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Many music mavens, jazz fans, or otherwise know of American jazz legends like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, but a new generation of artists is bringing refreshing new talent to the genre. From the breakout success of artists like Gregory Porter and Esperanza Spalding, to up-and-coming talents like pianist Aaron Diehl, we uncover the best young American jazz musicians.
Hailed by NPR Music as “the next great male jazz singer,” California-born singer and songwriter Gregory Porter’s music career began over 20 years ago, though it wasn’t until he moved to New York City and performed regularly at Harlem’s legendary St. Nick’s Pub that his career really took off. Porter released his debut album, Water, produced by jazz pianist and saxophonist Kamau Kenyatta, in 2010 and his third album, Liquid Spirit, scooped the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2013, solidifying his standing as a future jazz legend.
Formed in Manhattan by New York City native Evan “Bibs” Palazzo and Paris-born chanteuse “Miz” Elizabeth Bougerol, The Hot Sardines are a troupe of gifted musicians that take inspiration from early American jazz and count music greats like Thelonious Monk, Django Reinhardt, and Billie Holiday among their influences. Lauded by Forbes Magazine as “one of the best jazz bands in NYC today,” The Hot Sardines have played sold out shows at New York’s famed Joe’s Pub and performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. In June 2016, the band released their sophomore album, French Fries & Champagne.
Portland, Oregon-born jazz singer, bassist, and cellist Esperanza Spalding displayed prodigious talents from an early age playing violin with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. She burst onto America’s jazz music scene with the release of her debut album Junjo in 2006, receiving favorable reviews from the likes of the New York Times’ critic Ben Ratliff. Since then, Spalding has gone on to win multiple Grammys including Best New Artist of 2010—the first jazz musician to be awarded this title—and Best Jazz Vocal Album for 2012’s Radio Music Society. Her fifth studio album, Emily’s D+Evolution, is sung through the alter ego of Emily, Esperanza’s middle name, and has received widespread critical acclaim since its release in March 2016.
Jazz pianist and producer Robert Glasper may not be your typical jazz musician, considering his fusion of the genre with styles like R&B and hip hop, yet his deft merging of genres makes him stand out among his contemporaries. By his mid-20s, Glasper had already performed with jazz greats including Terence Blanchard and Christian McBride and a succession of acclaimed albums, including the Grammy-nominated Double-Booked (2009) confirmed his rising star. Glasper’s revered 2012 release Black Radio demonstrated his talent for jazz fusion and scooped a Grammy for Best R&B album in 2013. In May 2016, Glasper released his new album, Everything’s Beautiful, which remixes several Miles Davis tracks from the Columbia/Legacy vault and features an A-list of collaborators.
Born to a French mother and a Haitian father in Miami, Florida, Cécile McLorin Salvant was singing and playing classical piano before she reached the age of 10. A move to France in 2007 saw her study improvisation and vocal repertoire under respected reedist Jean-François Bonnel. Success followed the recording of her debut album, Cécile, in 2009, winning the the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. McLorin Salvant has performed at legendary events including the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Detroit Jazz Festival, while her third album, For One to Love, won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Though he started out playing drums in the fourth grade growing up in Chicago’s South Side, it was when he took up the trumpet that Marquis Hill really found his niche. Hill has been the recipient of awards including the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, and has received rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times, which hailed him as “a dauntingly skilled trumpeter.” His 2016 album, The Way We Play, was released on Concord Records.
Grammy-nominated Melody Gardot kick-started her career at an early age playing the bars of her hometown Philadelphia at the age of 16. It wasn’t until a severe car accident in her late teens, however, that she began writing her own songs, which the singer and pianist states aided her in her lengthy recovery. Her 2008 debut album Worrisome Heart, co-produced by acclaimed producer Glenn Barratt, established her trademark edgy, evocative, and intimate style. Today the musician is known for her dramatic, mysterious stage presence. Now four albums deep, Gardot has appeared at events including Brighton’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival.
“NYC’s least predictable improviser” and “a singular talent” are just a few things the press have to say about Boston-born, Brooklyn-based improvisational jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson. After studying under celebrated jazz multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University, Halvorson began playing in New York City and has collaborated with such talents as Marc Ribot, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Curtis Hasselbring. Halvorson regularly performs in the Mary Halvorson Trio alongside bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith and her 2013 album, Illusionary Sea, with the Mary Halvorson Septet was hailed by NPR Music as her “boldest venture yet.” She has released five albums since then.
Pianist Aaron Diehl is a jazz musician with a mission; he seeks to traverse the generational boundaries of the genre, and with compliments such as the New York Times lauding him as “a smart young pianist with a fastidious grasp of jazz traditions,” he is certainly proving his worth. A graduate of the Juilliard School and winner of the 2013 Jazz Journalist Association’s Up-And-Coming Musician of the Year Award, Diehl has toured with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and his latest release, Space Time Continuum, has received wide critical acclaim for its mixture of historic and contemporary styles of jazz.
A native of Marietta, Georgia, Tivon Pennicott began playing tenor sax in high school, and by his early 20s had worked with legendary jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell and performed at famous venues like San Francisco’s Yoshi’s Jazz Club. Pennicott has played on Grammy-winning albums including Gregory Porter’s breakout album Liquid Spirit and Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society, and won second place at the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Praised for his tenacity and inventiveness as a saxophonist, Pennicott released his debut album Lover of Nature in late 2014.
Currently a resident of the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, award-winning drummer Jamison Ross began honing his talents at a young age playing at his grandfather’s church. By his early 20s Ross was collaborating with the likes of legendary American jazz singer Carmen Lundy, and has since gone on to work with acclaimed contemporaries including Jon Batiste and Cécile McLorin Salvant. With a clear mission in mind to bring a joyful and soulful sound to his music, Ross is signed with Concord Jazz and released his self-titled debut album in 2015.
Growing up in Houston, Texas listening to genres as diverse as gospel, R&B, and classical, Kendrick Scott’s odyssey began at the age of eight when his parents gifted him a drum kit. His dedication and talent saw him awarded a place at his hometown’s prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. His later career has included tours with legends like Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard. In 2007, he established his music collective, the Kendrick Scott Oracle, whose ambitious 2007 debut The Source was followed by Conviction in 2013.