The old saw is that an artist has to be "of his time." This is particularly an active principle in the world of painting, which puts "newness" near the top of the value scale. For me, a better idea is "rootedness;" the illusory quality that makes art seem both of its time and timeless.
How do you know what has or lacks this quality of rootedness? Maybe start by noting when you don't see, hear or feel it. Watching great young musicians who have worked thousands of hours mastering this incredibly complex harmonic and rhythmic music jazz (yes, I left out melodic-that's a different post)), I marvel, even wallow vicariously, in their technique, but I say to myself: poor bastards. This is not their time. It's not, as some of my friends say, an issue of education or exposure and it's certainly not to insult the honest effort of jazz musicians. I'm simply saying that the tools they draw on-such as those developed by Tyner-appear to be impotent in the face of the power, energy and momentum of this epoch-whether or not you call it the Kali Yuga. Like all of us, these musicians are suspended in a magnetic field; one that seems to consign their music to the margins, but which is simply dancing its way through destruction to re-emergence. I know a piece as ambiguous as this will be subject to wide misinterpretation. Some will say: "is he telling us jazz musicians should sell out? No. Frankenstinian attempts to graft on the kind of music that many people do like are ludicrous. Or: "are you saying the Jazz Blog Industry should shut down?" Shoot no-I'd be out of a non-job. And if you say to me: "Alright, smart guy, what resources and tools are you then asking musicians to draw on," I can only say: self-awareness, which is no kind of answer at all. Then again, I'm just the guy who's standing in a dark room, with enough insight to know he's in there, but who is too stupid or riven by habit to know how to do anything except continue to confuse a rope for a snake.