Where The Wu-Tang Clan Meets Jazz

Ahmad Jamal is one of the artists sampled on the mixtape Shaolin Jazz: The 37th Chamber. i i

hide captionAhmad Jamal is one of the artists sampled on the mixtape Shaolin Jazz: The 37th Chamber.

Courtesy of Gerald Watson
Ahmad Jamal is one of the artists sampled on the mixtape Shaolin Jazz: The 37th Chamber.

Ahmad Jamal is one of the artists sampled on the mixtape Shaolin Jazz: The 37th Chamber.

Courtesy of Gerald Watson

Two examples of the iconic rap group meeting vintage jazz iconography, and one comment.

1. Some time ago, the graphic designer Logan Walters redesigned Wu-Tang Clan album covers in the style of classic Blue Note Records album covers. Here's a gallery of 'em (via):

2. That project inspired Gerald Watson, who has been behind a number of Washington, D.C. parties pairing classic album art, original new art inspired by classic album art, and music. After one such jazz-themed party, Watson had the idea to commission a Wu-Tang-meets-jazz mixtape. So he asked DJ 2-Tone Jones to remix Wu-Tang members' vocals with sounds from classic jazz records, and also asked Logan Walters to do the cover art for it. After the jump, here's a taste of "Astral C.R.E.A.M" (free download here). Note: Language may be offensive to some.

DJ 2-Tone Jones, "Astral C.R.E.A.M."

According to Capitalbop, DJ 2-Tone Jones' mixtape is receiving an official release on April 11; Shaolin Jazz: The 37th Chamber will be a free download after that. A listening party took place in Washington, D.C. last weekend; upcoming parties are scheduled for New York and Los Angeles.

UPDATE: Commenter Damian Hoskins points out that the sample is Pharoah Sanders' "Astral Traveling." And commenter Ben Gray reminds me of the El Michels Affair's instrumental Wu-Tang covers. (I think they've backed a few Wu members in concert, if I'm not mistaken.)

3. It's actually worth musing on: Is there a jazz parallel to the Wu-Tang Clan? I'm referring to one specific historical narrative of the group: its name. Here's a group of artists who banded together under a common brand — namely, Wu-Tang, and all its attendant mythology — in order to increase their collective profile. That led to individual opportunities for all nine members (and many affiliates) as time went on, as Joel Rose ably reported on earlier this year for NPR.

I see the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1960s Chicago, or the similar Black Artists Group of St. Louis, as imperfect analogues. Sure, there was never a single AACM ensemble or BAG band featuring all members. But by putting heads together and pooling resources, these organizations built identities which stood for quality, and gave individual members some leverage (and economic clout) in marketing their work.

Jazz musicians can be loathe to build collective brands, since their goals are often to be as musically promiscuous and open-minded as possible. If you allow yourself to be primarily defined in one way, it can feel limiting to your career. But these strategies still have resonance today: Witness the Brooklyn Jazz Underground collective, among others. Certainly, knowing a group of jazz musicians' collective history (i.e. "they were a few of the great players who came out of Memphis in the '50s," or "they stressed their Asian-American identity in their projects," etc.) can lend a useful, if partial perspective to their art.

Is this overreaching? Or do you have any other examples?

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