Jan 10, 2024 - Business

Gen Z is fueling a jazz comeback

Illustration of a "JAZZ" neon sign, with one of the Z's illuminated.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Every generation's youths get blamed for killing the time-honored traditions and cultural institutions of their elders. For Gen Z, that's Facebook, booze and printers. But there might be one thing to thank Gen Z for reviving: Jazz.

Why it matters: New Orleans' greatest musical export is experiencing an unexpected moment in the mainstream sun.

What's happening: A Pinterest trend report for 2024 says millennials and Gen Z "will trade in their electronic beats for something far more retro: vintage jazz."

  • Gen Z artists like Laufey, Domi and JD Beck, however, have been steadily building new audiences for older-feeling sounds for a few years now.
  • Domi and JD Beck earned a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 2022, and now Iceland-born Laufey (pronounced like Lay-vay) is nominated for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

Between the lines: The jazz profile might be growing beyond New Orleans' bounds, but kids here have been learning "Bourbon Street Parade" and "Basin Street Blues" for decades.

  • "Jazz has never not been a young person thing," says New Orleans Jazz Museum music curator David Kunian. "Because of the unique nature of New Orleans and that music is everywhere, and that it is taught in schools or through family members, there have always been young kids — whether they're 10 or 20 — picking this stuff up."
  • Plus, Kunian says, there's always a demand for New Orleans music in New Orleans, so if you want to get paid to play, you need to know the songs.

The big picture: It's hard to decipher what is driving this generation's jazz revival, but Kunian points out that jazz is connected to rebellion — an integral part of growing up — and notes the music is easily adapted into other genres.

  • As for Laufey, she found and built her audience on TikTok and Instagram, weaving a nostalgic sound with modern-day sentiment.
  • "I'm making music for Gen Z. I speak and act very much in that way," she tells Vogue. "A lot of jazz standards have very casual language of that day, and I write with the casual language of my day."

What we're watching: Laufey, whose 2023 and 2024 tours Variety reported were near-instant sell-outs, has a conspicuously free night or two on her spring calendar around the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

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