in the music industry, time moves ten times faster. There is no pause given to greatness, and legends can vanish amidst the churn of the hit parade. It is no minor miracle, then, that in the face of a deadly pandemic and faltering supply chain, Jazz Is Dead has returned with another offering of top-shelf recordings, paying tribute to past legends and new school torchbearers alike. Whether you’ve known the names of Jazz Is Dead Series 2’s featured guests, or are just meeting them for the first time, prepare to be blown away.
For Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, collaborating with music icons and personal heroes is a dream come true. As Younge notes, “A lot of the luminaries have been forgotten, and we want to get people excited again. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than that.” However, completing such a monumental task while facing the ongoing unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic meant taking careful steps to ensure each artist’s safety and contending with obstacles brought by a global supply chain slowdown, all while keeping the initial vision for the label and production house intact. “Due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to have live events”, says Muhammad. “We launched the label during the pandemic, unsure how we would be able to promote the music when the world was in chaos and turmoil, and suffering such loss. We weren't even sure if the music mattered. But what we discovered was these albums helped ease some of the adversities and difficulties. There's no greater prize than your music having a positive impact on a person.”
With Jazz Is Dead Series 2, Younge and Muhammad have once again, together with a roster of world-renowned legends, crate digger patron saints, and an exciting vanguard of young talent, have delivered another unimpeachable collection of fresh and captivating recordings inspired by Jazz’s past, present, and future. There are names that some may already be familiar with, such as Lonnie Liston Smith, Jean Carne, and Tony Allen, and those less so, like Henry Franklin, Phil Ranelin, Wendell Harrison, Garrett Saracho, & Katalyst. What unites each new collaborator is their unbent dedication to remaining original, preserving their creativity and sharing it with the world..
Few can claim to have shaped Jazz-Funk to the extent that Lonnie Liston Smith has. “To have Lonnie Liston Smith in the studio was an immense honor. Once he stepped in and saw the analog equipment, he became young again, and took us all to space,” says Younge. Known for her incredible vocal acrobatics that span from Spiritual Jazz to Disco and R&B, Jean Carne dazzled those in attendance for her session. As Muhammad puts it, “Jean Carne walked through the door, and her grace and positive spirit filled more than a room. It was a playland, there were no challenges.” As the drummer for Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, legendary drummer Tony Allen brought Afrobeat to the world, and reinvented the possibilities of rhythm. “It’s bittersweet”, says Younge. “We just feel very fortunate that we’re given the privilege to add to his indelible legacy. To be able to record with him in the studio, on my drumset...I feel like it should be in a museum.”
Best known to curious ears for his work on the trailblazing independent Black Jazz label, Henry “The Skipper” Franklin reconfigured the bass into the emotive focal point of some of the label’s most well-regarded releases. “He was so cool about everything that was happening, one slide on that bass and the whole universe shifted”, recalls Muhammad. “(Franklin’s former collaborator) Hugh Masekela had just passed. It’s hard to highlight how something so subtle gets into the music, but it does.” “Working with Henry was like a warm Spring day”, adds Younge. As founders of the legendary Tribe Records, Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison led a Jazz underground renaissance in Detroit, forming a model for creative independence that is still followed today. “It was great working with Phil and Wendell, they definitely set the blueprint”, says Muhammad. Virtually forgotten after the botched release of his head-spinning debut album, Garrett Saracho returned to the studio after a decades-long hiatus with unflappable poise. “The LA Latin sound, built on Black and Brown unity, deeply resonates with me”, says Younge. And although Jazz insiders around Los Angeles may have already known for some time, Katalyst is bridging the timeless sounds of past generations forward for a new audience. “It is important for us to include the younger generation”, says Muhammad. “We feel that they are legends in the making.”
For both Younge and Muhammad, preserving and sharing these legacies remains at the core of their mission. “We do this work with reverence, for the people who came before us, that’s our intent,” says Muhammad. In an era of streaming and rapid devaluation of music, and with the lingering uncertainty of running a new independent label in the time of COVID, Jazz Is Dead continues with Series 2.