Q&A: Aham Oluo on Kind of Blue, Generic Jazz, and the State of the Seattle Jazz Scene

The local chameleon apes Miles Davis, digs Radiohead, and has a history with that guy from Grizzly Bear.

The first time Ahamefule J. Oluo ever heard Miles Davis' Kind of Blue was in a family dorm at the University of Washington. He was 6 years old, and the 1959 LP was required listening in his mom's History of Jazz class. Friday, the trumpeter—who also dabbles in stand-up and comedy writing—performs his own interpretation of the classic record at the U District's Lucid Lounge in the finale of a five-week tribute to Davis.

Here, the 27-year-old talks generic jazz, the Knife, and why he doesn't mind a day job. (More of our conversation can be found on our music blog at seattleweekly.com/reverb.)

SW: What have you got on your plate today?

Oluo: My kids have a half-day, so I'm picking them up from school. Then I'm taking a nap. I've been trying to find time to sleep.

How old are your kids?

Six and 8. They're old. I had kids at a really young age, and I've pretty much been a single father for the majority of my adult life. Obviously it creates complications with, you know, being an artist, [since] you can't just be out every night. But I think it's definitely added to my perception of the world and art.

Do you support your family by doing your art?

Sometimes. Beyond just the financial aspect, it's really nice to have a day job. When you're doing music for a living, you inevitably end up doing things musically that you really wouldn't do if money [weren't an object]. I don't want to play "Stella by Starlight" for the 500th time. I don't even listen to musicians who do that type of thing. Listening to generic jazz really does absolutely nothing for me.

Is Kind of Blue generic jazz?

No, no. Kind of Blue is a masterpiece. You know that by how you feel when you listen to it. There's no technical thing that makes it so different from everything else. It's that the conveyance of emotion is so pure and real. And I find that's really rare in jazz in particular—that people are actually trying to convey emotion. It's turned into such an intellectual thing on so many levels. Some people get joy out of how people substitute chords. But that doesn't really do anything for me, though.

What does it for you?

Music that I've really been loving lately—I just fucking love the Knife. And I really love Grizzly Bear. I think they're a great band. After I became a huge fan, I realized that I actually knew [bassist] Chris Taylor as a kid. We were in the all-state jazz band together when we were in high school.

Radiohead is one of my biggest influences in the world, not only [for] music, but how you approach art, and how you approach basically just trusting that you're right. Kid A was such an unexpected album. It seemed like the least logical place to go after OK Computer. Obviously they had to trust that they were right. And they were.


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