Here in Seattle we are in the middle of the huge Seattle International Film Festival and I was delighted to see a line curving around both ends of the block to watch a movie about the state of jazz today. "Icons Among Us" is a look at what jazz is now and who are the jazz players of today. It really asks the questions: Who among current jazz musicians are our Coltrane and Miles? And is it fair that we are holding this shadow over modern musicians or is it turning jazz into a museum piece?
The main question this film struggles to deal with is what exactly is jazz. The main strength of this film is it has no intention of answering it. It brings out all the major players in today's contemporary scene and lays bare the contrast between traditionalist such as Marsalis, and the other "Young Lions," and players, such as Russell Gunn, who are actively trying to distance themselves from that image.
The discussion breaks down to two schools of thought. Either, Jazz is defined by the classic recordings made from the 1930s-60's and the technique and sound of those recordings should be the benchmark and starting point for which other recording are both judged and based to be worthy of being under the "Jazz" name. Or, Jazz is a more of an ethos and aesthetic that comes from a tradition but is not bound by that tradition and is in a continous state of growth and experimentation. These two opposing viewpoints are shown quite starkly in the movie as some say modern jazz musicicianship is not up to the caliber it was in the past, while others talk about the ill affects of "jazz nazis" on the perception of the music.
What's great about this movie is that it let's everyone have their say and does a remarkable job being objective. It also has some amazing concert footage. This film really has more iconic jazz musicians in it then any I've ever seen, and is chalk full of great concert footage. The thing that really excited me, however, is that it focuses on the up-and-coming generation of players rather then on the established greats. I hope this helps bring some of these great players out and into the public light.