Jazz, but Make It YouTubey

Jazz fans are notorious for navel-gazey debates about what constitutes “real jazz.” DOMi & JD BECK, indisputably the buzziest new duo playing disputable jazz, preëmpt the debates by being both more and less real than the competition. They use their real first names, abbreviations and caps-lock glitches aside. Domitille Degalle, twenty-two, is from France; JD Beck, nineteen, is from Dallas. In an age of studio ghostwriters and digital sleight of hand, they are a true duo, and a virtuosic one: she plays keys, he plays drums, and their four hands and four feet cover a lot of ground. The bios on their Web site are a jumble of bold truths (“domi is a . . . prodigy from France”) and blatant lies (“jd beck is a 6 year old sheep investigator”). They perform canonical jazz standards (“Giant Steps”) but announce them with non-­canonical titles (“Giant Nuts”). They dress like humanoids from “The Fifth Element”—nylon tracksuits, ski masks, huge Dickies overalls—but they talk like normal swaggering kids. “We don’t only want our shows to be cold and brainy, full of jazz dudes who know exactly what’s going on,” Degalle said.

“We want seven-year-olds and seventy-year-olds,” Beck said.

“We want people going, ‘I don’t know what the fuck this is, but I like it!’ ” Degalle said.

When Beck was six or seven, he said, he “mostly listened to rock and R. & B., but then the YouTube algorithm would start pushing me down a jazz rabbit hole, or some random video-game theme or J Dilla beat, and I just learned to play all of it. If I have one big influence on my playing, it would have to be the YouTube algorithm.”

Degalle moved to the U.S. to attend the Berklee College of Music (intermittently—her senior recital was called “DOMi Finally Graduates”). “In school, they love to analyze: ‘This sounds good because it has this structure or that tempo,’ ” she said. “Me and JD, we don’t fucking think about any of that. We just sit around and play and play, and we end up with, like, a verse in 7/4, a hook with a bunch of vocal harmonies, and a drum-and-bass outro.”

“Shit either works or it doesn’t,” Beck said.

Recently, they booked two nights at the Blue Note, on West Third Street. On the second night, they were still worried that their shit wouldn’t work. “That one was really hard,” Beck said, after finishing a blazingly fast tune in a variety of inaccessible time signatures. “And this next one is way harder.”

Degalle said, “It’s called ‘Pussy with Balls.’ ”

“That’s not what it’s called,” Beck said.

It was actually called “NOT TiGHT”—the title track from their album, which came out in July. “We had a version three years ago that was sort of done, and we almost put it out,” Beck said. Their mentor and label head, the musician Anderson .Paak, dissuaded them with a Solomon-like stunt. “He invited us to his family’s Easter party, and started playing a track from the album,” Degalle said. When they balked, .Paak said, “If you’re embarrassed to play it in public, you’re not ready to release it.” They kept working, often out of .Paak’s home studio in Los Angeles. “I’d get back, late night, with my guests, and they’d be, like, the after-hours entertainment,” .Paak said recently. “I had Puff in there rocking with them,” he later added. That would be Puff Daddy, a.k.a. P. Diddy, a.k.a. Love. “Janelle Monáe rocked with them. Bruno would sit in and make ’em do Michael Jackson covers.” That’s Bruno Mars, .Paak’s bandmate in the pop-R. & B. supergroup Silk Sonic. “Bruno and I did have conversations with them, like, ‘Can’t you guys just write a straight-ahead joint?’ But eventually I realized, you wouldn’t go to Basquiat and be, like, ‘This is cool, but can you just make a straight-ahead portrait of my friend?’ ”

In the Blue Note’s greenroom after the set, Degalle and Beck were visited by the pianist Robert Glasper, along with his young son. “Y’all were smashing,” Glasper said. He complimented their rendition of “My Favorite Things,” which led to a discussion about how to play standards—when to trade fours, when to comp, when to lay out. “This may be the nerdiest conversation I’ve ever been a part of,” Beck said.

Sitting nearby was Cameron Celebuski, a college student who had taken the train from Berwyn, Pennsylvania. Degalle and Beck are gamers, and they have a Discord server with nearly fifteen thousand members; Celebuski is a moderator. How had he discovered their music? “Oh, the YouTube algorithm,” he said. “They’re the only thing I’ve found that literally never gets old.” ♦

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