17 Young Jazz Musicians Shaping The Future Of Jazz

The future of jazz has always been shaped by young jazz musicians seeing new modes of expression. Here are just a few keeping an eye on.

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Photos: Lauren Desberg (Joel Ross), Fabrice Bourgelle (The Comet Is Coming), Concord Records (Esperanza Spalding), Jacob Blickenstaff (Jazzmeia Horn)

From its inception in New Orleans bordellos at the dawn of the 20th Century, jazz has never stood still. Fashioned by young jazz musicians seeking new modes of expression, the future of jazz has always reflected the changing times that have shaped its creators’ sensibilities.

In the second decade of the 21st Century, the music whose essence is improvisation is prospering again: a younger generation of listeners have turned to pathfinding figures like Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington, who have helped jazz reclaim its relevance. With broader exposure, young jazz musicians are passing on the music’s DNA and keeping it alive – and ever-changing – by marrying it with other types of music.

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The young jazz musicians listed below show us that the music is in very good hands. Shaping the future of jazz for the generations to come, they’ll ensure that it never becomes stagnant.

While you’re reading, listen to our New Jazz playlist here.

Shabaka Hutchings

Born in London and raised in Barbados, Hutchings is an award-winning multi-reed player who can alternate between saxophone and clarinet. Though he started out gigging with calypso bands he’s now regarded as the doyen of the UK’s contemporary jazz scene and currently leads three different bands, each of which can lay claim to shaping the future of jazz: an octet called Shabaka & The Ancestors; a quartet, Sons Of Kemet; and The Comet Is Coming, the latter a futuristic trio that blends electronics with jazz and a punk-like attitude.

Key cut: Summon The Fire (The Comet Is Coming)

Kamasi Washington

One of the reasons that jazz is reconnecting with young people is down to the appeal of this LA-born saxophonist’s transformative 2015 debut album, a sprawling triple-set called The Epic, on which he morphed from a journeyman-like saxophonist-for-hire into an inspirational apostle of spiritual jazz. Like many of today’s young jazz musicians, Washington’s music is influenced as much by hip-hop as jazz; he even appeared on Kendrick Lamar’s visionary album To Pimp A Butterfly.

Key cut: Truth

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

From jazz’s birthplace, New Orleans, Adjuah is a trumpeter with a clear, burnished tone who acknowledges the tradition of the music but sees the future of jazz in a fusion of alt.rock, African music, movie soundtracks, and hip-hop. He describes his allusive, polyglot style as “stretch music,” a term that refers to its elastic characteristics. Adjuah’s music is also socio-politically conscious.

Key cut: West Of The West

Esperanza Spalding

Sounding like a young Joni Mitchell fronting Return To Forever on steroids, this Portland-born singer, composer, and bass virtuoso is extending the frontiers of jazz with boundary-breaking music that embraces rock, funk, Latin, jazz fusion, and the avant-garde. Spalding has also been an advocate of using social media as a tool for creativity, exemplified by her 2017 album, Exposure, which was recorded from scratch, live in 77 hours while being streamed on the internet. She’s undoubtedly one of the most original thinkers and cutting-edge conceptualists in jazz right now.

Key cut: 12 Little Spells

Nubya Garcia

One of the UK’s fastest-rising young jazz musicians, Garcia is a tenor saxophonist/composer from London who also plays with the spiritual jazz group Maisha. She’s a product of the Tomorrow’s Warriors talent agency – famed for bringing young British jazz musicians to the wider public – and released her critically-lauded debut album, Nubyas 5ive, in 2017. She’s also recorded with Sons Of Kemet, Ezra Collective, and Makaya McCraven.

Key cut: Lost Kingdoms

Makaya McCraven

Born in Paris and raised in the US, drummer/composer McCraven is a self-proclaimed “beat scientist” who keeps his eye firmly on the future of jazz, playing groove-oriented avant-garde jazz with a hip-hop attitude. Priding himself on spontaneity, albums like In The Moment, Highly Rare and 2019’s acclaimed Universal Beings, all feature live recordings. McCraven’s goal, he once told an interviewer, was to make music that is “socially challenging, not technically challenging.”

Key cut: Young Genius

Binker And Moses

Debuting in 2016 with the award-winning album Dem Ones, saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd established themselves as the John Coltrane and Rasheed Ali of British jazz with their impassioned duos. Their second album, an epic double-set called Journey To The Mountain Of Forever, saw them expanding their palette by featuring veteran British avant-garde saxophonist Evan Parker on some tracks. Since then, the duo has released a live album (Alive In The East?) which captures the raw visceral power of their in-concert improvisations.

Key cut: Fete By The River

Kendrick Scott Oracle

From Houston, Texas, Scott is a drummer/composer whose distinctive and supremely elegant brand of post-bop jazz is infused with R&B and hip-hop flavors. The latest incarnation of his band – whose second album, a 12-track song cycle called A Wall Becomes A Bridge, was released on Blue Note – has expanded to a sextet via the addition of a turntablist who sits alongside more traditional jazz instruments in the shape of a piano, saxophone and guitar.

Key cut: Mocean

Jazzmeia Horn

Given her ear-catching first name, this 27-year-old Texas chanteuse was born to sing jazz. From the school of athletic jazz singers like Carmen McRae and Ella Fitzgerald, Horn triumphed at the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition, which earned her a contract with Concord Records. Her 2017 debut album, A Social Call, released by Concord via the revived Prestige imprint, won rave reviews and established Horn as the new voice of jazz.

