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Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

Gen Z: The newest jazz cat in town

From local education to jazz stars, a new wave of jazz appreciation is on its way
Ishika Desai
Pleasant Valley jazz students fill seats for a performance by Mario Abney at Andy’s Jazz Club in Chicago.

Gen Z has always appeared to be fascinated by trends of the past. The chokehold “Stranger Things” had on the entertainment industry, the resurgence of the straight, baggy jeans and an odd obsession with Kate Bush– even before she was proven to dispel mind-controlling Netflix demons–were all born from young people’s infatuation with preceding decades.

And it seems jazz may be the next heir to the throne of vintage, aesthetic glamor. But how did jazz even manage to be considered for coronation? An examination at the state of contemporary jazz music may hold the answers for this phenomenon.

Shaping artists through jazz education

In the United States, jazz education in high school and college has been a staple of modern music education. By 2017, nearly half of all public high schools in the country offered small ensemble jazz programs. This made jazz band the most popular music ensemble class aside from the traditional ensemble). 

The Pleasant Valley jazz program, containing three jazz ensembles and three choirs at the high school level, has been revered among other local jazz programs and esteemed by multiple instructors at the New Trier Jazz Festival in Chicago in February of 2023. The school’s first jazz choir, Leading Tones, was first-runner up at the Iowa state vocal jazz competition in the spring of 2023.

Senior Celia Vondracek, a jazz musician and singer in the Leading Tones, traces her adoration for jazz to its individuality. “I love singing jazz standards, because you can take a standard and completely make it your own,” said Vondracek, who has become so enraptured by the genre’s constant movement and room for creativity she plans to dedicate her post-secondary studies to jazz; she credits the school’s program for helping her grow as a musician.

Drew Anderson, director of Pleasant Valley’s first jazz ensemble, expands on Vondracek’s views on individuality in jazz, explaining how improvisation builds a new and very significant learning environment for students.

“Our school system is a lot of, ‘learn this for tomorrow,’ or ‘you have to take this test, here’s the study guide,’ but for jazz it’s just ‘do it now,’’’ Anderson explained, referring to the value of improvisation for students’ musical and personal growth. 

He also points to the historical significance of jazz as another reason for its emphasis in education. Anderson explained how jazz dates back to the unification of people in the southern United States in the late 19th century, and how he thus believes jazz to be the only uniquely American genre of music. 

“We try to teach an appreciation of music,” Anderson expressed, believing this may be where many young students begin to enjoy jazz music on streaming services. 

However, Anderson does have one message to the young musical lovers who rely on online streaming platforms: when looking for the most impactful forms of jazz, Anderson is adamant in saying “You just can’t hear that stuff on the radio or on spotify.” For Anderson, the impact of live music is ultimately unparalleled.

While live music has been on the rise post-lockdown, it is unclear as to the rising popularity of live jazz. Yet, there is one young Gen Z artist who has been changing the field of jazz and live music: Laufey. Having recently released a live recording of some of her greatest hits featuring the Iceland Symphony Orchestra titled “Live at the Symphony”, her unique approaches to contemporary music are a testament to Gen Z’s ability to be passionate about jazz.

Laufey and Samara Joy: Trend-setting and artistic reverence

Accompanied by bluebirds in the spring and songs to sing, Laufey’s career catapulted in May when she began the rolling release of her sophomore album, “Bewitched.” Since then, her Spotify monthly listeners have more than doubled to a whopping 13 million upon the album’s release. The anticipation for this album and her career as a whole mark one of jazz music’s many evocative steps into pop culture and Gen Z relevance. 

The phenomenon may have begun when a winged deity sang a song of Laufey’s and shot an arrow through the hearts of millions of TikTok users earlier this year.

From The Start,” Laufey’s first pre-release single off “Bewitched”, was first released solely as a TikTok audio. This turned out to be a brilliant marketing move, as the artist’s premiering TikTok video now rests at 4.8 million views, with comments from over 5,000 fans enamored by the lyrics’ adorably romantic references to Cupid and the act of being delusionally in love.

