Words by Okara Imani
Anyone who knows me can attest that I’m constantly making a case for jazz as a classical art form, and I’m sure I’ve invoked the idea ad nauseam right here on this platform. So, I sat down with Jared Thompson– contemporary jazz saxophonist, composer/arranger, and arts advocate– to explore his take on classical music and where he sees himself in it, if at all. In this casual talk on his super soft, mid-century modern sectional, I got a bit more insight into what I’ve heard him say countless times: classical music is not my bag. But this is not to say it didn’t impact him immensely as a musician or his presence on the music scene. He, like many others, has been exposed to classical music training as a youngster and even relishes the richness of expression he encountered in those sounds. Perhaps this is why, for me, Jared has always had such an air of easy confidence with a surgically precise edge. It’s the vibe of one who has acknowledged your fancy tools and forged a new path by using them in ways you couldn’t have imagined.
So, when I asked Jared how the “high-brow” classical folks got him twisted, he replied, in short, “music is music, for everybody to take or leave.” Period! We got to talking about how classical music was institutionalized into an altar where the white and the wealthy could lay offerings of money, decadence, and patronage. In this ivory tower, exclusion and scarcity strengthen a fortress of rules and standards. In that space, new iterations and interpretations are considered less than or ‘other’ among the canonized ideals of the classical realm. Jared and I posit that this insidious sense of classism was injected into the concept of classical music as a way to maintain the us-them status quo. We marveled at how most of the composers heralded from those earliest times were indeed as much the messy, othered, and eclectic musicians as we are today, not having named themselves ‘classical’ any more than jazz musicians considered their music ‘jazz.’ It’s almost… as if the naming of the thing dictated who had the power to define it.
Now, I’d love to think that my works and presence in the classical music sphere as a Black queer woman can open up as many doors to that realm as the elitists have previously slammed shut. Those corridors connecting genres and cultures through the expression of human experience are kept hidden away. And that sort of purposeful, measured stride through spaces where we aren’t exactly welcome, being just who we are– we share that style of advocacy. As Jared sees it, any room he works and plays in with authenticity, he advocates for others in similar positions. Sometimes, more importantly, by NOT entering certain spaces, one makes way for similar boundaries to be drawn by others. Jared has been patiently and intentionally implementing more of those old classical tools for his sound. Still, he’s begun to contend with those polarizing origins and history of ‘classical’ music, and can identify about two of his original works to be directly or indirectly influenced by the genre. When asked how he puts the “I” in classical music, he gave me THREE: Investigation, Integration, and Information.
For Jared Thompson- jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger, and arts advocate– the “I” in classical music is Investigating the history and theory to integrate elements into an informed italicization of the style– he adds a lil slant to an otherwise rigid idea. And when the day comes that he does deign to stroll into the classical realm of his own accord, classical composition will be all the better for it.
Interested in other projects by Jared Thompson? Click here to hear his CMI City Sounds installation at Tomlinson Tap Room.