The notion of jazz musicians playing pop music somehow always seems slightly controversial, at least in some of the deeper (ahem, insulated) realms of jazz. I find this point of view odd to say the least. Jazz hasn’t been the popular music of the day for at least 70 years; is it so surprising that musicians equipped with the ability to play however they want would turn to the music they grew up with, or that they hear on the radio, or that they just plain love? After all, the practice is nothing new: Miles Davis recorded Surrey With The Fringe On Top in 1956, just a year after Oklahoma! was released in theatres. Maybe listeners weren’t too keen on Miles’ repertoire choices back then either, but the point is that pop music has always been a part of jazz music and hopefully always will be, because the results can bring out the best of both.
To perfectly illustrate my claim that pop music produces great jazz, enter The Worst Pop Band Ever. Featuring Steel City Jazz Festival Artist-in-Residence on piano, Tim Shia on drums, Drew Birston on bass and Chris Gale on saxophone, the group plays everything from Wayne Shorter to Sly Stone to Radiohead (in fact, they play all three on their latest album, which you can listen to here). The band’s sound is rooted firmly enough in hard-bop that they can take off in all different directions without losing their cohesive, distinctive group sound; think of them as a modern version of the Jazz Messengers. This is music played with sincerity, humour and skill, what more could you ask for?
The Worst Pop Band Ever have played all over North America, and are coming to Artword Artbar on October 24th for the Steel City Jazz Festival. The show will start at 8pm, tickets are $15 or $10 for students. Come check it out, you won’t be disappointed!