Arts & Culture

How important is jazz today?

79-year-old Julian Priester is a jazz legend.
The trombonist and composer was in town during the Halifax Jazz Festival in July to perform his iconic 1974 album Love, Love.
He chose to perform that album alongside his longtime friend Jerry Granelli at the festival because the technology used was ahead of its time, said Priester.
“Would you believe that after 40 years it’s still contemporary?” he said. “A lot of jazz fans are finding out about it. It has generated a lot of curiosity because it… stimulates the imagination.”
But when asked about the relevance of Jazz today he highlighted its purposes from the past.
“It has been taken into hospitals and institutions and performed for people who are having various mental and physical illnesses. It has a therapeutic effect.”
Priester added jazz has been filtered for some years now. “When you look at popular music, if you know anything about Jazz and its history and the sounds of Jazz, you can actually hear it being used in popular music,” he said. “And if you listen to a lot of rap you can hear it.”
He partly believes that the practice of music sampling, reworking a song from the past, is a positive thing. However, the fact that jazz is being filtered more frequently into popular music disappoints the authentic artist in him.
“On the one hand, you know, I applaud that. On the other hand, I’m upset by it,” Priester said. “I think that in doing that, the rappers are missing an opportunity to exercise their creative energies, and come up with ideas on their own, to back themselves up, rather than using something that’s already existing.”
Since Priester was a jazz composition and history professor for over 30 years, the historian in himself is quick to identify an interesting parallel between the use of sampling by young artists today and the use of improvisational techniques by jazz artists during the twentieth century.
“At a certain stage in the music, it was taken away from the youth in the country, and the instruments themselves cost so much money so they couldn’t afford any. So, they improvised, used their bodies, and they were using their voices to create rhythm,” he said.
“It is a logical progression from using the body and the feet and other things to provide instruments that they couldn’t afford to buy; sampling follows in those footsteps.”
“My sons think I should be making more money than I’m making, and if I was playing more commercial music, I probably would be making more money,” he said. “But I’m happy. I’m happy doing what I do. It shouldn’t be about the money, No. It’s art.”
By his own definition, Priester has led a lifelong, wildly successful artistic career and he has no plans to stop doing what he loves. He’s currently working on another album titled Afru*ition, which has no set release date at this time.
As for the future of jazz?
“I envision a bright future for this music that we used to call Jazz,” he said with a laugh.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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