Highland Park -- Black-and-white posters plastered outside of Artform Studio record store and salon proclaim: “Jazz is Dead." Stark and devoid of context, those three words have prompted a stream of angry jazz enthusiasts into the Figueroa Street store to argue otherwise. But Adrian Younge, an L.A.-based producer, composer and Artform Studio co-owner, will tell you those posters were intended to be a challenge, and challenged they were.
“It’s a provocative statement that really forces people to think and hopefully dig deeper into the genre itself,” Ali Shaheed Muhammad of a Tribe Called Quest said of the posters, which promote “Jazz is Dead,” an ongoing concert series by Art Don't Sleep, an LA-based event production and promotion company.
Jazz is Dead’s social media has also drawn the attention of a few internet trolls. But the lineup of artists carefully curated by Muhammed and Younge to represent different styles of jazz and “shit they think is dope” has pulled in sold out crowds in Highland Park.
“To see the older generation of jazz fans in the house with young kids, it’s worth all the hate comments we get,” said Muhammad of concert-goers who’ve packed into the Lodge Room in Highland Park to see iconic jazz artists like Roy Ayers, who’s music straddles the genres of soul and jazz, and younger artists like Makaya McCraven, who trawls the familiar intersection of jazz, beat music and R&B.
A Latin spin will be put on the concert series throughout the month of June with Brazilian music icons Joao Donato and Marcos Valle performing their lilting bossa nova and smooth Brazilian jazz classics for “Jazz Esta Morto”.
Future shows will continue to be curated around themes like eras of jazz or styles from abroad that reflect Muhammad and Younge’s personal tastes. Younge adds that a series featuring French jazz artists is in the works.
“These shows aren’t easy to put on because it's not pop music, so to see people buying into what were seling is beautiful. They know we’re selling something pure,” Younge said.
“We know that jazz never died,” said Muhammad.
And if you don’t count the long list of subgenres that exist and the jazz “resurgences” that pop-up in a different city every decade, jazz’s signature wailing horns and syncopated drum beats have lived on in hip-hop, having been sampled by artists since the ‘90s, lending analog melodies to gritty hip-hop tracks of artists like Pete Rock and Gang Starr.
Muhammad hopes these concerts will help bridge the gap between hip-hop influenced jazz performers and traditional jazz artists. “A lot of these artists have been around for 40 years plus and they’re still amazing musicians that play with a lot of heart and soul and hopefully people will see that,” he said.
As musicians, Younge and Muhammad have drawn inspiration from jazz, looped samples into their music. In 2013, they came together to form the Midnight Hour, a duo that fuses soul, jazz and hip-hop with an album that boasts collaborations with CeeLo Green and Raphael Saadiq.
“We’re fans and we feel responsible to take this music that has inspired us and helped me personally in my career and celebrate it and treat it with the reverence that it deserves,” said Muhammad.
Naturally, the approach they take as curators for Jazz is Dead is as fans more than business partners, managing to record new material in Younge’s Linear Labs studio with many of the artists who’ve performed.
New albums by the likes of Gary Bartz and Brian Jackson, executive produced by Younge and Muhammad, are set to be released under the new record label, Jazz is Dead, in the coming months.
“Recording with these legends is really memorable for us. To have artists like Gary Bartz or Roy Ayers in the studio, I never thought this would happen,” Younge said.