The Modern Standard: What Is It?

Inspired by Spring’s indecisiveness a couple weeks ago, I decided not to brave the wind and rain this particular day, but to do some season-inspired cleaning instead. Thumbing through my music library, I settled on some classic Blue Note repertoire to help me through my chores: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Three Blind Mice, to be specific.  As the gorgeous and fittingly titled Freddie Hubbard waltz “Up Jumped Spring” played, it got me to thinking about the layers of musical camaraderie jazz music has always had.  Not just the cooperative nature of performing the music, but also in terms of what music was performed.  The vast landscape of jazz repertoire which includes Blues, Tin Pan Alley songs, show tunes, and pop songs, is most enriched by original compositions from jazz musicians themselves, which through the social contexts of the music, became standards in their own right.  Songs from Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Wayne Shorter had become modern jazz standards of their times because of their popularity and exposure within the jazz community.  I then started focusing on today, and my experiences at jazz performances.  Yes, the headliner is playing his or her original work, and yes the band, on some occasions, may feature a tune or two from a bandmate, but what were the odds that they would play a tune by a musical peer beyond their own band?  Slim to none, as far as I could tell.  Which got me to thinking: What is the modern jazz standard?

I began looking through the several Real Books laying around the house.  I couldn’t seem to find a song that was written in the last twenty years or so included.  With the plethora of prolific writers in jazz over this span of time, I found it odd.  What does this mean?  I started asking musicians for their take on why songs aren’t becoming popularized within the genre, and how this could affect their mark in history, if at all.

“People are so ensconced with doing their own thing, and don’t realize that it helps the music when we promote each other’s songs.  It helps the mentality,” says trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.  “For a long time, people have regarded standards as the test of one’s mettle and that tradition has stood the test of time for years and years and it was also something that was meant to rope in somebody who hadn’t heard you before, so that was the paradigm of which all modern jazz players were based off of, before you get into your own thing.”

Doing one’s own thing has never been easier.  The collapse of crucial major jazz labels, and a shift in the art of record producing has birthed a DIY era of record making which, while incredibly liberating, also has its share of considerable consequences.  “What’s interesting about the industry in any musical [genre] is that years ago — and I mean in our time — it was special to make a record,” says Pelt, who has just released his ninth album, Soul; a gorgeous blues and ballads project.  “Nowadays, I could put together a record right now on my Mac Book in an hour.  I don’t need a label to do anything for me, I just put it together, get my Logic going, and put it right up on my website and I will have a bona fide record.  So, the change in the industry and the mentality is such that it’s not a special thing anymore, and that’s, in essence, what makes it very competitive, number one.  You would think it’s less competitive now, but it’s actually more competitive because nobody’s shit is special anymore.  It’s all very ego-driven, and I think that a lot of young composers are always in a rush to push their agenda, and everyone is guilty of it at some point.  I think that with me, I made it a conscious decision, after doing records of my own material, to really cast light on some of my comtemporaries’ songs.”  Pelt, who has one of the few long-established quintets in the business, has recorded the music of Anthony Wonsey, Myron Waldon and Eric Reed. “If there was something I was drawn to in a song, I would record it and I think that it benefits the community at large.  I think people are afraid to do it because they feel like it will take the spotlight away from their compositions, which is a valid feeling if you’re insecure like that, but realistically, it’s not like there’s a whole lot of spotlight on the [jazz] industry in general [laughs].”

Pianist Orrin Evans, who is bringing a sense of community back to the jazz scene with his big band, Captain Black, is one of the few bandleaders today proactively featuring original music of not only his peers, but his proteges alike. “There’s such a need now for branding,” says Evans, “that even if you sit down with the best publicist in the business now, the word that’s going to come up is ‘branding’.  If you sit down with a manager, everyone is talking about branding, and that whole package becomes so self-serving.  A lot of people, when they get that moment, it’s like, ‘I gotta play my music, and do my stuff.’  But I honestly believe that I can still be who I am by how I interpret other people’s music.  It doesn’t need to be my music.  Who I am isn’t all about my songs or how I play my music, but also how I interpret music.”

