“A friend who edits a monthly jazz magazine tells me that nearly 5,000 new jazz records were sent in his direction last year. That’s not all of the new jazz albums made around the world in 2015, but a decent percentage of them.
So on those records might be 70,000 jazz solos — presuming, let’s say, an average of seven tracks per album (because jazz tracks can be long) and an average of two musical events per track that could be called solos (because jazz solos can be short or long or anything in between). Jazz solos can even be hard to discern as solos. In certain situations, and not infrequently, everyone in a jazz group is essentially soloing nearly all the time, which makes it hard, and possibly against the spirit of the thing, to draw a circle around a single solo.
There are five Grammy Awards in the category of jazz. One of them, best improvised jazz solo, is for improvising, and it rewards a single musician’s solo on a single track. (It’s been that way since 1991; previously it had honored a soloist’s performance across a whole album.) Philosophically, that seems good: As long as you’re going to reward a particular song, this award acknowledges that improvising is as important as composing to the identity of the song. But it’s a strange award, too. It asks more questions than it answers. Here’s the first one: 70,000 solos, in theory — where should the process of rewarding the best one start?“