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8 Young Jazz Artists That Are Making Waves Around the Globe

Jazz is so far from old school–it’s some of the most exciting music being made today. Here are some of our personal favorites from the fresh crop of jazz musicians out there

Urvija Banerji Aug 16, 2017

Bassist, singer and composer Esperanza Spalding. Photo: Andrea Mancini/CC BY 2.0

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Esperanza Spalding

Thirty-two-year-old Spalding is a musical prodigy in the truest sense of the phrase–she picked up the violin at the tender age of five, and her intuitive proficiency earned her a scholarship at Berklee College of Music. Since then, she’s moved to playing the double bass, released four excellent jazz albums and scored four subsequent Grammys. Her last album, Emily’s D+Evolution, released in 2016, marked a drastic shift in her sound towards punk and experimental, but still retained her undeniable jazz sensibilities. That’s Spalding for you: she’ll always keep you guessing. Her latest projects include recording an entire album over a three-day live stream, and oh, she’s recently been named a professor at Harvard.

Kamasi Washington at Coachella 2016. Photo: Fred von Lohmann/CC0

Kamasi Washington

Saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington’s debut solo album is best described by its title: The Epic. The 2015 triple-album is a veritable modern jazz odyssey. In fact, The Epic’s sound was so contemporary that it scored him a secure place on the U.S. festival circuit. The Brainfeeder signee works closely alongside big-name artists making waves in their respective genres: he’s arranged and played music with Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar and Run The Jewels, to name a few. His latest work, The Harmony of Difference, is a six-movement suite–which only he would think to call an EP–slated for a late summer release.

Indian-American pianist-composer Vijay Iyer. Photo: Lena Adasheva

Vijay Iyer

The second Harvard professor on this list, Indian-American jazz pianist Vijay Iyer isn’t exactly young, at 45 years old. But his sound is so innovative, and his influence over modern jazz so potent, that it would be a disservice to leave him out. The pianist has released a whopping 22 studio albums, which have garnered him both critical acclaim and a loyal following amongst musicians and jazz enthusiasts alike. Iyer is also incredibly vocal about identity and race issues, such as stereotypes around South Asian musicians in America, which he works hard to fight through his music. “The thing is that music actually works,” he told us in an interview earlier this year. “It’s a way that we communicate with each other and it’s a way that we are able to be together in time.”

Grammy Award-winning jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy. Photo: Stella K.

Snarky Puppy

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Snarky Puppy are at the forefront of the jazz fusion brigade, and make music that–simply put–sounds like the future. Jazz can be very cerebral at times, and there’s no denying that listening to Snarky Puppy makes you use your head–but it also makes you feel good. The ensemble’s tightly-executed live performance is mesmerizing, but one of their USPs, if we may, is that you can tune out, kick back and enjoy their synth-heavy, psychedelic music without having to think about it too much.

Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi. Photo: Sakiko Nomura

Hiromi

Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara is yet another prodigy on this list: she started learning the classical piano at the age of five, played with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at 14 and with jazz piano legend Chick Corea at 17. She studied under another piano legend, Ahmad Jamal, while attending Berklee. Her songs envelop you in her musical world, and are at their very best when it’s just her and her piano, such as on the gorgeously complex glissandos and arpeggios on the stunning “Place to Be,” the title track on her 2009 album. But even when she lets loose and has fun with her band, as she does on the playful “Margarita!” off 2012’s Move, Hiromi is brilliantly transportive.

Cellist Tomeka Reid. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Tomeka Reid

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Perhaps the least-known name on this list, Chicago cellist-composer Tomeka Reid exudes quiet brilliance. Her quartet album, 2015’s Tomeka Reid Quartet, was one of the year’s best. The cellist has a masterful command over her instrument, and plays with a playful exuberance–not an easy feat, considering how serious the cello can sound. Reid has both classical and jazz leanings, and some of her songs have killer grooves, while others lean into entirely experimental territory. And some of her songs, such as the buoyant “Billy Bang’s Bounce,” have a healthy dose of both.

BadBadNotGood became famous because of their early jazz covers of popular hip-hop songs. Photo: Weekly Dig/CC BY 2.0

BadBadNotGood

Canadian group BadBadNotGood are on the radar of plenty of listeners who don’t otherwise listen to jazz, because they rose to fame for their jazz covers of hip-hop artists like MF Doom. Since then, they’ve collaborated with rappers who foray into jazz themselves, such as Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator and Danny Brown. The band also released a full-length album with Wu-Tang Clan legend Ghostface Killah, on which their excellent instrumentals perhaps even outshone Ghostface himself.

Pianist Robert Glasper. Photo: Andreas Lawen, Fotandi/CC BY 4.0

Robert Glasper

Again, at 39, jazz pianist Robert Glasper isn’t exactly young, but he serves as one of contemporary music’s greatest impresarios. In addition to releasing his own jazz albums on Blue Note Records, Glasper has worked with Kanye West, Q-Tip, J Dilla and Jay-Z as a hip-hop producer. His outstanding 2012 album, Black Radio, ventured into jazz-R&B and saw the pianist collaborating with the likes of Erykah Badu, Mos Def and vocalist Lallah Hathaway. Black Radio ultimately earned him the Grammy for Best R&B Album. Though Glasper is the master of genre-hopping, he’s never shied away from his jazz roots–he recorded the album Everything’s Beautiful as a tribute to one of his biggest influences, Miles Davis.

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