The New Beats

When a magazine proclaims, “This is the newestlatesthippestcoolest,” the declaration often has the odor of a decision born out of marketing meetings. When JT decided to feature Brian Blade, Jim Black, Nasheet Waits and Matt Wilson as representatives of the fresh, new breed of jazz drummers, it took all of five minutes for us to decide—such are the difficulties of editing a magazine, right? Oh, if that were only true every month.

Blade, Black, Waits and Wilson popped into our collective noggin, actually, because every time one of their albums came into the office, even if one was only performing as a sideman, the CDs immediately became must-hears. No matter whom these drummers play with, their styles mold the records, so strong are their musical personalities.

All of these players put themselves in diverse musical situations, adapting with the ease of politicians during election year. The most willful of these drummers, though, is Jim Black, a tireless musician who jets constantly from gig to gig and session to session. He sat still just long enough for Bill Shoemaker’s interview.

“It probably would have been impossible to hook up with Jim in time to do the article had it not been for e-mail and Web sites like [Black’s friend, saxophonist] Ellery Eskelin’s, through which I was able to piece together his schedule and suggest a time for the interview that would work for him,” says Shoemaker. “It turned out to be much easier [to set up] than usual.”

For a man who is so busy, and with a mind that thinks two steps ahead—certainly a valuable thing for a jazz musician—Black was a cogent and receptive interviewee. “Jim can touch upon a lot of ideas quickly during a conversation, but he’s real sharp in tying them together, particularly when it comes to digital audio technology.”

Comfort in a variety of musical situations, from free jazz and bop to drum ’n’ bass and world music, is the unifying trait of 20- and 30-somethings Blade, Black, Waits and Wilson.

“I think musicians in their 20s and 30s have generally been exposed to much more information earlier in their development than previous generations,” says Shoemaker. “You would be surprised at what many musicians who are around 50 or older have not heard. They come from the old school of perfecting a personal approach outside a sphere of influence. But someone who is 30 has probably been exposed to computers since they were in junior high school; their whole approach to and capacity for information is radically different. This is not to equate quantity with quality, but in the hands of an imaginative, literate musician like Jim, all of this stuff can be tapped to interesting ends.”

Which makes our job much easier.

Originally published in November 2000

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