Evans, who paid tribute to his mentor, saxophonist Bobby Watson, on his 2010 release Faith In Action, believes firmly in honoring his influences while they are still here; a philosophy which jazz has struggled to reckon with for the last several decades.  The genre seems to be contented (for better or worse) between two musical polars: an homage-obsessed one, and the other which seems, at times, completely musically isolated.

Guitarist Mike Moreno illuminates another set of possibilities of why artists’ tunes aren’t making the rounds as they did years ago.  “Today, there are far less jazz musicians being asked to record albums within a constricted period of time by record companies. Years ago, more musicians had record contracts that required them to record more often, demanding more material. So the artists might have been looking for more material if they didn’t have enough tunes written themselves for their next date. And now, for some of us, we write far more tunes than we have a chance to record. So we always end up playing what we wrote and don’t really have time on the date or gig to play so many of our peers’ original music. But another big reason, I think, is that jazz tunes have become more labor intensive to learn. Most of the music written now by musicians of my generation requires some pretty heavy rehearsing.  And there just isn’t enough time most rehearsals to rehearse your own music, and then another person’s hard music too. It’s better to just go with a standard that everyone knows to break the monotony of reading on every song during a gig or record date. Usually after about eight original tunes the band members start to hint at, ‘Yeah, and we can just throw in some standard tunes in between these.’  There is far more reading going on, on gigs now. And since most gigs today are mostly one nighters as opposed to playing for weeks at a time at the same venue, as back in 40’s 50’s and 60’s, with less sets, the opportunity is just not there to play a wider range of repertoire on gigs. But regardless, an original tune back in the day was no more than 32 bars, with maybe an intro, then the head, solo on the melody form, head out. Now a four or five page tune is no surprise. And the road maps through the sections can be really tricky. There is only so much of that, you can put in front of the band each gig.”

Moreno recently released his stunning fourth album, Another Way (World Culture Music), which features all original compositions, but is known for his uncanny ability to interpret standards, and has released two standards albums on the Criss Cross label.  “Before the Real Books came out there was a good grace period that determined what should be in there. Classic records were already classic.  The Real Book didn’t make Monk’s music popular, for example. Who would decide what should go in the newer real books if the records haven’t had a chance to become something yet? It would be nice if there was something like it, but who would buy it? I’m not sure publishers are really interested in that. After all, who buys Real Books anyway? Students who don’t really have the ear yet to learn the tunes from recordings and also need a guide of what to learn from the history of the music, or local musicians that just play background gigs with standards that they haven’t committed to memory.  That market of consumer usually buys the first editions Real Books to learn and play the “standard standard” material at their gigs.  The more advanced musicians usually have already studied that material, and then when they do want to play more modern stuff just transcribe it themselves and write out the charts rather than spending the money on a entire book to get a few tunes out of it.  I don’t think Real Books with newer music would make very much money for publishing companies, especially with current access to artist websites, in which the artists have taken their music into their own hands.  Fans or musicians who really want a newer artist’s original sheet music can just go to that person’s website and purchase the tunes they want now, or write the artist personally saying, ‘Hey, I really love this one tune, or this record, can you send me the lead sheets?’ I get those emails all the time. But, you can’t do that to Cole Porter, Miles, Monk, or even someone still current like Wayne Shorter or Herbie.  But a lot of times my favorite tunes were not in Real Books. I always transcribed myself. It might be more profitable for publishers to just put out individual songbooks by current artists. Few already exist. But, I don’t see any publishing companies really wanting to jump at this anytime soon, maybe down the line sometime. Then it might have an effect on the scene overall, making the records of today that will end up as classics documented as such. I think it is still too early.”

It just may be.  Yet, to Moreno’s point about the way the music of Monk, for example, was already popularized pre-Real Book era, I could not help but think about why and how much of the reason had to do with community and the role musicians play in getting their peers’ music out into the world.

