Jazz is dead. Isn't it? In the immortal words of Lester Bowie, that depends on who you ask. From one point of view, jazz is a cultural artifact, a museum piece originating from a particular time, and whatever is going on now is recycled and derivative. No longer culturally relevant. (I'm reminded of the guy outside the bank in Falling Down: "NOT ECONOMICALLY VIABLE.")
There's slightly more subtle viewpoints than the above. For example, the "neo-mainstream" "movement" has temporarily lobotomized jazz by trying to make it hold still. Or post-modern cut and paste, collage styles have temporarily "ironified" jazz into a series of witty cliches, pastiches and homages. Or "jazz" itself died in 1959, (or 1940 or 1945, etc.) really, and ever since then god only knows what we've had. Or "contemporary jazz" musicians are too much a product of the schools and have lost any vital connection to the streets, replaced by hip hop etc.
My outrage at the misrepresentation of "free jazz" (a form which is actually fairly expensive) repeated by the guardians of culture has stirred all of these opinions (and more) up from the murky bottoms of Lake Revision.
Sometimes, when I hear so-called "contemporary jazz," I wish it (and when I'm feeling melodramatic, I) were dead. Is there any music worse than bad jazz? To my ears, the slicked out, blanched, over-produced music that passes for "jazz" in most record catalogues these days is among the worst music ever made in human history. The recent wave of "jazz chanteuses," for example, wouldn't know what to do with a great song if it popped right out of their decolletage. An acquaintance of mine recently uttered this sentence: "I'm going to Borders to buy the new Norah Jones...go home, build a fire, listen to some jazz." One of my colleagues at KSFR did a "best of 2006" "jazz" show last month and selected Bob Brookmeyer's Spirit Music CD as the "best of the best." When I started my show immediately after, a caller rang the studio to say "what the hell was that? That's quaalude jazz!"
Here's a possibly even more subtle look at jazz death: it's part and parcel of genre death in general. When I taught secondary school students, they had an unbelievably detailed and often arcane universe of hair-splitting genres. "Iron and Wine isn't Emo! It's shoegazer!" "Dude, are you nuts? Iron and Wine is anti-folk!" Etc. In this digitally-abetted explosion of genres, many of which are contained esoterically within other genres (think Chinese doll), what meaning do the big genres (jazz, classical, rock, pop) have anymore? Jazz already had an unwieldy number of subgenres as long ago as 1970. On freejazz.org, a raging debate sometimes erupts on the relative merits of "free jazz" versus "free improv." These heated arguments are highly entertaining, and a definite sign of the proliferation of hair-splitting categories about which NO ONE CARES except a small group of rabid aficionadoes. (Not that I'm not one of those rabid sorts, as I think the discussion of "free jazz" versus "free improv" is interesting....)
In a relatively conservative cultural climate such as Santa Fe, where there are several high-brow presenting organizations constantly programming the same old Western composed orchestral, vocal and chamber music (we used to be able to say "classical" and be done with it), no one blinks an eye at absolute and completely unswerving predictability. Mozart's 250th birthday went on endlessly, forever, eternally here in this largely blue-hair, rich, ossified arts market. In this context it is a RISKY VENTURE to book Wynton Marsalis. This is jazz death, more surely than any other reality.