A student will inevitably come to him with a “new” sound, only to find out its a dead ringer for Herbie Hancock in 1967. The 1,100-capacity room, packed with Denver’s hip and with-it twentysomethings, roared in approval, toasting his effort with expensive cans of cheap beer. Films like “La La Land” and “Whiplash” before it have not only brought jazz in front of young audiences, but have also made it look cool again. (Michael McGrath, Special to The Denver Post)
“The music I make is all about putting things together that (people) don’t believe belong together and challenging certain notions of categories of how things should be,” Lamar said. As venues like Dazzle Jazz and the Meadowlark open their stages to informal jazz jam sessions every week, acts like BadBadNotGood and bassist Thundercat (who plays the Bluebird Theater next month) have leveraged their cross-generational appeal into top billing at rock rooms and massive music festivals. “In the case of ‘Whiplash’ and more recently ‘La La Land’ … that kind of awareness of jazz being hinted at being popular nowadays makes a huge difference.”
But it’s the players — not the media — who are responsible for the genre’s concert renaissance. Watch: Jimmy Fallon parodies “La La Land” with the help of Ryan Reynolds and Justin Timberlake. “In Denver,” Bouton said, pointing at weekly jazz jam sessions at local bars like Syntax Physic Opera and the Meadowlark, “it’s mainly all younger people sitting in.”
If you’re envisioning a clattering mess of amateurs tripping over one another’s cords and chord changes, think again. As is common practice for businesses on social media, Dazzle targets a young demographic in its online advertising for acts like The Bad Plus and Danny McCaslin, bands Schreier described as “rabbit holes” into the genre’s deep expanse. I could get used to this.’ ”
As with so many fashionable trends, Ryan Gosling may also be partly to thank for jazz’s larger-scale youth revolution. A jazz instructor for nearly 30 years, Wiest referenced the well of talent he’s seen during stints as the director of the University of North Texas’ renowned One O’Clock Jazz Band and a recent judge for a 25-and-under competition put on by the International Trombone Association. The films’ misunderstood protagonists grouse at a world that’s forgotten the high-fiber virtues jazz can wring out of us: passion from pain, harmony out of conflict, and minutely tousled bangs from a sweaty solo. But Whitty was tangling with a flute, not a guitar, and BadBadNotGood isn’t a wiry rock band — it’s a wiry jazz quartet. Rap groups like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul have been rhyming over jazz for the last two decades. “You’ve almost had to go to jazz in the past,” Schreier said. In Denver, it’s not just that jazz fans are getting younger; the players are getting younger, too. “The supply has never been better in the jazz world in terms of young students of the music,” said Steve Wiest, the co-chair of jazz studies at the University of Denver and a Grammy-nominated trombonist, composer and arranger. Tastes are as cyclical as they are fickle, reliant on context as much as content. 23. “That’s the nature of jazz itself.” The simple difference: That was then and this is now. But none have taken hold like hip-hop. Rap is now essentially pop music, and when an artist as dominant in the genre as Lamar takes up the sound, Watkins said, it becomes “undeniable.”
Watkins has taken that to heart with his new project, The Other Black, a lithe rhythmic combo based in Denver. From Annie Booth to the Mikey Smith Trio, Denver has a surfeit of young talent, in a city that Wiest considers “as good as any jazz scene in the world.” (In 2015, renowned jazz radio station KUVO put a fine point on it, publishing a “30 under 30” list of promising local players.)

At Dazzle Jazz, the de facto epicenter of Denver’s jazz scene, that young blood runs backstage, too. The venue’s 23-year-old marketing manager,  Mike Zubrinic, works alongside its 25-year-old music director, Michael Schreier, who began booking the venue after completing his master’s degree in jazz studies from the University of Northern Colorado a little over a year ago. Before you know it, people are like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m sitting in a jazz club listening to jazz. Schreier said Dazzle not only caters to an “increased appreciation for jazz in youth,” but thanks to its internet presence, might also be partially responsible for it. On-trend haircuts and antics aside (at one point, BadBadNotGood had the Gothic put up its hands while they took a crowd selfie), young jazz artists are folding fresh styles into the form, nudging it further from the days of the box social and closer to something kids can dance to. Kendrick Lamar followed his breakthrough release with an album that mixed avant-garde saxophone tangents with hard-hitting hip-hop verse. Art Bouton, Wiest’s co-chair at DU, echoed his sentiments, remembering a recent performance by Ellis Marsalis Jr. At the concert, young players were invited to sit in to play with older players, a tradition that signifies the kind of communal passing-down of chops and style that jazz was built on. Denver’s Wes Watkins, a former trumpet player for Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, credits Lamar and hip-hop with bringing jazz from the stuffy classroom to the radio and, subsequently, back to life. “With Facebook and YouTube, it’s easy to sit on your couch and have someone share something. “People around my age group are some of the least religious people America has seen.”
From jazzy jam bands like Snarky Puppy to funk-influenced outfits like Boulder’s The  Motet, this genre agnosticism has led to some unorthodox permutations. For Wiest, it’s something that’d played out in classes time and again. It sounds like your typical weekend at a rock show. The hugely popular M.C. The Other Black performs at Illegal Pete’s Holiday Party at the Summit Music Hall on Jan. “Sometimes what is old is new again,” Weist said. #GoldenGlobes pic.twitter.com/yWUt2K53Uq
— Hardys® (@HardysMedia) January 9, 2017

“Any time jazz gets mentioned in a major motion picture, an angel gets its wings,” Wiest said. We’re a hip-hop band, if anything.”

No matter what you call it, jazz’s genre polygamy is nothing new. Wesley Watkin’s hip-hop band the Other Black performs at the Summit Music Hall on Jan. “A lot of people are like, ‘You’re so jazzy, I love it,’ ” he said. BadBadNotGood broke out after a collaboration with goofy rapper Tyler, The Creator, who dabbles in jazz piano, went viral. To hear Bouton and Wiest tell it, not only has the number of young players shot up, but so has their relative skill level. at New Orleans’ recent Jazz Educators Conference. A Miles Davis album handed down by a parent sounds different if a cool cousin recommends it, and Kenny G is embarrassing until you hear him on an Outkast song. Hip-hop and jazz first shacked up as far back as 1992’s “Doo-Bop,” Miles Davis’ posthumously-released final album. “But I wouldn’t call us a jazz band. 23. “I think it stopped being popular.” (Michael McGrath, Special to The Denver Post)
A couple of Fridays ago, Leland Whitty, a multi-instrumentalist in the Canadian four-piece BadBadNotGood, padded barefoot to center stage to rip a searing solo over Englewood’s Gothic Theatre. In the films (both written and directed by Damien Chazelle), jazz fixation is packaged as a sort of enviable affliction, like a bicep scar or an eye patch. Twenty-six-year-old Denver singer Joseph Lamar, whose blend of pop, R&B and spoken word defies neat categorization, said this cross-pollination is a byproduct of his generation’s identity. Though he performs regularly with the Mikey Smith Trio, the artist resists genre as he would any label that attempts to define him. “I don’t think jazz ever stopped being cool,” Watkins said. Once a pariah of youth culture, jazz is enjoying a resurgence with a hip slice of millennial fans and musicians near and far. This generational habit of recontexualizing old sounds isn’t just a whim of pop music; it’s also an essential component of jazz.