In 'La La Land,' Mia asks if jazz still matters. Here's 4 reasons why it does
A renowned jazz guitarist explains how the genre brings cultures together in real time.
"La la Land," the critically acclaimed musical that set records for Golden Globes and Academy Award nominations, centers around Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who wants to open a jazz club. In the movie, he tries to teach his love interest Mia (Emma Stone) what's so amazing about jazz, even though the genre continues to wane.
But Israeli jazz musician Nadav Remez says that jazz is alive and well. Remez, who currently lives in New York and grew up in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, has performed in jazz festivals around the world. We sat down with the accomplished musician to find out how this historical music genre is adapting to modernity.
Playing jazz is like having a conversation.
Jazz is all about improvising. When jazz musicians play, they talk through their instruments. They bounce ideas off each other in real time.
"You are listening to the phrases, the words, the conversation," Remez said.
According to Remez, understanding jazz is like speaking another language.
"They say music is a universal language, but jazz is a very specific set of dialects," Remez said. "Each language has its own unique beauty that has to do with its history, its sound, the cultures that revolve around it."
It brings cultures together.
Thanks to the internet, musicians can type in a few words in Google and find out what music sounds like across the world (kind of like how we looked for people dancing around the world).
"The music just got out to young musicians all over the planet," Remez explained.
Since jazz musicians are always happy to try new things, they started incorporating faraway music into their songs. Remez says it's not unusual for an American to whip out a saxophone and play Bulgarian folk music, or for Israelis to incorporate Indian sounds into their jazz. Jazz isn't just an American phenomenon anymore; it's a worldwide event. Israelis, for instance, are a huge force in the New York jazz scene. "The community just keeps growing and growing," Remez said.
If playing jazz is like having a conversation, the modern international jazz scene is like a global conversation happening in real time.
Jazz has been changing.
Jazz isn't just open to change, it thrives on it.
"In pop, rock and country music, you’re encouraged to get your genre right," explained Remez. "In jazz, there’s room for individualism."
Many people might imagine jazz the way it was 50 years ago, but modern jazz is quite different.
"There's this kind of openness to diving into all these traditions," Remez said.
It happens in front of your eyes.
"Jazz is like real time composition," Remez explain. "It gets me to confront some deep aspects in music and
improvisation that I wouldn't find anywhere else."
Jazz music isn't generally created by a composer sitting in a room somewhere years before a performance. Instead, jazz happens on the spot. That gives it a certain kind of authenticity that's sometimes hard to find in a world plastered with advertisements.
"It’s something that doesn’t really happen anywhere else in the same way," Remez said. "The possibilities are really endless."
And every once in a while, you'll find yourself in what Remez calls a "magic moment" when the group connects and makes something unexpected and brilliant.
"These are really the moments," Remez said. "That’s what we’re waiting for, when we’re listening to jazz."
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