i used to think jazz was the greatest music in the world. the free spirit, the emotion, the raw unbridled passion! and how much there was to explore, and how much more musically literate it was than rock or metal. in fact, wow, these guys can really play their instruments. and they pushed theory forward, it was actual progress in music, something that had been dead since those annoying deceased white males from europe wrote all that boring, stuffy, patriarchal, uptight classical music (people did talk this way with a straight face in academia during the 1990s; i don't know if they still do, but no one single trend is responsible for illusion, and that style is just one trend of many).
i went out and bought a fortune of jazz and listened to it diligently.
this year, i finished selling it all.
i enjoyed it, at the time. of course, i also went through a beatles stage, a led zeppelin stage, a grindcore phase, a punk phase, even owned a few rap albums (public enemy is worth listening if you're curious about the genre), hell, and then there was a lot of electronica and noise ambient. jazz stayed in the background but was constantly there. i'd put five discs in the CD changer, some mix like this: Al DiMeola "Cielo et Terra," Robert Fripp "A Blessing of Tears," Autechre "Amber," Burzum "Daudi Baldrs" and then, just for kicks, "Ornette in Tenor."
now that i've been around for some time, and have had time to formulate my own opinions on many things that i simply lacked the experience to see before, jazz doesn't impress me.
first, let's debunk some myths. the blues didn't originate in america. it's a form as old as the hills, known in india and asia before its most recent appearance, with scottish and irish immigrants who inherited much of their music through the pictish (scythian) immigrants who were dwelling in the UK before the caucasian influx. they also inherited much of their folk music, as did europeans, from the ancient indians, who are the ancestors of modern europeans and created for us the indo-european language family, in which both sanskrit and german are members.
the blues is two things. first, it is a song structure of a very basic thesis-antithesis-compromise nature, with one exception - an extremity and resolution. next, it is a scalar form which determines both its harmony and its preference in melodic progressions. both of these originate in asia and/or india before coming to america. they are very, very old forms and can be found in the music of asia, india, north africa, and europe. so the blues no longer has the mystical sway over me it once did, especially since i discovered indian and chinese classical music, and western classical guitar. now those guys can play!
when jazz reformed the blues, it did it in a way that's generally termed a musical revolution. in fact, this "revolution" was a borrowing of classical concepts taught in public education, and adaptation of them to the syncopated and improvisational fusion of the blues and european-american popular music. the result, early jazz, was more consonant than what came later, which was like a small punk revolution within the musical form of jazz. all okay so far. however, after listening to this music for some time, i have some discontents to air.
it's not very innovative. in fact, there's nothing to innovate. music is a universal language that has been well-known for millennia. syncopation has been known as well, although some musical traditions considered it too simple to use for daily purpose (and really, we won't see for several thousand years whether rock/jazz/pop dumbs us down or not, isn't that so?). there are no innovations here. improvisation was a longstanding tradition in both european and indian classical music, and is known to every other culture from asia to the middle east to northern africa to the UK. so nothing new came to the table, although maybe a new aesthetic combination was created (N.B.: these same criticisms apply to rock music, and if i weren't already tired of discussing why it's overpraised, oversold, and overlistened in this country, i'd insert some of that right in here).
it is also not as technically-demanding as people like to make out. frankly, most jazz players are sloppy, and the improvisation factor adds tolerance for sloppiness and repetition. ask any gigging guitarist about his licks library and you will learn a good deal about improvisation. you have to find patterns, work through them, and then move on to others, but essentially the goal is to entertain while filling space with a solo. because solos are improv, they usually consist of one of the same handful of forms, and the "profundity" of them exists in taking a simple idea, exploring it, then making it chaotic and finally bringing it back into harmony. when i'd heard it only a few hundred times, it was magic. now it's like watching someone put together furniture from a kit.
finally, and most importantly, jazz music is - for my culture - opposed to life itself. structured music, such as classical or electronica or some metal, creates a poetic form for each piece, because each piece is a narrative journey that describes something specific. there is room for more of an "excluded middle" in the compositional process, mainly that difficult and rewarding process of translating a change in mental perception to musical form, through the process of sound that emulates experience and emotion. it's not hard to achieve a certain emotion, but to string them together in a sequence that makes sense with the topic of a song, and sounds like the perceptual process of witnessing or experiencing that event, ...is difficult, and few do it well.
ultimately, what drove jazz out of my collection was buying a few beethoven and schumann CDs, before i discovered brahms. where in jazz i'd earlier heard complexity, now i heard repetition: anchorless patterns that could be repeated at any part of a solo, inserted in near-random order. the slowly-building emotional revelations of symphonies are unique to my mind, and each one gives to me a different sensation, such that i don't like listening to them when i'm doing something else unless it's so mindless i can give my full consciousness to the music. after my second brahms CD, the jazz started disappearing. it became in my mind like lengthy guitar solos.
this isn't to disparage jazz - i'm speaking of its insufficiency for my use. you're a different person (unless you are me, and you're proofreading this) and your needs are separate. your culture is also different from mine. this article is a short revelation of the artistic journey i've gone through in considering art, with a subfocus on the genre of jazz. take it for what it is and live your own life.