What Is Jazz
Being the Dean of American Jazz Humorists®, I am often called upon to weigh in on a variety of important issues affecting the future of Jazz. For instance, I weighed in at 294 pounds on the topic of "Why Jazz Still Matters" and a relatively svelte 275 on the topic of "Where is the Next Generation of Jazz Coming From?" I won the first debate by fall in 2:35, and the second by a 8-1 majority decision. So, let's consider those matters settled.
Still, there are a great many issues facing Jazz as the very fabric of society changes rapidly, almost daily. The most pressing, in my opinion is "What Is Jazz?" Or, more to the point, "What Is Jazz Right At This Moment?" The old definitions, which themselves were inadequate and vague, composed of personal biases and half-truths, are now completely antiquated. Just think about the difference between what defined the simple telephone thirty years ago, compared to today's reality of what a telephone is. And compare today's smartphones to what a telephone was just five years ago. The more you think about it, the more you realize not only how far things have come, and how quickly they are changing, but how much your own initial definitions are rooted in long-held ideas that no longer apply. Then, you will come to the conclusions that it's probably best to just say "to hell with it" and have a nice soothing glass of bourbon until your head stops spinning and you no longer feel like you're 150 years old.
For the longest time, Jazz could be more or less accurately described as "an acoustic, improvised music created in America by a melding of African and European influences using traditional instrumentation." It was, indeed acoustic; electric instrumentation didn't made any significant inroads, beyond the occasional use of the electric guitar, until the 1960s. It was predominantly improvised, using a predetermined melody and set progression of chord changes. It would grow less improvised with the strictly charted tunes of the Big Band era, with improvisation reserved for designated solos. Jazz would not be completely improvised until the advent of Free Jazz, and you see how that turned out. Our Music was indeed created in America, and mostly from African and European influences. But the mixing of those influences is so complex, so multifaceted, that it would almost be easier to make your own Worcestershire sauce at home than it would be to sort out the exact blend of influences that contributed to Jazz.