One of the defining questions every artist must face at some point in his life is "In what way will I leave my mark on this world after I'm gone?" It could be phrased in numerous other ways, but the point of the question is what will I do that is original and different from what other artists have done before me.
If you think about it, it's quite a daunting question. There are so many artists in the world, many of them are much more talented and successful than I am. Could I really invent something new that no one has thought of before? Well... maybe not. But that doesn't mean you can't do something special and meaningful nevertheless. Even the slightest change of the smallest nuance can have a great impact on the final result.
What you should try to avoid is following the herd. If I see too many people trying to sound a certain way, I know I better stay away and keep looking for something different. Yet, I feel a lot of musicians are quite content sounding like someone or a group of people (who were innovators) and imitating their sound. Furthermore, they put down anyone and everyone who doesn't fit their niche. Ostracizing them as not swinging, old fashioned, modern, or in general the destroyers of jazz.
As much as I love playing standards, I can't help but thinking it's not enough in our day and age to make an impression on the world. Is there a point in playing to death a standard that was written 70 years ago? And even if there is, can I really call myself an artist, an innovator? Can I really play it any better than Bird or the other guys did without fundamentally changing how I approach it? Perhaps the problem is not so much with the tune itself, but with the presentation. It might be the time to consider that maybe the old "head-solos-head" routine doesn't cut it anymore. There has to be something new somewhere in between to make it be worth while artistically.
On the other hand, I must admit that I find most of the leading jazz figures today unappealing. I have the utmost respect for them, because they are trying to create something new, and you can hear that they have truly mastered their instruments. But, between mastering an instrument and creating an aesthetically beautiful piece of art there's a gap that not many have been able to fill. Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday weren't what you call "classically trained," yet no one can dispute their artistry. I feel more emotions coming from listening to a Bird or Coltrane album than I do listening to a Bird or Coltrane wannabe, or most of today's innovators.
So what does it all mean?