New Generations Find Their Voice In Jazz

This week on Sam’s Jams, we discuss the evolution of contemporary Jazz, as well as many other tunes on the Spotify playlist.


Artist: Ashley Henry

Track: Cranes In The Sky

Jazz has had its ups and downs since its creation over one hundred years ago.

By the 1970’s many of the leaders in the genre shifted to “Jazz Fusion” blending rock music and funk with jazz. Some say this was the music moving forward, incorporating popular music of the time, and some say it was a way to sell records within a dying genre. This continued through the 1980’s and the 90’s, even though the Marsalis Family is credited for reviving jazz by revisiting the work of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet of the late 1960’s, as well as Wynton Marsalis’ work at Lincoln Center and in music education.

The music went from something you learned in jazz clubs to something you learned in college.

For many of the genres greatest modern artists, the music was becoming too contrived. But a new generation of young musicians (mainly born in the late 1970’s though the early 1990’s) were finding new connections to the genre through contemporary music like hip-hop, as well as connecting the lineage of the music that had come before them.

Hip-hop artist J Dilla is known as one of the most influential people in contemporary jazz. He completely changed how today’s jazz musicians approach music, through the way his drums are programed to how he sampled chord progressions.

Traditionalists like Wynton Marsalis felt like this new approach was similar to what happened in the early 1970’s, and that this fusion was not real jazz and was damaging to the art form. But not all felt this way.

New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton has dedicated his life to jazz and has studied every aspect of jazz lineage from traditional New Orleans style to modern fusion. He supports the approach of the younger musicians, and has even gone as far as to advocate for the end of the use of the word “jazz” and that it should be changed to #BAM (Black American Music).

Today, artists like Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, and many others are pushing the genre forward with their contemporary approach of blending the old with the new.

Taking elements from todays music, the music they grew up on, and mixing it with modern jazz.

Ashley Henry is one of these artists. Born in London, Henry takes the music of his generation into the jazz world. This week on Sam’s Jams we check out his version of Solange’s “Cranes In The Sky” (2016 Grammy winner for Best R&B Performance).

Sam’s Jams is the weekly song selection of WDET’s audio producer Sam Beaubien, a longtime Detroit musician who also helms the soul-funk band Will Sessions.

From 70 years ago to contemporary releases today, Sam’s Jams is the musical equivalent of digging for hours in dusty record store bins to find forgotten-but-should-be-remembered deep cuts pulled from the genres of funk, jazz and soul genres.


  • Sam Beaubien
    Sam Beaubien is a musician, composer, producer, and educator in Detroit. He is also the founder and leader of the acclaimed ensemble, Will Sessions.