“If you think about it, the Real Book hasn’t changed since probably 1993,” says Evans. “I haven’t bought one in a long time, but…that’s twenty years.  In that amount of time, we’ve had some monumental records, despite what people want to think or say.  We’ve got Crazy People Music from Branford [Marsalis], we’ve got Jason Moran’s records, Robert Glasper’s records, Kenny Kirkland’s records, which came out all within that time span.  Christian McBride’s first two records, during the time when the young lions — Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton — all of them had killing records, and you don’t see hardly any of those tunes in any of the Real/Fake books.  We have to keep playing the music.  Because if you stop playing it, for the next kids who come along, there’s no book.  I mean, granted, the reality is if we’re going to deal with it musically, all the old heads would say they should be learning it by ear anyway, but I’m talking about the business of it.  We’re not represented. Two decades of music is not represented in that book.”

“There isn’t really a linear sense of the scene in terms of progression, and in terms of community,” says saxophonist John Ellis, whose southern tinged Double-Wide quintet will be a part of the Newport Jazz Festival line-up this year.  People don’t necessarily  expectantly wait for so and so’s record, like they did for Miles.  We’re not connected to that era.  The people within the scene are disconnected from each other.  And I think all of that fracturing puts people in a whole different place.  I mean, that being said, I think Terence [Blanchard] has done a great job, very similar to Blakey, of showcasing his band members’ music.  I think there are isolated instances most certainly of that: of people building community within smaller groups.  When it comes to standards, for the most part, we’re talking about the Great American Songbook.  The ideal that there was a general, cultural knowledge of this music that jazz musicians interpreted, basically everybody knew those songs.”

“I mean, when I moved here there weren’t too many incubation bands in the first place that you could learn from,” adds Pelt, sighting the importance of musicians having experience not just playing music outside of their own, but also stretching out in bands beyond their own.  “Betty Carter was still alive but was getting ill, you still had Elvin Jones, we still have Roy Haynes, so there were a handful.  But there weren’t that many bands of that calibar to where you could get in and learn something.  So even now, fast forward almost fifteen years later, it’s like well now who is there really to play with?  And it forces today’s musicians to have to come up wtih their own situations because who else are they going to play with that they’re really going to learn from?”

“With the collapse of the major record label options for jazz for most people, it has made it such that everything is so diffused and spread out and then you juxtapose that with this incredible change of everything becoming institutionalized,” says Ellis who pointed out to me through an illustration about the cultural climate of jazz when the music was in Harlem, that the audience used to play such an important role in keeping the music contemporary and popular.  This begs the question: Who is the modern musician playing for?

“I think there is definitely something about Facebook and Twitter that makes people narcissistic, or encourages there inner narcissism, like everything I’m saying and doing is so important,” says Ellis. “Social networking…there is something sort of strangely anti-social about it, but on the other hand there is real potential to organize; it’s all about how we use it, I guess.  I do think there is some tension between this crazy connectivity and access to so much information and then how kind of isolating it all is.”

I guess there’s no easy or right answer or solution to the dilemma, and in fact the subject sheds more light on just how many achilles heels our musical community is plagued from. However, I do think we could benefit from more documenting and collective publishing of modern jazz compositions.  Collectivity has always made the music what it is.  The music being more than just the sum of its parts, as NPR producer Becca Pulliam said to me in a recent interview.  I just hope that by the time my son is in college, he’s learning the music of Jason Moran alongside the music of Art Blakey.  We can’t keep using the word “modern” to describe jazz, if we’re really referring to 1965.  That being said, I think at some point, it may be worthwhile to publish an updated book of modern compositions and start creating a rightful place for our generation in the spectrum of contributions.  There’s too much at stake to be overlooked in the end.

I welcome your thoughts on the matter.

