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Honor Society: The Importance of Tributes in Jazz

Ben Ratliff on the jazz tradition’s expanding need for creative and inspired tributes

Jason Moran paying tribute to Fats Waller
Pianist Jason Moran brought his Fats Waller Dance Party to the Newport Jazz Festival main stage on Sunday, August 6, 2017.

The future of the jazz tradition is a future of techniques, influences, instruments, cultural exchanges, audiences, clubs, festivals, distribution, copyright, broadcasting and education. All that. But I think it is also probably a future of creative honoring.

By honoring greatness, of the elders and the departed, I’m not talking so much about official or institutional recognition, about erecting monuments or naming streets or bestowing awards. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I mean figuring out new ways to render artists as social beings in their time, and as presiding consciences in ours. The jazz tradition is a philosophy of living; the lessons of its guiding spirits go beyond music. And every year there are more and more of them, staying right in the music’s common language and modes of thought, absolutely not going away.

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