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I Do It My Way + Why Crossover Jazz Matters

It’s interesting; Every now and again I’ll be engaged in a conversation and someone will ask the inevitable question that I loathe most… “Have you ever thought about performing or recording a cover?” My answer is always the same; FUCK NO!

Now, you’ve got to understand, it’s not me being an elitist, but rather, I’m a creative. Since the tender age of 15 or so, I made a decision way back then that I would write, record, sing and perform my own music, and never to cover other peoples tunes. I’m just not interested in covering other artists and/or paying so-called tribute to the Greats. They’re already great! There’s nothing more I could possibly add to what they’ve done. I’ve always been more fascinated with blazing my own trail and being an original artist rather than trying to recreate something from the past – how boring and unimaginative, at least for me. Although having said that, I do sometimes like to what I call, ‘organically sample’ from an old tune. You can hear examples of that on my song called ‘We Call This Love (So What)’, where I tastefully borrow a sample from Miles’ So What, and Brubeck’s Take Five for my tune called ‘Shades of Love’.

I have much respect for the great American Song Book, they're amazing songs. But how long is it gonna take until we start writing a new American Song Book and Standards? I mean, we have the Old Testament and a New Testament, right? Well… I just feel we need to also push forward into the future and do what those cats did way back in the past when they first wrote those great songs. Cats today should be pulling from an Old Testament (The American Song Book) and a New Testament (Title Goes Here).

And then there’s cats that will try and argue with me, stating that the version of a Jazz Standard or the tune they recorded from the American Song Book is an “original arrangement”. My reply? Get the fuck out of here! Yeah, a different "arrangement", but all you did was either change the key, maybe rearrange a verse, a chorus, a bridge section here and there, or changed the tempo. And you’re going to seriously walk around and call it an “original”? To me, that’s not creative. It’s taking an original composition and simply moving the puzzle pieces. I’m only interested in creating original compositions. Most of these cats are simply too afraid to venture out on their own and write something. They’re too afraid of what other jazz purists are gonna say and/or how they'll react. Again, I say fuck em’! Just do You! There are no rules.

What I find the most interesting, and what makes me laugh most, is that these same snobby jazz musician purists have been so busy learning every lick and transcribing every note, they forget that the very artists they're learning from (and whom they think they're defending the honor of) are the same artists that were pushing the envelope way back in the day and pushing the genre forward. To me, jazz is punk rock – at least it used to be. It was all about the attitude and thinking outside the box, being creative and pushing boundaries. I mean, Miles didn't even call his music "jazz" for Christ's sake; he called it "social music". So yeah... to the jazz snob reading this article that doesn't agree, yeah you... piss off! Do me a favor and stop reading this article and go hide and stick your head in a chart.

In my opinion, the reason why the word “jazz” has become a 4-letter dirty word and why the general masses aren’t listening to this cool genre is because it isn’t cool anymore. These lounge lizards are fuckin’ it up for the rest of us. These so-called jazz singers are creating Velveeta cheese caricature’s of these great singers that are rolling over in their graves. Do I really need to name the Greats? You figure it out. And the instrumentalist jazz players are all too busy circle-jerking on stage, basically alienating the audience. So how long are you gonna ego-grandstand before the audience gets bored and walks out?

Listen... jazz purists may not dig what I do, and that's cool, but I can give a fuck less. I’m not interested in the opinions of other musicians and artists, they have minus zero value to me. They're not the one's buying the music and coming to the concerts. Musicians will hate it either way. They'll either hate it because they don't like it, or they'll hate it because it's good and they're envious. Never ask another artist or musician for their opinions of your work. I write and perform firstly for myself – writing tunes that move my own soul, and hopefully that spills over to music listeners that enjoy jazz with an open mind and loves a good hooky chorus. It’s an easy pill to swallow.


For far too long, at least in my opinion, the jazz genre is but a small bike lane. As a singer/songwriter and performer, I’m interested in helping to expand it to a 4-lane highway – bringing jazz to the forefront of the mainstream market – that place where jazz crosses over into multi-genres. For fuck’s sake, isn’t that what Bebop, Swing and the Crooners did? Yes, that’s exactly what it did – it helped to bring jazz to a mainstream market. And I haven’t seen it done since, at least on that level.

For those listeners with a low tolerance for jazz, I’ve simply taken a genre-bending approach, eroding the boundaries between jazz and mainstream music, writing and performing original music in a vocabulary that combines elements of all. Simply stated – I want to welcome everyone to the music table. You know who was doing it cool and helping open up those lanes? Artists like Miles, Coltrane, Brubeck, Amy Winehouse, Harry Connick Jr., Nina Simone, Norah Jones, to name just a few. These artists write/wrote their own material and it eased its way into the mainstream market.

I realized that crossover jazz mattered when my co-music partner of The Jazz Eclectic, Bijon Watson, and I have hosted many concerts at the beautiful Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. We would invite Grammy Winning and Grammy Nominated jazz artists as the headliners, and our band would open the shows. We found the audience was starting to come up to us after the shows and say that they’d like to hear more of our stuff over the Grammy artists that we were hiring to headline. Now, no disrespect to these great jazz cats, but what Bijon and I learned is that the audiences ears were just too tired to listen to an hour and half of straight ahead instrumental jazz. As much as I love jazz, I don’t blame them, it’s a lot to digest. And so, hearing that our original songs that we write in a crossover jazz style, performed back-to-back with the straight ahead cats was more pleasant on the ears? Well… the audience has spoken – the majority prefer that easier pill to swallow.

Let it be said.


Niles Thomas

#crossoverjazz #jazz #jazzmusic

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