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The Jazz Point Guard: Melanie Charles is Intertwining Jazz With Her Love For Hoops

The legendary Set Free Richardson once said that basketball “is the sound of a drum.” Those words, spoken by the creative visionary who once spearheaded marketing campaigns for AND1, reflect just how undeniably beautiful of an art form the game truly is: it’s not just a sport, or poetry in motion, it’s a composition of music—and out there on the hardwood, or the blacktop, every player is uniquely orchestrating their own symphony or mixing and looping in their own beats and samples. While Set Free was referring to the beat in hip-hop, specifically, the game has often been connected to another genre as well: jazz music. 

Here’s a history lesson for you: Long before the NBA was established in 1946, there was a period known as the “Black Fives Era” that marked a time in which Black basketball leagues and teams were being formed all across New York and Chicago, from the Alpha Big Five to the Savoy Big Five (who would later become the Globetrotters, and then renamed the Harlem Globetrotters). Because many players of color were “barred” from competing in white-only clubs and gymnasiums, they hooped in church basements and even ballrooms instead, oftentimes with jazz music and dances taking place before and after games. Don’t sleep though, the Globetrotters were certified buckets and entertainers all in one: two years before professional basketball became desegregated, they beat the Minneapolis Lakers off a buzzer beater in 1948. A year later, in 1949, their iconic theme song “Sweet Georgia Brown” by the Brother Bones (originally released in 1925) became a top-10 hit on the radio.  

All the while, jazz has continued to become intertwined in every aspect of the game as we know it today: the Utah Jazz, who were originally founded in New Orleans in 1974, decided on the Jazz as its mascot because of the city’s deep connection to the art form. Then there’s its influence on the players themselves—the late-Wayman Tisdale, who was a standout at Oklahoma and has the USBWA’s National Freshman of the Year award named after him, even pursued a music career after playing 12 years of pro ball, and in 1995 his debut album reached No. 4 on Billboard’s jazz music charts. 

So yeah, if you didn’t know then, then you certainly should know now that jazz is for the culture. Remember that Nike commercial from 2017, where Kyrie Irving is literally performing to the tempo of the drums, played by Questlove? There it is, the two worlds colliding.