Drum Composers Series Part 5: Kendrick Scott

Photo by Deneka Peniston

Hearing Kendrick Scott is an experience.  There’s no other way to explain the entrancing language of one of this generation’s most gifted drummers.  His masterful drumming, without fail, somehow propels his audience to a spiritual journey; a bestowal that is far beyond the music itself.  It’s been five years since Scott released his debut album, The Source, for World Culture Music, his independent music label.  The “hiatus” has been with good reason.  Scott has been touring consistently and extensively with mentor and employer of eight years, Terence Blanchard.  He has also been featured, playing on several film scores (A Tale of God’s Will, Just Wright and others) and was part of the 50th Anniversary Monterey Jazz Festival All-Star Band, which was led in-part by the late, great James Moody.  Scott also released Reverence for the Criss Cross label; an outstanding quintet session of standards from Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, Kenny Dorham, and Herbie Hancock; the latter whom Scott has also spent substantial time touring with.

Conviction, Scott’s sophomore album for World Culture Music will drop early next year, and features Scott’s splendid “Oracle” band which includes pianist Taylor Eigsti, guitarist Mike Moreno, saxophonist John Ellis, and bassist Joe SandersConviction represents, as Scott describes, “The shedding of me wanting to be like all of my idols.”  This is an interesting testament given that Scott is a drummer with one of the most original voices in modern jazz.  However, he also attributes the title to a shift in the way he presents music as a composer, and also in the way he delivers those compositions, now displaying a more prominent drum presence to balance out his strong affinity for melody; a love birthed from his gospel roots.

“See, now I’m trying to reconcile two different views,” Scott explains.  “My lyrical view of what I think music should be like and feel like, and then being a drummer.  If you notice, on The Source, most of the tunes are very lyrical, but there’s not a lot of aggressive drum writing, so I actually relished in that; I love that.  But now as I’m growing a little bit, I want to write some more aggressive stuff.  I’m always the sensitive guy sometimes, and I still want to be that, but I also want to play some drums, you know?”

There’s no question that Scott is a powerhouse drummer, playing with a compulsion and dynamism that few can match.  But he also possesses an unparalleled compassion, sagacity and clarity in his playing; there are few drummers who can rouse so much emotion and create such a range and mélange of colors.  These dynamics glisten in his writing.  Scott’s compositions, like his drumming, have the ability to transport listeners in a way that is far beyond descriptions like mood or vibe; it is intensely ancestral.

Photo by Jimmy Katz

The title track of his debut album was also featured on Blanchard’s Flow (Blue Note).  Produced by Herbie Hancock, Flow is a gorgeous collection of songs from his uniquely inspired band mates, with Hancock being a featured guest on Scott’s composition.  “That was a funny situation,” Scott reminisces.  “Herbie was going to play on another tune and that didn’t happen, so my tune was the one that we felt Herbie would take to another level, and of course he did.  It all fell into place seamlessly, really.  And it was one of the first times I enjoyed a composition I had written [laughs].”  The song would go on to be nominated for a Grammy © for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo.

For “The Source”, Scott used a method of composition that is becoming more of an integral part of his writing today.  Taught to him by Blanchard, it’s a method that expanded on his basic ideas for the tune.  “There’s a process that [pianist, educator and Pulitzer Prize nominee] Roger Dickerson taught Terence,” says Scott. “It’s called If I Could, I Would Tell You.  And it’s mainly about theme and variation.  So, you take one theme and you turn it on its head, and then you write it backwards and then you write all of these variations out, and then pretty much, your original idea informs your whole writing process.  So instead of “stream of consciousness”; instead of me singing a melody and singing it all the way to the end, I’m taking my one little idea and making a whole song out of it.  So, if you listen to “The Source”,  I took [sings melody] and I transferred that to the bass, I transferred it in the melody, and then if you listen to the end of it, I elongated it.  Instead of a beat a piece, it’s bar a piece and then I transferred the bass notes.  So it’s just one of those things where I’m just learning how to manipulate ideas more than just “stream of consciousness” now.  It’s interesting to watch Terence teach it because it has this whole different…it gets so in-depth.  I mean, it’s infinite.”

