Musicians Partner With Jazz Greats To Make 'Freedom Music'

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Ali Shaheed Muhammed (left) and Adrian Younge (right). (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Ali Shaheed Muhammed (left) and Adrian Younge (right). (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

A pair of hip-hop legends have dropped a new album that mixes old classics with news sounds.

“Jazz Is Dead 001” brings together musicians Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad with some of their jazz heroes. The album features a host of greats from vibraphonist and producer Roy Ayers to saxophonist Gary Bartz.

Over the past year, Younge and Muhammad recorded the album of new songs using the original instruments and analog recording techniques that were used in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Younge says the project was inspired by conversations about the common phrase, “jazz is dead.”

“I guess the bigger question when you hear 'jazz is dead' is who gets to say what matters?” he says. “And you know, for us, we look at it as like those people that protect the art as pioneers in its progression. And that's what we're trying to do with 'Jazz Is Dead.' ”

Muhammad says the album captures the “relentlessness of existing and the ability to vibrate and unite” during these uncertain times.

“We're more connected, I think now, than in any period at least in the past 100 years,” he says. “But it's not a connection that has always, I think, had true depth and true consideration. And so we're now really considering one another.”

Interview Highlights 

On working with Roy Ayers 

Younge: “Well, for people like myself and Ali, music matters to us way more than it should to the average person. So, I mean, when you're in the presence of somebody like that, you know, it's like being in the presence of a god here on Earth. He's done so much for music. He's meant so much to our lives with music that just being in the studio with him, not even working, just being in the studio with him was just magical.”

On the source of their inspiration for the album

Muhammad:My introduction to jazz was through my grandmother, and she was a big Duke Ellington fan, a big Ella Fitzgerald fan, and I didn't want any parts of that ... I think because I was born in 1970 and the main source of my, I guess, my era was not Duke Ellington. However, when you hear groups like Earth, Wind & Fire or even Kool & The Gang who fuzed jazz into what has been coined R&B, it kind of opens up the palette and the love affair grew. And so the exploration went beyond just sampling to me picking up instruments to really just get my own idea of what these greats were doing. It's just been a nonstop journey. So here we land with Jazz Is Dead. And this compilation just based off of that, continued being inquisitive about the process, being inquisitive about the communication of music and what it means to make freedom music.”

Younge: “Let's just back up. What's the first real recognized musical art form of America? It's jazz. OK. So what is the ideology of that? Well, it's black America's voice. Jazz encompassed the struggles of black America, and we used our instruments as our voice. So when you lock into the fundamental tone, the addition of harmonics is what makes this fundamental tone different. So we're using the same instruments, but we're adding our own harmonics. We're adding our struggles. We're adding our perspectives that were blacklisted in the world. And this was our way to finally speak out. You see what I'm saying? So that is the foundation of jazz. And it's just really a human thing. You don't got to be black, you know? It's a human thing. But it came from that black struggle.”

On the song “Conexão” featuring bossa nova luminary João Donato

Younge: “Well, ‘Jazz Is Dead’ is not just a label, it's a concert programming series that we've had. So we host these concerts with jazz legends and up-and-coming jazz artists, and we bring them to Los Angeles, do these crazy concerts, and at the same time, unbeknownst to the people that are going to these concerts, we're recording albums with these people. So with João, we brought him here from Brazil, and part of bringing him out here was not only to have him play his beautiful music for the people, but to say, 'Hey, let's record a full album with you to analog tape like you used to do in the '60s and '70s, and let's use these original instruments as well. And let's continue those conversations that you were starting back then, but make it more modern.' ”

On how this music highlights these uncertain times 

Muhammad: “I think when musicians get into a room together, there's a lot of consideration. And we certainly hope that putting out the ‘Jazz Is Dead 001’ album out right now will give people some comfort and have a moment to reflect, to wonder, you know, what's next, to maybe lose your mind for a moment and then to find yourself. And to me, like one of the really good examples of that is the song 'Distant Mode' with Gary Bartz. It, to me, really highlights where we are right now, and that's just my take on it, someone else may have a completely different experience, but that song to me and just the title is just like, what is going on? That's how it starts. I listen to that song. It is a question. It's like, what the? What the heck is going on? You know, and then there's an answer. And the answer may seem sweet. It may seem uncertain. And Gary's playing just, it just takes you through all these emotions.”

Lynn Menegon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on April 20, 2020.


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Tonya Mosley Correspondent, Here & Now
Tonya Mosley was the LA-based co-host of Here & Now.



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