Nothing like JAZZ to Spice Things Up; Jazz the Basic Ingredient in Today's Popular Rock, Hip-Hop Music Forms

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Byline: EYDER PERALTA, The Times-Union

There's a look people give you when you've taken a conversation into absurd territory, a look that lets you know you've crossed some invisible line.

Bob Bednard had that look on his face after he was asked how important jazz really is to modern music.

Bednard is the host of WJCT's This Is Jazz. He's a tall Northerner who basks in the Florida sun instead of sticking around in his studio. And he's the kind of guy who has stories dripping from every part of his history. Back in the day, he hung out in Philadelphia's bars, where 75 cents bought you a beer that you had to make last through a protracted Miles Davis set. Jazz is important to Bednard. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things jazz, reeling obscure facts off the top of his head. He was just wrapping up work on his radio show advancing next weekend's Jacksonville Jazz Festival, which will bring some of the biggest names in the genre to the Ritz Theatre, The Jacksonville Landing and Metropolitan Park, which happens to be in his station's back yard.

So he looked incredulous that someone would even question the influence of jazz on modern music.

Jazz is the single most important art form to come out of America, he said, and it's impossible to gauge how much it has affected modern music, because it's everywhere. Jazz is the spice that turned R&B into hip-hop and the blues into rock.

Historians say jazz was born when the blues were mixed with the Carribbean and Latin influence and the sounds of the brass bands playing in early 20th century New Orleans. It was the first major American export to world music. And everything that followed has been affected by jazz one way or another, Bednard said.

Jazz also opened the door for experimentation and free form in music. It laid the groundwork for everything to come.

Just listen to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, the mega-selling new album by Outkast, and it's easy to spot the influences of jazz. She's Alive, on Andre 2000's half of the album, is straight-up jazz. It has the signature tapping high-hat cymbals of the drumset and the syncopated beats that are the hallmark of jazz. If anything, the only modern upgrade is that Outkast doubled up on the bass, making it sound less trebly than most jazz.

Aside from its influence on the way music sounds, jazz also changed the way music is played. Jazz put the soloist on the map, said saxophonist Bunky Green, who performs at the jazz festival on Sunday. "Louis Armstrong was the first soloist," he said. "Before that everyone played very much as a band."

Hip-hop music pretty much threw away the concept of the band, concentrating instead on the rapper, on the words -- or the solo, if you will. In rock, the lead singer and the lead guitarist are the ones who get all the attention.

Musically, hip-hop was born after emcees in Jamaica brought a type of music called dub to New York. It isolated the danceable beats of funk and R&B songs, which are basically a mix of jazz and blues music.

If you listen to old Motown records, particularly the Jackson 5, you'll hear the bridge between jazz and R&B. The bass is trebly, and it's played almost like a lead guitar, similar to the way a jazz player would play. That same bass style shows up on early hip-hop records (something like Kool Moe Dee's I Go To Work).

Poncho Sanchez, a mainstay in Latin jazz since the early '80s and a scheduled performer at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival next weekend, just released an album where he takes old R&B tunes and turns them into percussion-heavy Latin grooves. He said he hears jazz everywhere. "Jazz has a lot to do with the blues and rhythm and blues. They've all borrowed from each other," he said.

Green gives all the credit to the blues. He believes that the blues has a lot more influence over modern music than jazz. He points to the rhythm and the sentiments expressed as examples. …