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Scott has also adopted this same method to inform his developed philosophy about his purpose on the bandstand.  He explains, “Usually when I play the drums, all of the elements of the ideas from the foundation of the tune itself, is one layer.  The people I’m playing with are another layer, and then my imagination is the top layer.  But the bottom layer is my references, right?  My references of knowing like, what Ben Riley has played, what Al Foster, or Shadow Wilson has played; Max and all of those guys.  So you have your references, then you have the tune, people, and then on top of that, I think you have your imagination.  So you’re hearing all of those things, and the hierarchy is those guys, and what you’re playing is the next level and then relating to the people is paramount, and then your ideas are paramount but they’re not as paramount as the basis…for me.  So what I try to do is use that If I Could, I Would Tell You if we’re playing something like ‘All The Things You Are.’  I’m going to use things from the tune because we’re playing the form of the tune, or lets’ say Stablemates because I always use that as an exercise.  I say, OK take “dah-dah-dah”;  just three notes, and make it go all the way through the tune.  And then using the ideas of the people that you play with to inform you in creating those ideas, and as you can see it starts creating a web a huge web.  And you’re like ‘Oh wow, all of these things are springing from three notes.’  So that’s just the way I’m starting to compose now; just little small elements that I can manipulate, instead of the really big ones… the through-composed things.”

Scott credits his several years in Blanchard’s band to much of his growth as a drummer, and particularly to his development as a composer.  Blanchard has among other things, augmented the realm of possibilities for jazz musicians, becoming one of the film industry’s most revered scorers.  For Scott, Blanchard’s early advice to “learn to do what you do,” helped him to develop such striking individuality.  “It took me so long to figure out that that’s what I need to do,” says Scott.  “Because even if someone says that…you know.  So that release of surrendering to that…that was like a huge light bulb moment.  So, I always attribute that to Terence, because I don’t think it would have happened in other situations.  Well…I think it would have, but I don’t think I would have had the opportunity for things to just bud the way they have over eight years of playing with him, and him being encouraging about it.  Because I think people can encourage, but then you’ll forget.”

Blanchard is not Scott’s first or only point of reference when it comes to composition.  His mother, an accomplished pianist, was also very impressionable on Scott.  “One of my mother’s good friends was song writer Michael McKay, so I was always in an environment where people were being creative and writing not necessarily just jazz, but gospel music,” says Scott.  “I only came to start composing in jazz when I turned fourteen or so.  All before then, it was just pretty much gospel music or classical music that I was around, you know?  And R&B and stuff at home.  So when I finally got to high school, I just started opening up and just kind of writing down ideas here and there but not really knowing what the hell I was doing.”

Scott is a product of the burgeoning group of jazz musicians that came out of Houston’s renowned High School for the Performing and Visual Arts; a cultural hub that exported the likes of Jason Moran, Mike Moreno, Eric Harland, and Chris Dave to the New York City jazz scene.  He went on to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, and before graduation he had already caught the attention of several jazz greats, gigging with Pat Metheny and Kenny Garrett.  But it was soon after graduating that Blanchard would grab up the immensely talented and budding drummer.

Years and mammoth transitions and experiences later, Scott has made an indubitable mark as a truly inspired and brilliant artist.  With Conviction, the suitably titled project will create another benchmark for possibilities.  “I’m pretty proud of it,” says Scott.  “It’s a departure from The Source.  A little more aggressive and little more drum oriented, which is different for me because I always said I want the drums to be powerful, yet transparent, and I think any great musician… his musicianship is always that way.  It’s always upfront, but it always lets the other things around it shine through.  So the transparency is always something I’m looking for in my drumming.”

That transparency spills over to facets beyond Scott’s drumming.  There is accordance on a human level that Scott embodies off of the band stand. And when it speaks through his art (both writing and performing) it can’t help but inspire.  For Scott, there is never a sense of being settled, but constant searching.  “I heard that Prince gets up every day and writes a song; same thing with Wayne [Shorter],” says Scott.  “I wanna become married to the process.  There’s this book Stravinsky wrote called The Poetics of Music and he talks about there being two kinds of writers.  There’s one that writes from inspiration and one from necessity.  So mostly I’ve been an inspirational writer, I’ll say ‘Oh this picture is beautiful, let me write something.’  But he said he was more the type of guy who gets up and says I’m going to write now. I’m going to make it happen.  So I’m just learning every day from that and going between those two types of writing; the necessity and the inspirational, and just trying to bring that to light through my compositions.”♦

Remembering Michael

“There have been others, but never two lovers like music…music…and me.”

