[Okay, sorry, couldn't resist. Let me make it up to you -- here's a link to the awesome trailer. You don't get fanservice like that every day, let me tell you.]
Promoted from the comments on this thread:
In my opinion, a lot of the Broadway and Tin Pan Alley tunes that became standards were appropriated by jazz musicians the same way TBP appropriates their covers: in a kind of lovingly humorous way. For example, I find Sonny Rollins's duet version of Surrey With the Fringe on Newk's Time pretty funny, as if Sonny knows the song is corny, but still loves something about it, and is making fun of himself, in a way, for loving it. He shows us something about the tune that maybe no one else really heard, or thought to listen for. He also turns it into an amazing piece of music. I think this is what TBP does with their tunes, covers or not; these guys all have a sense of humor. A lot of people can't really hear humor in instrumental music, and/or don't want to.
MSK nails it in one. Stop and think a bit about some of the tunes that have become vehicles for jazz improvisation. I mean, "Tea For Two"? "I'm An Old Cowhand"? "If I Were A Bell"? "Someday My Prince Will Come"? "There's No Business Like Show Business"?? "My Favorite Things," fercrissakes??? (Let alone "Chim Chim Cheree"!! "Inch Worm"!!! Okay, you get the idea.)
Jazz musicians have been doing ironic covers since the very beginning.
However, viz. MSK's final sentence, I don't think it's that people can't hear humor in instrumental music. Obviously, most people have no trouble at all hearing the humor in The Bad Plus's covers, most of which "read" as at least a little bit ironic, despite the band's protestations. (I should add that I don't think irony in any way precludes sincere appreciation.) I think it's that some people have a rotten sense of humor. They are unable to perceive that music that is fun and clever and wry can still be artistically meaningful and serious in intent. They get that there's something funny about it -- but that's all they get.
All of the standards I listed above would clearly, clearly have been understood by audiences at the time as being ironic choices. But through a combination of the passage of time, the ascendence of the "Jazz Education" industry, the museumification of jazz, and and the overblown mythologizing of the "Great American Songbook," they have somehow been drained of their ironic bite and cultural significance. Most people today just hear them as melodies and chord progressions, divorced from any larger meaning.
This is impossible to do with a song like "Iron Man" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- their cultural associations are still vivid and inescapable. For reasons that I think are relatively obvious, it makes a lot of jazz musicians, critics and fans very uncomfortable to think about issues of cultural significance. We are much more at ease when talking about craft -- whether the rhythm section is hooking up, or whether the improvisers are listening to each other closely enough, or whether the surface qualities of the music are "complex" and "innovative" enough to satisfy our discriminating tastes. Most of us really, really do not want to think about questions like "what does this music mean?" or "why are we doing this?" or "how does this music relate to the culture at large?" That is, unless it's in an insular, oppositional way -- i.e., "our music is capital-A Art and contemporary popular music is shit." (Now there's a stance that both Wynton Marsalis and the Vision Festival crowd can agree on!)
Most jazz musicians and fans today don't know the original source of standard tunes -- they only know them through the jazz covers, and so they all get lumped into one big undifferentiated catch-all mental category -- "standards." So today, we often don't get the irony of jazz musicians covering tunes from Oklahoma! or The Sound of Music or South Pacific, because these songs have no non-jazz associations for us. How many jazz musicians/critics/fans born after 1965 have actually watched an entire classic musical, or own any Original Broadway Cast recordings? It doesn't really matter where they are from, or even what year they appeared -- they are all just "standards" to us.
But for audiences at the time, these songs were not "standards." They were covers -- reinterpretations of recent pop songs that had specific, current cultural associations. It's not just that the songs were familiar, it's that they meant something. When audiences in 1961 heard Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," they immediately thought of The Sound of Music, the Trapp family singers, "Doh, A Deer," "Edelweiss," Broadway kitch, Austria, WWII, all the rest. The show had been playing on B'way for less than a year before Coltrane recorded his cover version. (The movie version with Julie Andrews would not be released until 1965.)
So if we are going to encourage people to "respect the jazz tradition," maybe it's worth unpacking that idea a little bit. Is it respectful to Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane to bite their covers -- to play exactly the same damn songs they covered 50 years ago, even though the cultural significance of those songs -- a big part of why they chose to cover those tunes in the first place -- has almost totally evaporated?
Also worth considering: why is it that when Trane and Sonny use irony as part of their art, we understand that there is an underlying seriousness to what they are doing, but younger musicians can't touch irony with a ten-foot pole, lest they be dismissed a joke?