Music unites people. You don’t need to go to a psychology conference to see this. From the haunting resonance of a mezzo-soprano in a Wagner opera to the pulsing beats of a DJ at a frat party, music gives us reason to celebrate the feast of life. Here last Thursday, May 9, to teach us about two hugely influential genres of music—hip-hop and jazz—were Gerald Watson and DJ 2-Tone Jones of the Shaolin Jazz Project.
Shaolin Jazz is a multimedia lecture series designed to inform audiences about jazz and hip-hop culture, their respective histo-ries and evolutions and how they have affected one another and intertwined overtime. The duo has conducted lectures or panels at several colleges and universities including Oberlin, Tufts and Carthage. They have received over 30,000 downloads and 100,000 YouTube views, been featured in numerous articles and interviews and have been showcased in many other creative engagements.
Watson and 2-Tone conceived and produced many mixes, most prominently “Shaolin Jazz –The 37th Chamber,” a fusion of samples from Wu-Tang Clan recordings and classic jazz selections.
“The music and lyrics are astutely crafted to match both in cadence and tone,” they explain on their website, “with the jazz selec-tions used also helping to further accentuate the essence and intensity of the Clan.”
Another mix is the “Gil Scott Suite,” a three track EP tribute to the late great spoken word poet, singer and musician Gil Scott Heron, famous for works such as “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and “Winter in America.”
The lecture integrates discourse with musical and visual examples.
“We’re presenting a range of historical facts in academic settings,” explained Watson, “so our natural inclination was to develop that kind of presentation. Our overall goal with our style of presentation was to provide great content and yet still be entertaining. We hope our audience, no matter what their musical preferences are, will gain a better understanding of and appreciation for both jazz culture and hip-hop culture.”
In a world where chorus-heavy pop seems to have taken precedence, Watson maintains optimism for jazz’s place in contemporary music.
“I think jazz is as popular as it ever was,” he said, “due in part to cats like Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodges, Common, Karriem Riggins and many other artists who integrate jazz or a jazz aesthetic into their music.”
Music evolves ever more quickly in the modern day. More accessibility to more styles via the internet means more varied influ-ences, which means an exciting and exotic future for music enthusiasts. For this it is important to understand the roots of music.
“The advice I have for Lawrence students is to pursue your passions,” Watson said. “I’ve worked in a creative capacity for a long time and art, in general, is tough to make a living off of. But if you’re the kind of person that eats, drinks, sleeps your craft then take the time to structure a plan—short term and long term goals—that will allow you to do so. Trust me, there’s nothing better than wak-ing up every morning and you’re excited about your day, no matter the hurdles.”
Many Shaolin Jazz tracks are free for download on their website, www.shaolinjazz.com. Take a listen, bop your head and find that connection.