Michael Jackson

It has always been slightly unsettling for me to celebrate or commemorate an artist around the anniversary of his or her death.  After all, it is what a particular artist accomplished or inspired during their lifetime that is being remembered, and only logical that we therefore reflect upon them during their coming into the world, and not their departure from it.  But when it comes to Michael Jackson, it’s a different story — at least for me, and I believe, for many.  I think this is because Michael’s actual death was so profound.  The gaping hole left in the hearts of millions symbolized that losing Michael Jackson was the single most culturally impacting event of our lifetime.  I’m sure you know exactly where you were and what you felt when you learned that Michael was gone.

I was either so young, or not yet born when we tragically lost musical giants like John Lennon, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Lee Morgan.  Furthermore, my mom was pregnant with my older brother when both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and had already mourned the previous deaths of JFK and Malcolm X.  America has undoubtedly suffered terrible loss of artistic, cultural and political icons within the scope of our lifetimes.  But, the interesting thing about Michael’s death, which is so distinctive, is that because his career spanned over 40 years, our parents and even grand-parents loved him just the same as those of my generation, and for all intents and purposes, actually “knew” him first, as much as the Thriller generation loves to claim him as being “really” ours.  (I’m guilty).

Michael’s impact is so far beyond music, and the various contexts through which he can be intensely studied and analyzed are indicative of that.  One thing that deeply affected me upon his death was that for all who thought that Michael Jackson forgot that he was Black…well, the media had not.  But thankfully, neither did Black folks.  Michael was celebrated and memorialized most appropriately by his people; without the damper of controversy and distractions, which were exacerbated by the media.  The beautifully relentless home-going celebration at the Apollo Theater in Harlem was the most brilliant example to the world that Michael not only understood his roots, but he was the embodiment of Black culture.

That being said, Michael’s indelible influence on the world is unprecedented and I cannot even grasp the totality of what that really means.  It surpasses any sort of quantification.  In a sense, like Michael himself, his influence is not to be understood but simply appreciated and respected.  There’s nothing else to do with such an other-worldly gift we are so blessed to have experienced.  Here, some of the most prominent artists in modern jazz have taken a moment to reflect on what Michael Jackson means to them.  Besides, Michael’s musical influence reaches every corner of every genre of music; a lesser discussed topic as it relates to jazz, but perhaps one of the most important angles to look at.  Enjoy.

—————————————–

“To me, Michael Jackson is important as an artist because not only did he understand the role of the artist in society — he went far beyond it.”
Ambrose Akinmusire

“One thing that’s great about Michael, which isn’t often discussed or recognized, is that Off The Wall and Thriller are, for lack of a better word, Jazz records. The chordal structures, melodic content, string and horn arrangements, the Blues, the drive and swing of the rhythm section are all hallmarks of the so-called Jazz idiom. They represent, so far, the pinnacle of success for Black Popular Music and it is of no coincidence that those two records coincided with the return of the music otherwise referred to as straight-ahead Jazz. These records did more than just turn people on to Michael Jackson or R&B, they made people fans of music at a time when the industry was in a slump, much like so-called Jazz did around the turn of the century. ‘Thriller’ and ‘Off The Wall’ are essentially a continuum of the work first established on the ‘Hot Fives’ and ‘Hot Sevens’ by the world’s first Rock star, Louis Armstrong.”
– Nicholas Payton

“Michael Jackson proved that music and dance are probably the most powerful uniting forces in this world.  His style continues to cross genres, religious beliefs, class systems, and political and racial divides more than any other artist to date.  Everyone in every corner of the world knows his name and image.  And all of this came from this simple fact of how unique and great his music and dancing really was.  It was produced, executed, and recorded to the highest level, and it will keep on influencing peoples’ lives beyond our years.”
– Mike Moreno