Key cut: Tight

Miles Mosley

A stalwart of Kamasi Washington’s touring band, Hollywood-born Mosley is a double bass player who was taught by the legendary Ray Brown, but whose use of effects pedals make him fiercely contemporary in his outlook. A former sideman for musicians as varied as Chris Cornell, Kenny Loggins and Lauryn Hill, Mosley released his solo debut, Uprising, on Verve in 2017. An unclassifiable amalgam of genres like jazz, funk, soul, and rock, it allowed Mosley to expose his talents as a vocalist and songwriter besides his phenomenal bass playing.

Key cut: Abraham

Joel Ross

Once home to the great Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, and, more recently, Stephon Harris, Blue Note has a long history of great vibraphone players on its books. Now there’s a new vibes man in town: Joel Ross. An exciting new addition to the Blue Note roster, Chicago-born Ross – whose debut album, KingMaker, was released in 2019 – is a post-bop vibraphonist who has played with legends like Herbie Hancock but is better known for his contributions to cutting-edge jazz albums by Makaya McCraven, James Francies, and Marquis Hill.

Key cut: Ill Relations

Elena Pinderhughes

A future star in the making, this Californian flautist and vocalist recorded her first album when she was nine and has since performed with jazz greats Herbie Hancock and Hubert Laws as well as featuring on albums by contemporary leaders such as Joshua Redman, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Christian Scott. Those who’ve been lucky enough to hear her live know that Pinderhughes promises much for the future of jazz.

Key cut: Completely (with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah)

Ashley Henry

A South London-born pianist who studied at the Royal Academy Of Music as well as the BRIT school, 26-year-old Henry – who has toured as the keyboardist for French pop act Christine And The Queens – released his debut album, Beautiful Vinyl Hunter, in 2018. He’s one of just two UK jazz artists signed with a major label (the other is Shabaka Hutchings) and has developed a unique, ear-catching signature style that fuses jazz with hip-hop, grime, R&B and even punk flavors.

Key cut: Dark Honey

Jamael Dean

The leader of the US jazz collective the Afronauts, this keyboard-playing grandson of legendary soul jazz drummer Donald Dean, who played with Jimmy Smith and Les McCann, has also worked as a sideman, notably with Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. In terms of his solo records, Los Angeles-born Dean has conjured up avant-garde cosmic meditations (2019’s Black Space Tapes), introspective lone piano recitals (2020’s Ished Tree) and in 2021 delivered a sprawling large canvas epic called Primordial Waters, which explored the mythology of the African Yoruba tribe. Seamlessly knitting together Herbie Hancock-esque jazz-funk and explorative astral jazz a la Alice Coltrane with hip-hop elements, Primordial Waters is Dean’s most ambitious work; a multi-hued sonic tapestry that’s in a category of its own.

Key cut: Galaxy In Leimert

Chelsea Carmichael

One of the first signings to Shabaka Hutchings’ indie label Native Rebel Recordings, Manchester-born Chelsea Carmichael is a soulful British tenor saxophonist (and occasional flautist) who has distilled the muscular timbre of Dexter Gordon with the deep spiritual yearning of John Coltrane to create her own distinctive sound and style. After serving her apprenticeship with the Mercury Prize-nominated London jazz aggregation SEED Ensemble, Carmichael released her Hutchings-produced debut album The River Doesn’t Like Strangers in late 2021, which impressed via its juxtaposition of lean, Caribbean-inflected grooves with lush atmospheric soundscapes.

Key cut: Blood And Soil

Theon Cross

A Londoner with Caribbean ancestry, Theon Cross is a virtuosic and in-demand tuba player who has not only reawakened interest in the big, unwieldy brass instrument that went out of fashion in jazz in the 1930s but also broadened its musical horizons. In addition to his role in the groundbreaking band Sons Of Kemets – where his tuba bass lines erupt like deep seismic detonations – Cross has also issued several recordings as a leader. His debut album, 2019’s Fiyah, was a startlingly original instrumental offering defined by incendiary grooves while his contrasting follow-up LP, 2021’s Intra-I, found the tubist expanding his palette with a kaleidoscopic mesh of jazz, hip-hop, reggae and grime that featured cameos from rappers and vocalists.

Key cut: Activate

Immanuel Wilkins

Hailing from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, Immanuel Wilkins is a Juilliard-educated alto saxophonist and composer whose sideman credits range from Solange Knowles to the Sun Ra Arkestra and Wynton Marsalis. He was mentored by the US trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and then achieved wider fame by collaborating with the noted jazz pianist Jason Moran on a series of Thelonious Monk tribute concerts. After contributing to vibraphonist Joel Ross’ Kingmaker album in 2019, Wilkins signed to Blue Note who issued his debut, Omega, the following year. Described by his label’s president Don Was as “an eloquent dissertation on the Black experience in America,” the album, with its blend of agitated avant-garde-tinged pieces and bittersweet lyrical ballads, reflects Wilkins’ unique artistic vision.

Key cut: The Dreamer

Looking for more? Discover the best jazz albums of all time.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Olivia

    August 23, 2020 at 6:05 am

    This article has my Apple Music LIT… my playlist is now beautiful

  2. Alex Holland

    November 15, 2020 at 6:31 pm

    A really great collection of artists. Thank you for compiling

  3. TeeJay

    January 18, 2021 at 8:53 pm

    Young?

    These people aren’t young.

    Joey Alexander is a young 17 year old. Here he is aged 10.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_fQrcEfXRU

  4. Florie

    February 19, 2021 at 8:43 pm

    LOVE LOVE LOVE!Great list, thank you!

  5. miyakito

    October 31, 2021 at 9:08 pm

    where is Cecile McLorin Salvant? n¡missing her in the best young jazz musicians

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