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Modern Jazz Is a Bright Light: Favorites for Fall

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCD chapter.

For the past year, I have exclusively listened to what widely qualifies as Coffee Shop Jazz while studying. Because around one third of my listening history is now jazz, Spotify has begun recommending me to various artists within the genre, introducing me to a world I otherwise would not have known how to begin exploring. If you’re thinking of getting into jazz but don’t know where to start, below is a list, not all-encompassing by any means, of my favorite modern jazz artists.

Samara Joy

If I hadn’t checked her Spotify artist profile, I would have thought Samara Joy was a peer to the great Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. Her voice transports you to the ‘50s, yet there remains a subtle modernity—the control she has, the careful way she delivers runs—that demonstrates a clearly trained and poised vocal performance. Now that the leaves are turning and a chill has returned to the air, Joy’s music perfectly sets the scene for a breezy morning walk. Kiki’s pick: “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)”—perfectly nostalgic, romantic, and comforting; Joy’s performance is captivating.

Yussef Dayes

Yussef Dayes was one of the first jazz instrumentalists I fell in love with. He was born to play the drums, and his rhythms both amaze and confuse me in their complexity. Dayes’s collaboration with artists like Kamaal Williams and Masego strip the barriers of genre down to form a wholly new experimental style of jazz. Because he stretches his style so often, there is truly a track for everyone to enjoy. Listen to Dayes in the evening for a cooldown that’ll leave you feeling renewed. Kiki’s pick: “Yesterday Princess”—the energy brought in Dayes’s drumming is truly electric.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Like Joy, Cécile McLorin Salvant’s music embodies the speakeasy, the quietly confident energy of Helen Kane or Marion Harris. Salvant has so many strengths that it’s difficult to focus on just one—her vocal performance, her musical intuition, the energy in every instrument—making both her ballads and uptempo rags a perfect choice for sipping tea on a crisp fall afternoon. Kiki’s pick: “Stepsisters’ Lament”—this clever song humors a new perspective on the Cinderella story, playful.

Tom Misch

A frequent collaborator with Dayes, Tom Misch’s sheer knowledge of jazz is evident. Guitarist, vocalist, producer, and performer, Misch has every tool in his arsenal needed to create a complex and driven track. I recommend watching one of his live performances, like his Tiny Desk Concert, to really grasp the love for music Misch has. Depending on your mood, you can choose to listen to his jazz, indie, or house music for the perfect pick-me-up. Kiki’s pick: “Festival”—an incredible feat of theory, rhythm, and musicianship; Misch’s vocals are hauntingly grand.

Jazzmeia Horn

Grammy nominated Jazzmeia Horn playfully and delicately modernizes the jazz tradition. Her music never fails to brighten my day; not only is she an incredibly talented vocalist, but you can hear her smiling when she sings. Horn blends her jazz with poetry, songs like “People Make the World Go Round” leaving the listener with an air of solemnity amidst her masterful scatting and riffing. I love listening to Horn when I’m out and about, her infectious energy making me love the world just a little more. Kiki’s pick: “East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)”—both relaxing and full of life, this song shows off Horn’s impressive vocal ability.

There is so much more to explore in the wide world of jazz, these artists only scraping the surface. I hope that, like it did for me, jazz can open up the genre’s world and reveal something captivating to you.

Erika "Kiki" Gedgaudas was born and raised in Los Angeles and is now studying English at UC Davis. They are a musician, writer, baker, and perpetual daydreamer.