“MJ is an icon. Unbelievably talented and devoted his life to his passion for art and humanity.  So hugely influential and groundbreaking, and seemed like such a beautifully gentle, caring soul.  Growing up on his music, I think we all felt a personal connection.  He makes us want to sing along, get up and dance, lay down and cry, stand up and shout, reflect upon and then actively do something.  That’s what art should do.  I will forever shake my head in amazement at his singing, his dancing; he was the greatest entertainer who ever lived and quite possibly ever will.  No one can touch that.”
– Gretchen Parlato

“The feeling I always got from MJ’s music is that he never hid or second guessed his inner voice and passion.  You undeniably feel every word and every dance move.  So overwhelmingly inspiring.”
Casey Benjamin

“I believe Michael Jackson was here to show us how small the world really is, and his vehicle was his talent as an entertainer.  No matter where one is from, when one is born, what language one speaks, what doctrine one reveres, etc… most of the world that existed during or exists post his life has been moved deeply by Michael’s talent.  This is evidence of something much larger than fame.  It is evidence of what is possible.  Genius, in my opinion, is not measured by mere talent.  It is measured by what those talents have contributed to the world.  His impact on us was so huge because he constantly had a vector, a purpose for the talents he was given.”
Marcus Strickland

“Nobody has been MEGA famous for as long as he has.  Also, with the ability to change and be a pioneer in each change.  He is a master vocalist-performer-dancer and just has a musical sound of his own.  Not to mention he has inspired everyone, and is hands down, the most famous person to walk the Earth.”
Robert Glasper

“Michael Jackson was clearly an artist of the highest order. Perhaps the quality that he possessed which stood out to me most was his ability to convey a particular message with utmost sincerity, sophistication, character and execution. His influence is seemingly infinite and his legacy will live on forever. I am truly grateful that I was born during his lifetime.
– Marcus Gilmore

“MJ was an extension in the evolution of Black entertainment.,  He pulled from James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jackie Wilson, making him the greatest in his time.”
– Jesse McB
ride

“Michael was a beacon for excellence as an artist.  He was always looking for the next level of perfection.”
– Kendrick Scott

“MJ is the epitome of timeless.  His influence on my generation is profound.  From his music to the ‘Beat It’ jacket.  You wanted to sing, dance, and be like Mike.  And that impact is just as strong on my 5-year old.”
– Keyon Harrold

“Michael Jackson was a great inspiration to me for many different reasons, but there are three that stand out.  One, he checked out and absorbed everything. If you listen to songs or look at videos of MJ when he was young, he knew James Brown, Ray Charles, and all the legends that came before him.  He knew many genres of music and appreciated them.  I even saw a video of him tap dancing to Mingus on You Tube.  The beautiful thing is that you can hear all of these influences in all the music he did.  Two, he was a true activist/humanitarian. He wasn’t afraid to speak out about the bad things that were going on in the world.  He wasn’t passive and he put his thoughts in his music. He wasn’t trying to be politically correct and didn’t care what others thought.  Three, he was all about moving forward.  If you look at MJ throughout his career, he always surrounded himself with those that were current and had something fresh to say. He reminds me of Miles Davis in that way.”
Jaleel Shaw

“Michael Jackson single-handedly squashed every stereotype in music.  His God given ability, style, and personality are the blueprint to date.”
– Kenneth Whalum III


I loved the cartoons in the Thriller record sleeve.. The one of MJ and paul mccartney pulling the girl was particularly memorable.. Seeing that image, it was hard to hear the song and not laugh! That record and the album art were definitely a highlight of the Vasandani family record collection.
– Sachal Vasandani

“MJ for me was and still is the total package of an entertainer.  He had everything: the voice, moves and the charisma.  He was always striving to better himself as an artist.  He never took his talents for granted.  He always knew where he was going and what steps to take to get him there.”
– Johnathan Blake

Thank you, Michael.