"Jazz": A bad word?

Read David Adler's post on pop music crossing over into jazz territory. Adler brings up a trend that interests me. I touched on the idea of the "new standards" way back in December, and this article treads close to my point. I must admit that I'm often surprised when untrained ("pop"?) musicians don't know their seventh and ninth chords, but I've always assumed this as a result from a lack of formal musical training. While I think this is sometimes the case, I also understand that most pop music rarely ventures into "extended" or "chromatic" harmony to the extent that jazz music does. Although, after reading this, I guess I'm half right. Why?

The main point that interests me in Adler's article is the mention of the session musicians that played on many recordings of the late 1970s and early 80s. An accomplished jazz musician can play anything. Literally anything. That explains all the great Motown recordings and Philly soul recordings, but what about rock music? It seems like the word "jazz" is instantaneously synonymous with "prog" or "smooth" rock/pop music of this era (also known as "yacht rock"). Yuck. Jazz has become a bad word. And for this, I am deeply shamed.

Allow me to demonstrate: I'm in my late twenties. I (clearly) do not like Steely Dan, but I (obviously) love Stevie Wonder. While both are incredibly similar in terms of harmony and song construction, they stand apart in terms of aesthetics and taste. Both use jazz chords and unusual progressions, but how often do you hear a Stevie Wonder song song played across all genres of music as compared to Steely Dan? Who speaks to a larger audience? Who will continue to do so?

Some artists use their knowledge and musical ability to write tasteful pop music that crosses over to a more general audience. This idea is no different from the Tin Pan Alley writers in the early 20th century. Simply put, popular music gets played. This is what I consider to be a significant quality of the "new standards": communication.