Since its inception, jazz has evolved through many manifestations. Historically, it has moved from swing to bebop to modal and beyond. Each of these evolutions were heralded by a "changing of the guard" — younger musicians taking it upon themselves to explore the intricacies of the genre, and in doing so, create new forms of expression.
Are there still artists who are pushing boundaries of what is "acceptable" in jazz today? Yes, and they're causing music lovers to reassess their perceptions about the genre.
If you follow jazz, you have likely heard of multitalented bassist/composer Esperanza Spalding. She became the first pure jazz artist to win the coveted Best New Artist award at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2011, besting contemporary acts Florence & The Machine, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Justin Bieber. Her Best New Artist win arguably caused many to wonder who exactly Spalding is. Fortunately, her win piqued much interest, undoubtedly introducing many fans to her music and the genre.
Drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington earned the first GRAMMY of her career in 2011 for Best Jazz Vocal Album for The Mosaic Project, which featured fellow female jazz artists including Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sheila E., Dianne Reeves, and Spalding, and rising stars such as Gretchen Parlato and saxophonist Tineke Postma, among others.
In 2008 pianist Arturo O'Farrill paid tribute to his legendary father, Chico O'Farrill, with the album Song For Chico, which won a GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album. It was the first GRAMMY win for O'Farrill and his then newly formed Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.
The GRAMMY Awards have continued to lift up jazz's newcomers, while celebrating its predecessors, and this year is no different. In the Best Improvised Jazz Solo category, there are three musicians vying for their first solo GRAMMY Award: pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Kenny Garrett. In the Best Latin Jazz Album category, vocalist Luciana Souza and pianist Manuel Valera with his New Cuban Express band are in the running against veterans such as percussionist Bobby Sanabria, Latin GRAMMY-winning pianist Chano Domínguez and the Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band.
Looking forward, jazz is ripe with an array of up-and-coming artists who are perhaps ready to make their mark, including drummer Kendrick Scott, trumpeters Etienne Charles, Takuya Kuroda and Ingrid Jensen, bassist Avishai Cohen, guitarist Rez Abbasi, and trio the Bad Plus. But for now, with the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards just three weeks away, it will be exciting to see which new jazz artists will emerge and shine on Music's Biggest Night.