Jazz can be wrongly dismissed as an ageing, increasingly irrelevant art form by some, yet this could not be further from the truth. Jazz is as relevant today as it ever has been, and is constantly evolving to survive and thrive in the modern-day music industry.

Knowledge of jazz is a crucial part of any music education to ensure that musicians are fulfilling their potential with a holistic understanding of the art form. Our understanding of harmony, rhythm, and, crucially, improvisation is informed by jazz in so many ways.

We’ll be focusing on 5 jazz stars found in our Rockschool grade books who have become giants in their fields whether it be because of the influence that jazz has had on them or how they carried the torch for the genre.

Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy have been one of the most influential instrumental collectives around since their ascension to the top table of music. A supergroup containing the likes of Cory Henry, Bill Laurance, and Larnell Lewis have acquired global success under the keen musical eye of bassist and bandleader, amassing an impressive haul of three Grammys.

Band members come and go (they have had 40 musicians perform as part of the group in 15 years), but League remains, anchoring the group with both his charisma and unrivalled sense of groove.

Their innate musicianship and ability to make the incredibly complex look effortless puts Snarky in a class of their own when it comes to instrumental music, evidenced in jaw-dropping fashion by Cory Henry’s watershed solo on ‘Lingus’, a tune that sits on our grade 8 bass syllabus in tribute to Michael League.

Herbie Hancock

An undisputed jazz legend, Herbie Hancock has evolved to stay current in every project he approaches.

From his early days playing in the Miles Davis Quintet in a trad jazz set up alongside jazz titans Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter, to his jazz-funk albums of the ‘70s with Headhunters, there’s little jazz music that isn’t influenced in some way by Herbie’s playing.

At the age of 80 he remains as relevant as ever. His next album is set to be produced by Terrace Martin and feature a host of stars at the peak of their powers, including Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Snoop Dogg to name but a few.

His composition, ‘Cantaloupe Island’, can be found on our grade 6 piano syllabus.

piano grade 6 book cover

Herbie Hancock is the cover star of our grade 6 piano book.

Hiatus Kaiyote – Breathing Underwater

One of the bands leading the way in the neo-soul resurgence of recent years, Hiatus Kaiyote deliver a brand of music that is both highly complex and jazz influenced, while retaining an accessibility and strong sense of melody that makes them such an enjoyable act in which to immerse yourself.

Grammy nods for their collaboration with Q-Tip back in 2013 made people sit up and take notice, and singer Nai Palm has had success with her own solo album which features original material, Hiatus Kaiyote tracks, and a gorgeous Jimi Hendrix cover.

Her soulful vocals soar above the band’s constant harmonic and rhythmic shifting on much of their music, as seen in their 2015 track “Breathing Underwater”. Found on our acoustic guitar syllabus, there’s a reason it’s grade 8 standard…

Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee College of Music, and won four Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award; on listening to her music it’s easy to see why.

A pianist and singer, Sarah Vaughan has one of the most distinctive voices of the jazz era, and should sits next to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in terms of importance. Her career spanned 38 years, yet her legacy lives on and can be felt keenly in the music of Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse.

Rockschool VIdeo Exams

‘Black Coffee’, a bluesy tune where the singer reflects on their loneliness in the wee hours of the morning, has made it onto our grade 6 vocals syllabus. Treat yourself to the Sarah Vaughan rendition…

Jamie Cullum

Since winning the Rising Star award at the London Jazz Awards back in 2003, Jamie Cullum has become a torch bearer for British jazz. His debut album, “Twenty-something”, gained widespread acclaim for its reinvention of classic jazz idiom and contemporary soul singing reminiscent of Billy Joel. He has since become a fixture in entertainment, hosting his own hugely popular jazz show on BBC Radio 2 as well as putting his name to a nationwide search for jazz talent back in 2011 called “Jamie Cullum’s Big Audition”.

His song ‘These Are The Days’ is included in our Rockschool Piano repertoire, and is an infectious jazz tune complete with bluesy inflections and syncopations in all the right places to bring jazz piano right up to speed in contemporary music.

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