Home » Jazz Articles » The Big Question » Does Jazz History Weigh Too Heavily on Today’s Practitioners?


Does Jazz History Weigh Too Heavily on Today’s Practitioners?


View read count
Everyone's got to be different. You can't copy anybody and end up with anything.
—Billie Holiday
It is no outlandish claim to say that jazz is obsessed with its past—just look at the number of tribute albums, songs and concerts inspired by the music's forbearers, or at the never-ending stream of historical reissues.

For many jazz musicians, navigating jazz means honoring the music's "ancestors" and playing "in the tradition." Jazz education programs generally look to the past to instruct their students.

Reviewers of albums by contemporary jazz musicians, almost without exception, make comparisons to the music's celebrated icons as a frame of reference. Is there no escape from the past for today's jazz musician? Jazz biopics and documentaries usually favor long-deceased figures, as if the living were not interesting enough.

To what extent does the weight of jazz history, the long shadow cast by its most celebrated individuals and the very notion of a jazz cannon hinder individualism in today's jazz musicians?



For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.



Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.