One of the factors that inhibits understanding of jazz is the actual recognition and perception of the essence of the thing itself. Grasping it in one fell swoop is rife with problems. You meet someone. You say in the course of conversation that you are into jazz. They say 'I know nothing! But I like Louis Armstrong.' When this happens there may be little point in pursuing the conversation. Louis Armstrong, while the first globally renowned jazz musician, does not have real relevance any more except as an historical figure of significance and to people who play traditional jazz and see his style as the alpha and omega of the music. From time to time I dig out 'Weather Bird' and realise all over again what a beautiful piece of music it is. But I leave it at that. 'Weather Bird' is safely in the museum and properly preserved. It was a moment in time. It is shocking how remote this style of jazz is. I feel the same when traditionalists today play in this style. It is a fallacy too to think that artists today are necessarily inspired or consumed by certain great works from the past.
That does not mean delving back into the past is something you shouldn't do. And when you think of for want of a better word it is plain how much 'modern' jazz owes a debt to the 1940s of bebop.
The key problem is not the past, and I am not saying that jazz made in 2020 is intrinsically any better because of the fact that it is 'new'. It is how dated or otherwise a style is. Am I arguing that free-jazz made by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman is less dated than Dixieland? Yes I am. But yet too how relevant are certain extremities of the avant garde now or even then, how many of these experiments were successful? Experimenting may have been the point and nothing beyond that, which is valid. It is highly unlikely that beyond the community of knowledgeable music fans anyone will know the music of Ornette Coleman or Cecil Taylor in the same instant way as they do Louis Armstrong.
''Recognisability'' in the general unengaged public's eyes is completely at odds with what the reality of jazz is to people who are closer to it. In other words there has somehow grown codes of understanding of meaning between the jazz community and the non-jazz world. So, jazz to insiders is this; jazz to the outside world is something else entirely. Only repertory orchestras or tourist notions of the jazz heritage industry keep in step with the general public and make a connection between the two.
What might be more interesting than recognition is thinking instead about perception and how it can usher in change. How does a member of the public perceive jazz? Forget about profile which is what recognition is really about and because that ends up being all about celebrity and fame in the end. Scholars should study perception in terms of reaction more and they might be able to realise how jazz has an impact on people or not.
It might be frightening for musicians to realise that sometimes their music has no way through to 'moving' people at all if that is, and I think it is, the ultimate reaction. Gaining a reaction even if a lesser one than being 'moved' to me is achieving a success. With the current crisis situation and the lack of being in the same room for performers, when you consume streams of live music that difficult process of ''moving'' someone has somehow become immeasurably harder because the experiencing of performance on a personal intimate level has been neutered. I see streaming as a temporary solution only and more about communication and a survival strategy. Musical communication is not the same as its technological counterpart even while harnessing its sophisticated facilities. 'Weather Bird' was about 1928. Whether it was consumed in real time or not was not a factor. What concerns us or should is 2020 and the now (not even ''the realtime now''), and not what we all could even begin to presume that we knew.