The song is an up-beat, modern jazz piece with heavy sonic references to Brazilian bossa-nova (characterized by light acoustics and skipping piano chords) which became one of the most prominent TikTok sounds of the summer. With over 90,000 videos posted to the official sound, and thousands more to sped-up and edited versions, the jazz tune was incredibly hard to miss for anyone cruising through the app over the summer. And it transcended the app, becoming Laufey’s biggest hit of her career with over 100 million streams on Spotify alone. 

The song’s virality clearly shows a rising adoration of jazz. And Laufey’s reputation as an honest and lovable internet personality may go to show how a relatable social media presence may be a critical component playing into the genre’s recent popularity.

An expansion of her relatable personality are her brutally vulnerable lyrics, such as those of the melancholy “Promise”, which left TikTok users in awe. A fan video which said, “Laufey knows how I truly feel,” was flooded with users agreeing with the user. Laufey’s overwhelmingly personal lyrics, although a feature of her own songwriting, are a testament to jazz music as a whole.

For Vondracek, jazz is a particularly vulnerable and expressive genre. “Jazz music–you’re able to make it very personal to you, and it makes it very easy to express yourself,” Vondracek said.

Thus, through Laufey’s open embracement of jazz’s ability for emotional transparency with the listener, many young internet users are now being introduced to an entire genre of emotional openness and relatability–whether it be through somber tunes like, “Promise” or honestly delusional ones like, “From the Start.”

While its popularity is just now being regained, jazz music never particularly lost its artistic reverence. After all, critics raved for Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s “Love for Sale” in 2021, and were most recently enthralled by the young Samara Joy’s “Linger Awhile”–a striking collection of old-school, deep-bass jazz glazed in her voluminous vocals. In fact, Samara Joy, who is only 23 years old, took home the awards for Best New Artist and Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards

While not completely unseen before, Joy’s win still sets a continuously hopeful precedent for the future of jazz, as it proves Gen Z musicians (and fans alike) are not reluctant to embrace jazz in both its new and old forms.

The current trend

With Joy’s win and Laufey’s stardom, one must wonder whether this seemingly resurging popularity of jazz is enough to be considered ‘trending’.

At the forefront of the trend stand the spearheading artists like Joy and Laufey, but there are also artists like Lizzy McAlpine and Wasia Project, who, although they don’t focus on jazz primarily, have released fan favorite jazz tunes like the melancholy “Angelina” and the quirky “Misfit Biscuit,” respectively.

And of course, there’s TikTok’s second lovely indie-jazz child: Beabadoobee’s “Glue Song,” which, with a soft, magical sound and dreamily romantic lyrics, went viral on TikTok. It features a breezy indie instrumental track sprinkled with elements of brass jazz and a trumpet solo near the end. 

Thus, it becomes clear that jazz has begun to trend, and for Gen Z it ignites an escapist romanticism; with fluttering hearts and twinkles in their eyes, they’ve ‘been stuck by the glue’ right onto jazz.

Prior to the release of  “Bewitched”, Laufey took to instagram to interact with fans and sing jazzy tunes via livestream. She told fans she was raised on classical and jazz music, which makes her incredibly “glad to be able to bring this music to a new generation.” 

And that is undoubtedly what is now seen in the industry. Fans made Laufey’s “Bewitched” break the record for the biggest debut jazz album in the history of Spotify, with 5.7 million debut streams. Additionally, Laufey and other similar artists have begun to completely sell out venues for upcoming shows, with Laufey selling out her entire U.S. tour. This not only marks a new beginning for the young artist, but the beginning of a new age of jazz.

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About the Contributor
Margil Sanchez Carmona, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Margil Sanchez Carmona is a senior at Pleasant Valley High School and is the Arts & Entertainment editor. He likes to tell people he has eccentric taste in films and music, although he spends most of his time watching old Disney Channel shows and Marvel movies. He competes in ethics bowl, plays tennis, and is deeply intrigued by contemporary moral issues of our generation such as the societal misreckoning of dolphins.
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  • J

    JoshSep 24, 2023 at 7:38 pm

    I feel like after reading this it’s pretty cool to see how music and its influences have changed over time and how they affect people’s everyday lives.

  • S

    SandarbhaSep 15, 2023 at 7:30 pm

    As a member of Gen Z, the idea that Jazz is becoming more popular is a bit foreign to me, however I do not disagree that it does offer a breather with its ‘do it now’ mentality juxtaposed against our school system.