Why is jazz so walled off to younger people? Laufey spends a lot of time pondering this question. And part of it comes down to the ways Gen Z might second-guess themselves.
"Like, how do you consume jazz music?" the Icelandic singer asks GRAMMY.com rhetorically. "Do you go to a jazz club? Do you have to be 18? Do you have be 21? When do you clap? How do you dress?
"There are so many barriers to entry," adds the 24-year-old, mononymous artist, whose full name is Laufey Lín Jónsdóttir. "It seems like something that's for an older, more refined, more educated set of society."
Which is something of a tragedy for music — especially given that youngsters made some of its most resonant works, and that much of jazz was meant for everybody. With that in mind, Laufey isn't out to shove the music down people's throats. She wants to leave them Bewitched.
That's the title of Laufey's second album, due out Sept. 8. Characterized by a more laid-back, accessible approach than its predecessor — 2022's Everything I Know About Love — the set is charming and companionable, from "Dreamer" to "From the Start" and its twilit, cinematic title track.
Read on for an interview with Laufey about her approach to Bewitched, the foundational influences of Astrid Gilberto and Chet Baker, and dismantling the wall between the youth generation and America's Music.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell me how your creative evolution led to Bewitched.
I like to think it was written between Los Angeles and London — New York too, but mostly between those two places. And I touched a lot on that in the lyrics. This is my second album [and] a return to my musical roots. I'm really leaning deep into my jazz and classical roots.
For my first EP [2021's Typical of Me] and album, I always had this goal and dream of bringing jazz music back to my generation. I hadn't seen many examples of doing that. So, I was just kind of seeing how far I could take it — how far I could go into jazz without scaring off Gen Z.
What I found after my first album was that the fans seem to mostly drift toward the songs that resembled jazz standards — ones that were recorded with a symphony orchestra. So, for this album, I had the confidence to just jump straight into that, with no fear that I would lose Gen Z.
The singles that have come out have been some of my most organic music, in that sense. And it's been the most well-received, which is really wonderful. It's such a great sign that music is moving in a direction where I can just be anything.
It's a love album, and touches on everything between love and heartbreak. My last album was a little bit hopeless romantic: Oh, I'll never fall in love. And this one's kind of like, OK, I'm learning a little more about love.
It's a shame how marginalized, niche and walled-off jazz can be. It's one of my greatest pleasures in life.
I mean, that's the whole reason I'm doing this.
But Gen Z might offer light at the end of the tunnel. Where does jazz sit within your age group?
I think there's been a space via social media, like TikTok. In the past few years, there's been so much more music introduced, because it's kind of introduced to you without you seeking it out.
I think Gen Z is a generation of really, really open-minded individuals, especially when it comes to music. I've found that friends and kids this age will listen to anything, really, as long as they can find some sort of line of relatability. That's what they care about.
Even though I'm writing songs that sometimes sound like old jazz standards, the lyrics are very modern; they're my personal experiences from this day and age. I think that relatability is what connects young listeners.
I started this project during Covid, and I found people wanted to find an escape from this bleak reality. We all had to stay home from high school and college; I graduated online, from Berklee.
I think we just wanted to be reminded of a time that wasn't masks and Zoom and whatever. Our escape was kind of found through music. My brainchild during that time was this kind of cinematic, jazzy landscape of music that felt like it didn't belong to 2020. It belonged to a different time.
Bewitched album art. Photo: Gemma Warren
Tell me more about how Bewitched reflects your roots. I'm sure there are all kinds of subliminal reflections of the music you love.
I have a jazz standard on the album, "Misty," that I referenced a couple of times on my first album.I wanted to do it in the most classic way, and we recorded it live in one take with a trio.
I'm a huge Chet Baker fan. Even in the first single off the album, "From the Start," I'm borrowing some Chet Baker licks in the scatting.
I grew up playing cello; my twin sister plays violin on it as well. There are a lot of classical influences that I dug into — a lot of Ravel and Mendelssohn and Ravel and Dvorak, which is really fun to hide in there. Because if you know, you know — and if you don't, it's just a fun, new treat.
