Modern jazz artist Makaya McCraven

Modern Jazz Artists You Should Listen To

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Jazz is back, with new faces and a fresh vibe. A new crop of modern jazz artists are pushing the envelope, developing styles of their own and taking jazz in exciting directions. Whether you’re a longtime jazz fan or new to the genre, here are nine artists you should check out in 2022.

Harry James

After being an integral part of the Chicago underground movement for years, Harry James decided to self-produce his debut album as a fitting stepping stone. The result was Buy The Numbers, a raw soul-jazz record that’s at times warm, eerie and beautiful. Recorded in solitude during the pandemic, the album features James as a veritable one-man-band, playing drums, bass/chord piano, and solo piano. The album’s 14 minimalist arrangements are also incredibly complex, but don’t feel intimidating or inaccessible in any way. The result is J Dilla meets Duke Ellington, a record that’s got something for jazz fans and hip-hop heads alike. Keep an eye out for Harried, James’ follow up to Buy The Numbers, releasing this September on Potions Music NYC.

Related Reads: Harry James – Buy The Numbers Album Review

Makaya McCraven

Jazz has historically been a genre steeped in improvisation, with soloists taking turns extending the rhythmic and melodic language of the song. Emerging out of Chicago’s club scene, Makaya McCraven takes this practice to another level, pushing the boundaries between composer and instrumentalist to forge his own style of modern jazz. For McCraven, the creative process is both alchemy and science. He wields his drum kit like an experimental composer and sonic sculptor, deconstructing the language of jazz while playing it back with unexpected strength. McCraven’s explosive productions have charted the course for his own genre-bending cadence, a style that blends hip-hop sensibilities with the foundations of jazz. Those interested in hearing his unique style first hand should start with his stellar 2021 album, Deciphering The Message, and be on the lookout for his forthcoming record, In These Times, dropping on September 23rd.

Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble

Comprised of a core group of artists (ranging in age from 9 to 52) who are experienced in multiple artistic disciplines, Chicago’s Black Monument Ensemble is a collective of highly energized musical performers, all some of the most exciting modern jazz artists in their own right. An energetic and spirited Chicago collective of performers from a wide spectrum of the city’s arts community, Black Monument Ensemble joined together with a common goal in mind: to make joyful and contemplative music. The collectives latest album, NOW, does just that. Recorded in the final throes of summer 2020, the album is volatile and ebullient throughout, a reflection of the pandemic-induced fear and isolation along with the explosion of social unrest in the streets at the time. Set up safely in the garden behind Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio, the album was recorded during just a few takes, imbuing it with a raw energy of immediacy that’s a joy to listen to.

Related Reads: Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble – NOW Album Review

Amanda Whiting

Gorgeous harp music? That’s easy. Take a listen to acclaimed Welsh harpist Amanda Whiting and you’ll hear just that. But Whiting doesn’t want to calm or lull you with her music. Instead, she wants to swing you — on a cloud of heavenly strings — to the moon and back. Whiting mines her rich associations with jazz harpists Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby to create a sublime harp sound that is as deeply soothing as it is purely elegant. A renowned modern jazz artist in her own right, Whiting has also worked with a number of well-known DJs and jazz and pop artists including DJ Yoda, Jazzanova and Jamie Cullum, to name a few.

Kahil El’Zabar Quartet

In the last four decades, Kahil El’Zabar has been a leading force in Chicago’s avant-garde jazz scene and has performed and recorded with luminaries like Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Nina Simone, and Stevie Wonder. On A Time For Healing, El’Zabar links up with trumpeter Corey Wilkes, saxophonist Isaiah Collier and keyboardist Justin Dillard to craft one of the most stunning albums of the year. Standing apart from other modern jazz artists, El’Zabar uses African instruments, including the kalimba, as ground bass for a quartet that swings with artful restraint and open spaces, building slowly to modest peaks. The entire album is elegant, masterfully composed, and represents a beautiful collaboration of sound. In particular, the title track is a dynamic song that exemplifies the kind of spiritual healing that music can bring peace to the listener.

Related Reads: Kahil El’Zabar Quartet – A Time For Healing Album Review

Sam Gendel

Saxophonist Sam Gendel is an enigma who manages to fuse elements of jazz, soul and hip-hop into a style that’s as unsettling and bewitching as it is provocative and catchy. Whatever critics choose to call it, Gendel’s growing fan base enjoy his music for what it is — a unique and beautiful form of modern jazz. In 2021, Gendel’s output swelled to its most staggering level yet; his nearly four-hour album Fresh Bread spanned 52 mostly instrumental pieces that were both meditative and casually paced at two- to six-minute lengths each. Jazz aficionados will appreciate Gendel’s album Satin Doll, with breathy interpretations of standards by Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Mongo Santamaria and other jazz greats.

Related Reads: Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes – Music For Saxophone And Bass Guitar More Songs Album Review

Work Money Death

Work Money Death is a Leeds, UK-based jazz band that melds spiritual jazz with the kinetic energy of live improvisation. The band’s debut EP was heavily influenced by the works of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. Led by saxophonist Tony Burkill and Bassist Neil Innes, the EP features a meditative sound that flows between spirituality and passion. Recorded in 2020 and originally envisioned as a mostly improvisational suite, the songs were adapted to fit the pandemic moment; instead of recording in one take as a group, each musician recorded their part separately in studio, each performance riffing and building upon the previous to create a cohesive whole. The result is sure to please fans of meandering, transportive spiritual jazz.

Related Reads: Work Money Death – The Space In Which The Uncontrollable Unknown Resides, Can Be The Place From Which Creation Arises Album Review

Dougie Stu

Dougie Stu is a multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer whose work orbits around the improvised and experimental, while also being informed by the works of cosmic jazz greats like Lonnie Liston Smith and Alice Coltrane. Stu got his start in jazz clubs and festivals as a teenager, jamming with big players like Jeff Parker and later collaborating with artists across a broad range of genres. His debut album, Familiar Future, is intended to bring jazz music from the past into the future. Turning listeners’ perceptions of jazz on its head and taking the music in exciting directions, the album is a blissful soul-jazz journey that’s full of energy and stays consistent throughout its 10 tracks.

Related Reads: Dougie Stu – Familiar Future Album Review


As leader of the newly-formed Chicago band Resavoir, trumpeter Will Miller crafts jazz that is as melodic and rhythmic as it is agreeable. Miller has been featured as a studio musician to back some of the biggest names in hip-hop — Lil Wayne, Chance The Rapper and A$AP Rocky, to name a few — and Resavoir marks his first work as a band leader. The group’s self-titled debut album was crafted under a unique concept; after creating an overarching concept for each track, Miller then asked his bandmates to develop and expand upon some of the themes and motifs of that rough sketch. Instead of the typical one-band-member-writes-all-the-tracks scenario, this cooperative process resulted in nine different tracks composed by all members, each with a unique perspective.

Related Reads: Resavoir – Resavoir Album Review