Call 2004 a relatively flat year for jazz. Or, to take a somewhat more optimistic view, a year of transition. There were, to be sure, a few high points. Young singers such as Renee Olstead, Jane Monheit, Jamie Cullum and Lizz Wright combined with Diana Krall, Andy Bey and Patricia Barber (among others) to assure the continuing ascendancy of vocal music.
Instrumental jazz fared moderately well, with fine straight-ahead performances from Branford Marsalis, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Keith Jarrett and others, plus contemporary crossover offerings from Medeski, Martin & Wood, the Bad Plus, etc.
But there was little that was new or unexpected. In Down Beat magazine's December readers' poll, virtually every category was dominated by long-established names: Wayne Shorter, Phil Woods, Bobby Hutcherson, etc. Curiously, a rare attempt to try a new slant -- trumpeter Chris Botti's version of a Sinatra-style mood album, "When I Fall in Love" -- topped the Billboard jazz charts but failed to receive a single Grammy nomination.
The problem, I suspect, dates to the early '70s, when young African American musicians, jazz's traditional energizing force, began to apply their talents to pop, culminating in this year's Grammy domination by R&B and hip-hop acts.
The solution calls for a revived view of jazz as the wide-open, creatively embracing artistic medium it always has been.