Created in the late 19th Century, Jazz is one of the most enduring genres in the history of music. It mainly originated from the African American communities in New Orleans, taking inspiration from blues and ragtime. Jazz has since evolved and expanded into numerous sub-genres worldwide and has influenced many of the tracks we love and listen to today.
One of the most important record labels for Jazz music is Blue Note Records. Blue Note was founded in 1939 in the USA and over the years has boasted an acclaimed repertoire of musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Miles Davies, and the iconic John Coltrane. This year, Blue Note announced an album titled Blue Note: Reimagined. It will feature a compilation of classic songs from the label, reworked by a unique selection of the UK’s jazz, soul, and R&B artists such as Jorja Smith, Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia and more.
The album is set to be released on 25th September 2020, although the full track list and a few songs have been made available. It has given eager listeners an idea of what to expect from this highly anticipated project - and so far, I’m impressed! The first single released was Jorja Smith’s cover of St Germain – Rose Rouge. The upbeat, electronic jazz track has been transformed with new percussion and groovy instrumentals; Jorja’s sultry background vocals particularly complement the smooth saxophone solo. The accompanying music video was well created; using jazz, a predominantly black genre, to highlight the anti-racist and Black Lives Matter protests that have and are taking place all over the world. There was also an addition of quotes from well-respected black figures like Audre Lorde, James Baldwin and Malcom X.
The next cover I listened to was from Ezra Collective, a five-piece band from London, who describe themselves as ‘pioneering the new wave of UK jazz’. They pay homage to saxophonist, Wayne Shorter with their rendition of Footprints, a song the quintet learned when they were teenagers. The reimagined version of this 1966 song includes hip hop inspired drums alongside an impressive piano and trumpet duet. Music collective, Stream Down, also covered one of Wayne Shorter’s tracks, Etcetera. The original song has been transformed into a soulful, afro swing melody, with added vocals from Afronaut Zu.
On Instagram, Blue Note have been presenting fans with sneak peeks of upcoming songs, the latest being from Nottingham R&B and soul singer, Yazmin Lacey. Yazmin chose to cover the intimate jazz ballad, ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’, originally sung by jazz vocalist Dodo Greene. She describes it as a ‘heartfelt love song’ and one of the lesser known Blue Note records. Her silky vocals have suited this modernised production, with a more up-tempo beat, soft drums, and a signature trumpet solo.
South London neo-soul singer Poppy Ajudha’s cover of Watermelon Man is my favourite so far. Originally released on the Blue Note label, American pianist, Herbie Hancock re-recorded the jazz hit in 1973. The new version added a funky 70s twist, with synthesizers and improvised instrumentals (blowing on empty beer bottles!) inspired by Pygmy music.
One notable difference with Poppy Ajudha’s take on Hancock’s Watermelon Man was the addition of lyrics. Talking to Blue Note, Poppy explained the lyrics are more relevant now with the ongoing BLM movement. She passionately sings, “A change is gonna come, don’t give up on yourself, don’t give yourself away” and revealed that the lyrics aimed to capture what life may have been like for a black man in America.
As I listened to the reworked versions, it was nice to hear how the artists incorporated their style and made these classics their own.
Blue Note: Reimagined will shine light onto the UK jazz scene and the emerging talent from the featured artists – I cannot wait to hear more. I enjoyed how just a glimpse of the album allowed me to embrace the pioneers of jazz. When listening to the original versions, I understood that jazz can be created in a variety of ways, with several instruments (or beer bottles if you are Herbie Hancock). Jazz encourages artistic expression, improvisation, and the inclusion of traditional and modern styles. And that is what I believe this album will do.