggle that you will like his music.

    Everything ain’t for everybody.

    If you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to check it out free from judgment of what you like or expect.

    I think it’s important to stay up with the times- even if it’s not your bag.

    It’s current, timely, truthful, and REAL.

    A valiant effort from one of the greatest artists of our times.

    Ba-da-bop-bap-baa . . . . I’m lovin’ it!

    - Nicholas Payton

    I think he's echoing the sentiment of many people throughout this land including the die-hard fans of hip-hop.

    Take care,

    Jason Palmer

  2. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for sending this. Nicholas is a friend of mine and an excellent musician. I believe all forms of creative expression have a right to exist, blah blah blah, I'm just not a fan of "music" that makes billions of dollars while condoning violence (physical, emotional, psychological, whatever) in the name of "keepin it real". That's my opinion and obviously not the majority. Peace, GK

  3. Funny that you never thought of hip-hop as getting people into jazz, I thought a whole generation of people knew of the Canteloupe Island groove only from hearing Us3's Cantaloop in '93!