Ali Shaheed Muhammad, left, and Adrian Younge are leading a new music project called Jazz Is Dead, performing at August Hall on Thursday.
Organist Doug Carn, who is playing with Jazz Is Dead, had successful albums on the Oakland-based Black Jazz Records.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad, left, and Adrian Younge are leading a new music project called Jazz Is Dead, performing at August Hall on Thursday.
Organist Doug Carn, who is playing with Jazz Is Dead, had successful albums on the Oakland-based Black Jazz Records.
Depending on the context, Jazz Is Dead is a music production team, a record label or a concert promoter. Starting this Thursday with a stop at August Hall, it’s also a four-city West Coast tour led by tastemakers Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge and featuring underappreciated jazz heroes and an upstart backing band.
But one thing Jazz Is Dead isn’t: a literal interpretation of its name.
“We’re basically a multimedia company with a title which really serves as a rhetorical statement that makes people question the importance of jazz and makes people feel something when they hear that word,” Younge said by phone from Jazz is Dead’s headquarters in Los Angeles. “Moreover, it’s like we’re a movement. And I don’t say that arrogantly. We’re really pioneering a new kind of lifestyle within the realm of jazz and vinyl culture.”
The Jazz Is Dead mini-tour features keyboardist Brian Jackson, who was the late Gil Scott-Heron’s longtime collaborator, and organist Doug Carn and double bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin, who were both staples of the Oakland-based Black Jazz Records label. The backing band for the soloists is the Inglewood-based Katalyst, a collective of next generation players. “And then, Ali and I are part of the rhythm section with Katalyst,” Younge explained.
At the core of Jazz Is Dead is Muhammad, best known for his work as a member of A Tribe Called Quest, and Younge, who has produced the likes of alternative R&B vocalist Bilal, Philly soul crooners The Delfonics and Wu-Tang Clan. The pair first collaborated when Muhammad contributed to the Oakland MC co-op Souls of Mischief’s “Adrian Younge Presents There Is Only Now” album from 2014. They later reunited to co-compose the score for Marvel’s “Luke Cage” series on Netflix.
For the Jazz Is Dead production team, the pair has invited veteran jazz and Brazilian musicians to record with them in Younge’s Linear Labs studio in L.A.’s Highland Park neighborhood. In addition to all of the players featured on the current tour, Jazz Is Dead has written music for, recorded with and released projects with the likes of the late drummer/Afrobeat royalty Tony Allen, vibraphonist/”father of acid jazz” Roy Ayers and pianist/bossa nova pioneer João Donato.
“With Jazz Is Dead, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad have created a series that celebrates groundbreaking legendary artists of the late ’60s and ’70s while pushing their sound forward,” wrote TJ Gorton, in an email. (The creator of the BeatCaffeine vinyl blog and the monthly Tribe Jazz night DJ at Phonobar, Gorton spends his weekdays as SFJAZZ’s director of marketing.) “Many of the artists are unsung and, for whatever reasons, have not received the same kind of accolades as other artists from the same era. Jazz Is Dead is helping to rectify this and is providing a platform that highlights and brings well-deserved attention to these musicians.”
“We want to create albums where we’re continuing the conversations of these artists,” Younge explained. “We look at the kind of music that we like from them and use that as a backdrop to do something brand new.”
Muhammad and Younge had a backlog of recordings in the can when they launched the first series of Jazz Is Dead albums with “1,” a sampler that would preview some of the label’s artists, including Oakland-based alto saxophonist Gary Bartz and superstar Brazilian vocalist Marcos Valle. The album came out on March 20, 2020 — just at the start of the lockdown era. “So we were ahead of the game in releasing new music during that time,” he reflected.
Ironically, while the pandemic ushered in an era of asynchronous recording where digital recording files were sent back and forth more than ever, Jazz Is Dead remained strictly old-fashioned. “Everything on Jazz Is Dead recorded analog,” Younge confirmed. “Everything is live, so nothing’s programmed. And nothing is recorded outside on my personal studio, Linear Labs, either.”
“The fully analog nature of their collaborative recordings also helps capture the spirit of these artists’ classic material while still sounding completely fresh and new,” Gorton noted. “And everything has been well thought out, from the cut-out ‘Jazz Is Dead’ vinyl sleeves to the accompanied merchandise.”
Indeed, Jazz Is Dead is a full-service provider when it comes to its fandom, which eagerly awaits each numbered album release with the same enthusiasm that viewers hungrily anticipate a new season of “Stranger Things” or “Succession.” Along with partners Andrew Lojero and Adam Block, Younge and Muhammad have drawn from their hip-hop and DJing pasts by releasing remixes and a mix tape of Jazz Is Dead tracks. There’s also a regular Jazz Is Dead concert series in Southern California and a membership program that allows patrons to have steady access to live and recorded music as well as exclusive offers.
“Even though we’re a ‘jazz label,’ it’s a jazz label operated by hip-hop heads,” Younge pointed out. “And what we get at our events are people that live the lifestyle of music.”
With the dual goal of recording and performing with their musical heroes and exposing them to new generations of listeners, the Jazz Is Dead crew has been able to realize some of its previously unimaginable goals. “We had a dream or wish list, and we’ve worked with many of them,” Younge said.
“We definitely want to work with (92-year old NEA Jazz Master) Ahmad Jamal. He’s up there in age, but he’s my favorite. At the same time, we’ve worked with so many that a lot of that yearning is satisfied,” he concluded.
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Jazz Is Dead: The Tour
Where: August Hall, 420 Mason St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $30 
Contact: (415) 872-5745, www.augusthallsf.com  
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