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

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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?

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