To some observers, jazz was in mortal danger after the 1960s, until Wynton and the Young Lions arrived. Nate Chinen sees things differently, and in this excerpt from his new book Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century, he examines the warring trends of the ’70s and ’80s, showing how their conflict set the stage for the music’s renaissance in our time.
“Conservation” is another word for saving. And the idea of conservation first began to exert a powerful pull in jazz during the 1970s, a decade in which American interests at large seemed to mobilize around the idea. (The Environmental Protection Agency was established, by executive order, late in ’70.) The music’s elders and originators were shuffling off in greater numbers—Armstrong died in ’71, Ellington a few years later—fueling a disquieting fear that the jazz tradition itself was now endangered, like the ozone layer or the Pacific harbor seal.