All That Muslim Jazz by Andy Simons

‘Jazz album by Pakistan music veterans tops western charts’. Underneath the heading, the Guardian article of August 2011 declared: ‘The rich strains of eastern music have for centuries wafted across the rooftops of old Lahore. But listen today and you might hear something new: jazzy riffs and bossa nova beat’.

That made a refreshing change. For the past few years, I’ve read one arti­cle after another announcing that jazz is dead. When you enter the few record shops still standing, you will note that the only jazz still selling, or rather, still being pushed, is Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and all the other late legends. Bear in mind that the Universal record company conglomerate and, to a lesser extent, Sony and Fantasy, are pushing the vast catalogues of per­haps over-recorded stars to potential newcomers to the jazz market. Even music school graduates write their stuff in the manner of Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist who was a mainstay in Miles Davis’s 1960s band and who later formed the successful jazz-rock fusion group Weather Report, a huge success in the 1970s. Younger players, graduates of music schools since the 1980s, still hold up 1960s and 1970s innovators as their role models. If jazz is not quite dead, it is certainly stuck in the the twentieth century.

I’m not bothered that jazz has become a repertory genre, replicating what was sparkling new in the 1920s or the 1970s. My gripe is that it distracts us from looking in the right direction. So where should we be looking? Cer­tainly beyond the conventional West. In particular, I would suggest we turn our gaze towards the Muslim world – the Middle East and South Asia. 


Click here for a select discography of Muslim jazz. Get hold of some CDs, download a few tracks, and get grooving.