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The Every Genre

[Anthony Dean-Harris]
Editor-In-Chief
anthonydeanharris@gmail.com / @retronius

Before I got my show at [KRTU], I was in a bit of a musical flux. In my younger days, I was a bit of a jazz purist. I would only listen to jazz and had little variation from it. Sure, I being Negro, my childhood had crossover R&B music from Anita Baker, D’Angelo, Maxwell, and others of their time. But arguably, R&B could be considered just another vein of jazz, so it was hard for me to classify them as anything other than that.

As I got older, I found my solid musical tastes to be rather alienating. I started to venture out into alternative rock, but the kind that really wasn’t of great quality for the most part. I’m sure we all liked some pretty ridiculous stuff in high school and it’s best we not dwell on those youthful indiscretions.

As time went on and my tastes grew more distinct in college, I noted instrumentation and craft in music more than the importance of genre. Eventually, I learned to cherish nearly every genre for its ability to cross boundaries, throw caution to the wind, and just be the best music it could be, no matter the limitations or expectation of a following.

Eventually I’d listen to practically anything, no matter the genre, and I considered it all jazz because it was just good music to me that knew how to innovate. I fell in love with Radiohead’s tapestries of sound, Sufjan Stevens’ earnestness, Iron and Wine’s solemnity, MF DOOM’s lyricism, Busdriver’s speed, Daedelus’ breadth of musical knowledge, Madlib’s respect of classics, Trent Reznor’s dedication, Sigur Rós’ blankets of noise, Incubus’ constant transformations, Fiona Apple’s honesty, Kanye West’s eclectic taste, and so many other musicians’ abilities, skills, and artistic wonders.

It didn’t take long for all these different types of music to blend in my mind. I fell so much in love with the craft of making music, and doing so in a different way every time, that I just lumped them all into jazz. If we are to believe ([as Ms. Spalding so wisely said recently]) that the root of jazz is improvisation, if any form of music is made instantaneously and with improvisation, it can loosely be defined as jazz. Some may find this to be too liberal of a definition but it served me just fine in my formative years.

When I was given my radio show, The Line-Up, I was happy to take the reins from my predecessor because I loved the idea of playing a kind of music that so nicely compliments the show that follows mine, [The Distance]. I thought playing modern jazz seems like the natural fit before playing that specific brand of indie rock. Clearly, my predecessor (Lyz) and her boyfriend (Emcee Q, host of the The Distance) had the same thought in mind. I know I’m not alone in this thinking. But in taking over a radio show and the challenge of programming it each week, keeping the same open mind to all genres of music was nigh-impossible.

Therein lies the challenge of promoting a music like this now. Maybe the solution to spreading jazz’s appeal isn’t just to say how great an art form it is but instead to show how it’s not far off from other niche genres of music. In the same line of thinking that says [popular culture has been subtly hearing jazz without noticing it], jazz is (as [Nate Chinen has said] and I keep noting) close to other forms of music that are already popular.

People oughtn’t decry that jazz isn’t popular because it’s largely instrumental if post-rock has a thriving audience. Bands like Mogwai, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and Explosions in the Sky are well-crafted rock bands that lack vocals but still have adaptability and technical skill. Jazz cannot be denied for being too technical of an extremely cerebral band like Radiohead can be one of the biggest rock bands in the world today. The masses cannot turn up their noses to jazz for being overly complex if Animal Collective can see its wild success today.

The philosophy of Nextbop isn’t just about promoting jazz to jazz lovers. It’s not even mainly focused on such a vision. Nextbop is about appealing to everyone. It’s about promoting jazz to the world. It’s about showing the indie rock crowd, the punk rock crowd, the hip hop crowd, the R&B crowd, the bluegrass crowd, and so many other scenes that this kind of music is great and it’s not so far off from what you’re used to hearing. We shan’t limit ourselves to just one ideology for the sake of appeasing one crowd when the whole world can appreciate this music for its complexities.

Jazz is so close in spirit to so many other genres of music that only when one opens his or her eyes, can one see the potential the genre has in itself and through seeking out new inspiration. Jazz has the same do-it-yourself attitude of punk rock. It has the same epic feel of bands like Led Zeppelin. It has the stripped down nature of bluegrass. It has the same smoothness of R&B. It’s practically half the samples you ever hear for anything in hip hop. It is the every genre, you just have to realize it.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect] and you can also [follow him on Twitter].