Go read what Mwanji has to say here:be.jazz: this versus that, then come back for my thoughts.
I love this line:
Jazz “died” not when some of its practitioners went “too far,” but when “Avant-Garde” became its own category at some point in the ’60s, facilitating the excision of the idea of Progress from the Tradition.
Mwanji nails it with that one. When the tradition is frozen in time and progress is now called something else, the tradition is now a museum piece. That smell is formaldehyde. I was listening to the “Real Jazz” channel on XM radio today. I realized that all of the music, while good and non-offensive, was old sounding. They run this snarky little promo that states “If you like Kenny G, you’re in the wrong place…This is Real Jazz.” Now that is a little funny in an elitist sort of way, but it also speaks to the pretty specific definition of jazz that they claim. They play some music that isn’t old, it just sounds old.
The powers that be often use the wrong things to identify jazz. The suits and the lifestyle and the ding-ding-a-ding, were all part of it, but I don’t know that they were the defining factors. I don’t know that repertoire should be the defining factor either, although I see the point that repertoire is an effective vehicle for learning. I am the trombone instructor at Xavier University of Louisiana. Most of my students there play some jazz, but it is not a jazz specific program, and they all learn classical repertoire as well. Actually we are told from the top that we should teach “a repertoire based curriculum.” If you can deal with the French conservatoire repertoire, the early 20th century American band show pieces (Arthur Pryor, Herbert Clark, etc), and the concerto repertoire for trombone, then you will be able technically to do pretty much whatever you need to do to make the music you want to make. I don’t know that that path helps you know what music you want to make, but we usually have to find that stuff on our own anyway.