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The next generation of jazz leaders does not hesitate to push past artistic boundaries. From their positions of increasing visibility, these up-and-coming musicians expand our notions of jazz through their appreciation of roots traditions, genre fluency, and multi-cultural expression.
Growing up in Zambia, Somi thought that she’d become a medical anthropologist, a scientist who applies cultural understanding to matters of public well-being. Her work in music isn’t too far removed from this: Six albums in, she continues to amplify muffled voices from the African diaspora with her inspired compositions. This year she received her first Grammy nomination, Best Jazz Vocal Album category, for Holy Room: Live At Alte Oper With Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Salon Africana), a concert recording released—serendipitously—only because the global pandemic halted her active touring schedule.
Andy Clausen, trombonist
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Co-founder of the singular jazz quartet The Westerlies, Juilliard-trained Clausen impresses with his precision as a player and keen ear for brass voicings. He leaps easily across musical divides, having collaborated with artists as diverse as trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, rapper A$AP Ferg, and classical composer Nico Muhly. Beyond jazz, his many compositional projects include chamber and orchestral works, some with a multi-media bent, and he writes for film, TV, radio, and advertising, too. A most recent client: The Michelle Obama Podcast.
Joel Ross, vibraphonist
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Barely into his 20s, Ross causes a stir wherever he goes. Partly because of the company he keeps: A protégé of vibraphonist Stefon Harris, Ross vaulted into public awareness by an appearance in 2018 on stellar pianist James Francies’ Blue Note debut, Flight. A year later, Ross would sign his own Blue Note contract, with two albums—Kingmaker and Who Are You?—following rapidly thereafter. What gets lost in the talk about Ross’ unquestionable virtuosity, however, is the emotivity that he brings to the vibes, an instrument known more for rhythmicity than lyricism. It’s a different kind of stir.
Camille Thurman, saxophonist/vocalist
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Thurman is an uncommon musician. There are her exceptional skills as an instrumentalist, obvious to all within earshot of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, where she was the first woman ever to hold a full-time spot. But this woodwinds powerhouse also excels as a jazz singer: In 2013 she placed in the Sarah Vaughan Competition, one of the toughest scatting contests around. Given these rare accomplishments, it amazes that she didn’t start singing out until college, where she majored in geology. Today, she also mentors young women who, like her, are carving their own niche in the music industry.
Corcoran Holt, bassist/djembe player
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A magnetic and versatile player, Holt rose to prominence as a young member of saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s Grammy-nominated quintet. No question, he’s a consummate sideman, with more than 30 releases as such to his credit and countless gigs alongside jazz legends like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonist Jimmy Heath, pianist Eric Reed, guitarist Russell Malone, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. But Holt’s 2018 solo debut, The Mecca, proves his considerable abilities as a composer and leader, too; his vibrant compositions on this record speak in equal measure of his passion, playfulness, and generosity of spirit.
Gerald Clayton, pianist
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Clayton’s exquisite touch at the piano transfixes: It’s hard to ignore his lucent playing, even when he’s on stage supporting superstars like singer Dianne Reeves or saxophonist Charles Lloyd. He manages his own turbo-charged ensemble quite masterfully, too, as his Blue Note debut last year, Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard, demonstrates. To fully comprehend the extent of his artistry, however, it’s best to hear him alone, soloing uninterrupted on just about any tune. In this, he reveals an affection for sophisticated reharmonization, romantic forms, and subtle improvisatory innovation—pleasures that get lost, sometimes, in larger settings.
Brandee Younger, harpist
Younger defies all classification—there isn’t a box big enough to hold her. As a harpist, she’s an anomaly in the jazz world. As a former acolyte of Alice Coltrane, she’s a creative musician of the highest order. And as a contemporary performing artist, she’s forging new ways of using her classical technique, roots-based grooves, and spiritual inspiration to create works that uplift. Her latest release with bassist Dezron Douglas, Force Majeure (International Anthem), recorded at home in their Harlem apartment during the pandemic, not only challenges accepted notions about duo instrumentation, but stands as an act of resistance during the crisis.