What is the future of jazz? Will there be more, less, new styles? Defining jazz as a music characterized by a motivating beat, improvisation, and jazz-like sounds and styles, let me make a few predictions based on my experience and observations.
Jazz will certainly live on and thrive. I very much doubt it will be the popular music of tomorrow, with multi-platinum recordings and people making big bucks for sold out mega events. But there will be many jazz festivals and concerts in a variety of settings. I have attended numerous annual conventions hosted by the Jazz Education Network. Mingling with 7,000 jazz fans through four days of non-stop performances and clinics leaves the impression that jazz is alive and well.
The many styles of jazz will all be happening to enthusiastic audiences. This has been a long running trend going back to the early 50s. Out of traditional and swing came bebop, cool, soul, hard bop, Latin variants, fusion, free, smooth, and on and on. They are all happening today, and if something new comes up, it will simply be added to the mix. In today’s global village, one can find a million or so people interested in just about anything you can imagine, including any kind of jazz.
Jazz musicians of the future are coming from the school music programs. A friend and professor at University of North Texas co-authored The Essential Elements for Jazz Ensemble, a music text designed for use in middle school jazz bands. It seems to be in all the music stores and most middle school band rooms. Young people are learning how to play jazz and improvise solos. They think it is fun. Many will want to do it for the rest of their lives. There are awesome jazz musicians out there in the schools and universities of America. And did I mention the rest of the world.
Jazz is and will continue to be a ”world" music. Jazz roots are in America, but the branches are everywhere. Europe has a thriving jazz scene. We export many of our master jazz musicians to Europe—has been happening since the early days of jazz. It’s also big in Japan, Thailand, Canada, Australia, South Africa—I think it is spreading.
Jazz will be mostly about performing and listening. The shift from dance music to concert music began back in the 1940s when the bebop players in the clubs of New York started playing jazz that was too fast and complex for dancing. Still had a swing and beat, but 240 beats per minute is too fast for the foxtrot. Moreover, while some jazz is good for dancing, jazz is certainly not necessary for dancing.
Jazz will be a cultivated musical art form on the same level as classic music. Jazz has traveled from the nightclubs and dance halls to the universities and concert halls. The explosion of books on jazz, the advanced degrees offered in jazz studies, the historical database, the growing body of works/composers, and the proliferation of jazz in the general world of academia points to a very cultured art form.
Lastly, jazz will be a lifetime pursuit for adult musicians. Once learned, one tends to want to keep on doing it. In addition to school programs, more adults are learning and playing jazz. Technology makes it feasible to play along with a recorded band in your own home. An explosion of books and tutorials are available to help learning. Two or more musicians who know the language of jazz can get together and play—often referred to as a combo or band.
So there you have it, a totally scientific treatise outlining the future of jazz. I hope you plan to be a part of it.