In 2017, the Los Angeles promoter Andrew Lojero had an idea for a new jazz concert series. Along with A Tribe Called Quest DJ-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad and prolific R&B and hip-hop composer-producer Adrian Younge — the duo behind throwback soul project the Midnight Hour and the Luke Cage soundtrack — he began putting together bills featuring esteemed jazz veterans such as Roy Ayers and Gary Bartz, and rising stars of the genre like Keyon Herrold. Lojero dubbed the series Jazz Is Dead.
“I thought the name was bold, provocative and exactly what was needed to stir things up,” Muhammad writes in an email. “For us it’s more than a show; it’s a celebration of our treasured bastions of freedom.”
Now, three years later, the team is furthering the project with the launch of a new label bearing the same name. The first release, Jazz Is Dead 001 — officially out March 20th and premiering below — is a compilation on which Younge and Muhammad team up with their musical heroes to create brand-new tracks.
The track list is studded with artists who have been sampled for years by hip-hop heavyweights such as A Tribe Called Quest, Dr. Dre, Nas, and J Dilla: jazz-funk vibraphonist Ayers; Bartz, the saxophonist, NTU Troop leader, and onetime Miles Davis sideman; Brian Jackson, who collaborated with Gil Scott-Heron on a long string of landmark Seventies albums; bossa nova luminaries João Donato and Marcos Valle; keyboardist Doug Carn, whose Seventies LPs on Oakland’s Black Jazz label are highly prized by crate diggers; and Brazilian jazz-funk outfit Azymuth.
“We want them to feel the love for what they have given us in a time where a spotlight may not be shining brightly on their works,” Muhammad says of the artists featured on Jazz Is Dead 001.
Every one of the tracks — from “Distant Mode,” on which Bartz’s alto sax dances over a simmering groove to “Down Deep,” a beautifully chill ballad featuring Carn’s potent Hammond B3 organ — was a full collaboration between the featured artist, and Muhammad and Younge, both of whom play keys, guitar, bass, and more on the record. (Various other musicians contribute drums, vocals, horns, and keys throughout.) A balmy title track, “Jazz Is Dead,” by Muhammad and Younge’s own the Midnight Hour, rounds out the album.
“To see Ali with Gary Bartz or João Donato, two artists that meant so much to A Tribe Called Quest, is crazy,” Younge writes, reflecting on the sessions that went into Jazz Is Dead 001. “When they sampled their compositions, they never thought it would come full circle. I never thought I’d be sitting in the studio with Marcos Valle or Lonnie Liston, writing with Brian Jackson and Azymuth; writing with Jean Carne and Doug Carn. It’s insane. It’s as if my career was meant for this moment.”
“Seeing someone that you sampled long ago blowing fresh notes onto something we have written just for them was emotional,” Muhammad adds. “Admiring the way they are playing right in front of your eyes when at one time it was a dream to wonder what they were thinking about when they recorded their songs. Feeling humbled at the respect they give us for the music that we have made for them. Wondering how this wave of new music will be transferred by the next generation.”
Jazz Is Dead 001 is merely a prelude for the label. Later this year, they’ll reveal seven full-length albums, one featuring each of the guests heard on the comp. They’re also planning live shows featuring artists from their roster and other like-minded musicians. To learn more about all upcoming Jazz Is Dead activities, visit their website or Instagram page.