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Birth of the New: Changing the Perception of Jazz

As a songwriter and musician, I’m not interested in yesterday. I’m only interested in today and tomorrow. Music is about creation, it’s about uniqueness, it’s about imagination, it’s about a blank canvas to create anything you wish and with any colors you desire, it’s about REBIRTH.

Every time I sit down to write a song, I feel reborn. Searching deep within my imagination, whether its venturing down a lonely back alley of past emotions, to strapping on an oxygen tank and diving deep into the sea of blackness that I call my soul, to flying high into a distant future world of hope, or despair.

There are no rules or borders. Music is an art form that somewhere along the way has been segregated by genre and category, as well as creating sub-genres segregated within its own genre. Who the fuck is responsible for that? Especially in the “jazz” world. It’s interesting that we as a society feel this need to categorize everything and put it in its own little box. Why? So that we can understand and define it? It still doesn’t truly answer the question.

The great DUKE ELLINGTON said in a television interview (you can find it online), and I quote… “I think the music situation today has reached a point where it isn’t necessary for categories. I think what people hear in music is either agreeable to the ear or not. And if this is so, if music is agreeable to my ear, why does it have to have a category? I don’t see the reason. I mean, it either sounds good or it doesn’t.”

So eloquently put, Mr. Ellington. And he said that back in the 60’s!

And so I ask, why hasn’t anything fucking changed? Why hasn’t any artist pushed the jazz genre forward into a mainstream market since back in the days of Ellington, Miles, Coltrane, Brubeck, Bill Evans, Dizzy, Bird. It was those cats that had the “fuck-off, we do what we want” attitude – they did their own thing, and without apology. Yes, I know there’s a few selected new cats out there today that are pushing the genre forward… but it’s time to join in what I call the fight for anew.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it – most musicians in the jazz world and all its sub-genres aren’t pushing the envelope. All I see and hear out there today is a fear of doing anything outside the box. It’s always a “tribute” to this artist or that artist, or just singing the songbook. Well… that doesn’t set well with me. These lounge lizards are giving jazz a bad name and fuckin’ it up for the rest of us, and that’s why nobody, especially a younger audience, is listening. I’m not saying to not honor the greats of the past, but Jesus Christ, why don’t you learn from them and push the genre forward into a new tomorrow.

I guess this is where I come in. I have no problem being the rebel and the cat other cats don’t like because the topic challenges them and takes them out of there comfort zones. Great… then scurry off and hide in some jazz alley no one’s interested in walking down and listening in.

I’m all about what I’m now calling a “Birth of the New”. Yes, it’s a play off of Miles’ 1957 release of “Birth of the Cool” – if you’re gonna lift, lift from the best. I’m only interested in pushing the jazz genre forward and not afraid to mix musical colors on my palette of imagination of other genres, including hip hop, pop, soul, and whatever else I find that moves me musically – it's a crossover thang.

I’m interested in changing the perception of jazz and bringing it to the mainstream market. Everyone’s invited and has a seat at this table.

I’m also honored to be working with some of the coolest young cats and consummate musicians that I’ve ever played with – and they’re right here in Las Vegas. They get it. And not only do they get it and get what I’m doing musically, but they enhance it. They take what I’ve written and help take it to that higher place. Fucking incredible cats!

This includes the boys in my band called “Niles Thomas & The Jazz Noire” that I have the honor of working with – Sam “Skitz” Lemos (Tenor Sax), Nick “VIP” Schmitt (Bass), Brian “Tree” Triola (Piano), and my dearest friend and brother who’s been at my side for 20+ years, Bijon Watson (Trumpet). Blessed.


We’re all individuals and we’re all beautiful. Being unique assures ourselves a special place and special worth in our society. Being unique means no fear, it means the opposite of boring, it means boosting your confidence, it means having swag, it means being a creator, an innovator, a trendsetter – it means being cool. So celebrate your uniqueness.

As an artist in the music industry of today, where being “the same” is for some reason rewarded, rewarded by the industry because they’re too afraid to take risks, is comical to say the least. So what do they do? They hire multiple songwriters and producers to write and produce one song for an artist. Every song today in the pop world is embarrassing simply because it’s literally the same set of chord progressions.

When I was first coming up in the ranks of the music industry in the 90’s (ah-hem), you were turned down by the A&R reps if you weren’t original. I remember getting rejection letters back then saying that I sounded “too much like this artist, or too much like that artist”. And now? Now all they want is the same song with a slightly different melody. Fucking ridiculous.

In short… fuck em! DO YOU. BE YOU. BE UNIQUE.


Niles Thomas

#crossoverjazz #jazz #jazzmusic #beingunique #jazzhop #rebirth #jazztalk #musictalk

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