I was lucky enough this weekend to catch the world premiere of "Brass, Bows, & Beats," an original composition by Jazz Mafia don Adam Theis, at the Palace of Fine Arts. My thoughts after seeing a 50-piece big band freely blend symphonic arrangements with hip-hop? It's about time.
Hip-hop and jazz have much in common, and in many respects, "Brass, Bows and Beats" wasn't so much a groundbreaking event as it was a return to classic form. After all, the first rapper may have been bandleader Cab Calloway (the "Hi-De-Ho" man). Watching the Jazz Mafia (a loose amalgamation of musicians led by Theis comprising the Realistic Orchestra, the Shotgun Wedding Quintet, and several splinter groups) share the stage with a DJ and guest emcee Lyrics Born at a swanky venue, I couldn't help but think of Calloway, whose slang-laced hipsterisms preceded hip-hop as a genre by at least four decades.
Has hip-hop finally become respectable? It certainly seemed that way at the PoFA. Adding hip-hop flavor--not only in the form of lyrics, but turntable scratching and boom-bap beats as well--gave the Jazz Mafia's string and brass arrangements a certain swagger, while adding undeniable musicality to the oft-maligned genre. Rap is all too often lumped in with crime, violence, and other symptoms of inner-city life, so it was nice to see the genre's creativity flourish in an entirely positive context.
The only negative thing about "Brass, Bows, & Beats," is that Saturday's performances may be a one-time thing. A live recording is being made for those who missed it, but it would be nice to see a tour, or at least a few more local shows (though that may not be entirely realistic, considering the expense of hauling around half a hundred musicians and all their gear).