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By David Jenison

Time first mentioned “the weed” in 1934, but the near-century-old magazine published its first full article on cannabis nine years later in 1943’s “Music: The Weed.” What was the music associated with cannabis? Jazz, naturally. 

“It is no secret that some of the finest flights of American syncopation, like some of the finest products of the symbolist poets, owe much of their expressiveness to the use of a drug,” read the first paragraph, which noted that jazz hero Gene Krupa went to jail that week on cannabis-related charges, “which, if it could be universally detected, would land a great many jazz musicians behind prison bars.” 

Smokeable cannabis came up from Mexico at the start of the 20th century, and the plant quickly made its way to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz music, and became an integral part of the early jazz movement. A century later, Concord Music Group pays homage to this legacy with Jazz Dispensary: Cosmic Stash, a four-vinyl box set that includes several iconic players and producers, including Isaac Hayes, David Axelrod, Pharoah Sanders and Bernard Purdie. Each vinyl album features a different translucent color and cannabis-strain theme, and many of the tracks are among the most sampled in modern music. 

Leading off the box set, the orange-colored Soul Diesel references the uplifting sativa with high-energy tracks like Rusty Bryant’s “Fire Eater,” whose drum break was sampled by the likes of Jurassic 5, Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow, while the break on Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers’ “Got Myself a Good Man” is known to many from the Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin’ Beats.” The purple-colored Purple Funk, a nod to the Purple Haze strain (a possible blend of Purple Thai and Haze), channels this fusion with cerebral euphoria and a heightened sense of well-being. The drum breaks on the Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s “Hihache,” The Blackbyrds’ “Rock Creek Park” and Funk, Inc.’s “Kool Is Back” appear on rap tracks by the likes of Biz Markie, A Tribe Called Quest, the Beastie Boys, N.W.A., Nas, Massive Attack, LL Cool J and Eric B. and Rakim. The green-colored OG Kush, meanwhile, brings back memories of the Geto Boys’ “My Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” which sampled Isaac Hayes’ “Hung Up on My Baby,” while Kendrick Lamar sampled Bayeté’s “Free Angela” on his mixtape track “Little Johnny.” Finally, the blue/clear Astral Travelin’ wraps up the collection with songs like Charles Earland’s “Leaving This Planet” and drum legend Jack DeJohnette’s "Epilog.” 

As far as the role cannabis plays in jazz music, the aforementioned Time article noted, “The association of marijuana with hot jazz is no accident. The drug's power to slow the sense of time gives an improviser the illusion that he has all the time in the world in which to conceive his next phrases. And the drug also seems to heighten the hearing—so that, for instance, strange chord formations seem easier to analyze under marijuana.” 

In 1937, the U.S. government launched cannabis prohibition and targeted jazz musicians in particular, and such noted jazz legends as Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk and Krupa would spend time behind bars for cannabis-related offenses. It is possible that, in the minds of these artists, the sacrifice was worth the artistic lift that cannabis provided their craft, as evidenced on Cosmic Stash

Jazz Dispensary: Cosmic Stash is available on Amazon for $80

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