Back to the Chet Baker point, the way that he sings is kind of like a trumpet. I really took on more of that vocal style on this album — more held back. I used to think [in terms of] vibrato and legato, and I still do, but I think I really [wanted] to emphasize the lyric and storytelling.
This style of singing that's a little more spoken word, a little more bossa nova — I think that really lends well to the songwriting. Bossa nova was also a big influence on this album.
I love Astrud Gilberto a lot; there's this  album of hers called Beach Samba that I was really, really inspired by, specifically in "From the Start."
I'm obsessed with Chet Baker. Can you talk about him more?
Chet Baker is probably the reason I started creating my own music, and writing my own music. I fell in love with his interpretations two or three years ago, and listened to the entire discography.
The way he phrases — the way he approaches words, but also solos — I have completely taken that into my own kind of musicality.
I think it's because [Baker is] really approachable jazz music for Gen Z and new listeners. I think I would have been very scared to say that back in the day, when I was at Berklee. But I'm not afraid to say it now.
When my friends ask me, "What jazz musician should I listen to?" I'm always like, "Go listen to Chet Baker," because I think it's such a great way to introduce new listeners to jazz. Because he's not only a singer — he's a musician. He plays jazz like a jazz musician.
His early vocal albums were my first immersion in the Great American Songbook. "I'm Old Fashioned," "You're Driving Me Crazy"...
And he doesn't mess with them too much. Which is such a great way to get to know these standards, but also understand jazz form. I love Chet Baker; I think he's just the greatest musician of all time.
On the cover of Chet Baker Sings It Could Happen To You, he's sitting underneath a [waxing crescent] moon. I almost did that for the album cover.
It's important to note these are original compositions, not interpretations. Tell me how you inhabited that language, to write something that feels part and parcel with jazz tradition.
Well, I've learned pretty much every jazz standard — the ones that are in the Real Book, the main ones. I've learned the lyrics; I've figured out the chords.
I think once you have that musical language within you and you understand the form a bit, you'll find that jazz songs have a very similar form. There are lots of similar chords — the II-V-Is, which is my trick to make any song sound jazzy.
The songs on the album that are the most pop/rock-driven are climbing in II-IV-Is, which bring them back to jazz land — or Laufey land, as I like to say.
[It comes down to] the chord choices, and melodic choices. There are some intervals and licks that are commonly used — that you just kind of adopt, and it becomes a part of you.
Tell me about your accompanists on Bewitched, as well as its producers and engineers.
I work very closely with my producer, Spencer Stewart, who also did my first album; he's like my musical soulmate. We nerd out about jazz and classical music all day. But then, he's a really wonderful producer of pop music as well. So, it's this really great combination.
Basically, what I do is: I'll write the song, bring it to him, and we'll usually lay down a guitar or voice or something. We did most of the album in his home studio, and we just jumped around; I would play guitar or piano, he would play drums and bass, I would play cello.
It would just take a day or two, and we'd have a track. It was very organic, in that way — a very modern approach to recording jazzy songs. Which I hope is something that gives it that unique touch.
There's one track on the album that we recorded at EastWest Studios in Hollywood, on Frank Sinatra's piano, which was so cool. Two of the songs we recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra, the orchestra based out of London.
There was an orchestra conductor there, and an engineer that I worked with. But for the most part, it's produced by Spencer and me.
You're doing a lot to bridge the gap to a younger generation. But what caused that gap in the first place? Historically, what has lent itself to this disconnect?
I think about this a lot. I think the barriers to entry with jazz are too high. I think young kids feel like they need to be educated to speak about it, and to even listen to it.
I think it's done such a disservice to the music that it's gotten to that point. Because in the beginning, jazz music was kind of built on freedom from rules — just expression. And it was kind of meant to be something for everybody.
I think also the nature of Gen Z — and young people at all — is that they don't want to listen to adults. They want to hear something from someone their own age. So, it's my hope that I can tie these worlds together and introduce them to something via my own 24-year-old voice.