The comparison has been around for a long time; I first encountered it in an early edition of RuneQuest. It may even have entered that status of “everyone knows that,” but I haven’t run into much reflection on its content.
Grégory Meurant opened a conversation with me about it. He’s posted here before about playing Sorcerer, and having read Howard Becker’s Outsiders and related work, decided it was time to investigate. Here you go!
I think it’s one of the strongest conversations on the topic in my experience. I’d really like to know what you think.
13 responses to “Conversation: Role / Jazz Playing”
References and commentary
Thank you for this great discussion. Here some references and clarifications.
The main book that inspired this discussion is Howard Becker and Richard Faulkner's "Do You Know…?" The Jazz Repertoire in Action. Anyone interested can find an interesting from the book in english here : https://www.cairn.info/revue-sociologie-de-l-art-2006-1-page-13.htm This paper is about my discussion on the "repertoire" as an negociated occurence of culture "in the making" and the conditions of improvisation. I strongly recommand this book, which have a really interesting conversation about "what actually is improvisation" (a more complex question that I thought), for anyone interested in this part of the discussion (the part about "culture" or "story" + "in the making"). This concept fo a "jazz repertoire" is really more a paradigm to understand social practices, in this case jazz, than about jazz itself.
Becker's famous book, "Outsiders", came across the discussion when you, Ron, talked about being marginalized in the industry of RPG. It was an unexpected direction for me. As I told you, I'm not sure than in Becker's terms we can talk about Self-Authorship as a an Outsider practice. To be an outsider, you need specific skills and a specifik "outsider career", but also "moral entrepreneurs" who qualify you as an outsider. Still, I think you made a point, by pointing out the all "lack of intencives" or recognization and valorization to some practices that you incorporate yourself (self-authorship, story now, etc). The fact is that Becker's outsiders is not the best theory to understand it, if I understood you well. I would draw from totally unexpected theoritical ground to grasp this, and I will just threw some rocks to follow later here. It will really be unexpected because I draw from a critical theory of the industrial society to try to understand what you expressed, if I understood you well: the installation of a gaming industry that silence self-publishing and products enhancing collective imaginative space practices. Be ready for some unusual description of a general critical theory before I can get back to this topic.
The marginalization from the industry you describe really echoes with some text of Herbert Marcuse I've read again recently, mostly the part about language in the Unidimensional Men (chapter 4). This is unexpected because the whole book is a critic of the "advanced industrial system" characterized by an inconditinoal goal towards productivity effectiveness. The possibility to apply the developments of this book to our hobby would actually reinforce Marcuse's statement that the highly technological society invades all the aspects of life, specialy these spaces of possibility to think in terms that negates this society. Also, the fact that most of the fantasy rpg games enacts practices of aristocratic values, chevalry being the perfect illustration (the paladin, the epic tales). Romantic figures plays a similar role (Marcuse talks about it in chapter 3).
In this conceptual apparatus, the industrial system impose a "unidimensional" language, which is "totalitarian" in the way it reduces the meaning of words. In Marcuse's word, "economic freedom" should mean beeing freed from labour and the necessity to struggle every day to meet its basinc needs (and not "having a job"), "political freedom" should mean being freed from the need of elections and electoral representation, "intellectual freedom" should mean the inexistence of a "public opinion" and free time to examine its own societal questions. Marcuse makes a similiar critique about the USSR, but it's not relevant for this discussion. The word itself "freedom" is therefore, in the political and technological language (by technological, we are talking about the industry, its manager, its publicists, etc.), is reduced to analytical predicates. The public language doesn't talk about freedom anymore, but about "free elections", "free individual", "free entrepreneurship" (or, in communist countries, "the coming of communism", "the abolition of ennemy classes", etc.). By repeatiting these terms, the system creates some kind of mantra or ritual magic formula where the evocation of the notion of freedom is always attached to a set of institutions. This process negates the possibility to give alternate meaning to these concepts. The totalitarian aspect of the industrial system (where going towards the higher productivity is not the mean, but the goal itself of the system) is expressed itself in the language of its agents, in its vocabulary and its syntax. In other words, we have an orwellian language (where freedom actually means servitude to the system, in the way that we want to maintain jobs to serve repressive needs, repressive needs being needs fulfilled by a system that actually need an economy of war), but an orwellian language where it's not the sentence that contains the opposition (ie : "peace is war", "war is peace"), but the word itself contains the two opposing meanings (freedom, meaning servitude to a system that needs high productivity workers with needs that .. need a high productivity).
I think that this definition of an indistrual society, by the lens of how its unique techniques of production are diffused in all the industry, including the gaming industry, explains better the process that you described: that we have to reject the notion of "story" to actually create a story, and that there is a strong disincentive to do otherwise. This happens when critical concepts lose their critical content. In our hobby, it could mean that certain forms of collective imaginary practices incarnates themselves critical tools, which mean : practices that are not supporting the technological society who needs a constant and total behaviour that supports its main goal, higher productivity. Which makes sense, because if Sorcerer provides "open concept" that each group has to define together, well, you just need the Sorcerer book and not a full line. But this example is itself very reductionnist. It's not just about the possibility for the industry to make less or more money. It's about production way of being that involves supporting its technological structure and negating the spaces that allows for totally imaginary potential.
Ok this is really what's getting in my mind and very highly hypothetical, and I'll come back to jazz later 🙂
That’s a lot of thought in
That’s a lot of thought in one spot! I am trying to resist responding to all the implications or nuances or possibilities for debate. I’ll focus on the immediately relevant bits.
This is merely a detail, and it seemed like a secondary or speculative thought in your presentation, so I hope it doesn’t cause trouble to mention it. I suggest that fantasy RPG games generally don’t “enact practices of aristocratic values.”
Instead, at least in a substantial subset of play, the primary role was more acquisitive and strategic, especially in the first version of AD&D which introduced both the paladin and the thief, with the subset of assassin. The effect was to inject a new vector into the acquisition and distribution of valuables, in a way, to make play more fun by removing an optimal state of maximal cooperation.
Over time, especially given how play was modeled and taught mainly through adaptations of convention modules, the primary mode of AD&D became more cooperative, in the most submissive sense of the word, and that’s when play also became tagged with the “heroic,” meaning, task-oriented in organized, prepared situations with little or no agency in taking on that role.
From there, heroism often became more alienated-looking in a superficial way, but that is another topic entirely.
I’m not sure exactly how these notions of player/character roles relates to the larger point, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on it.
To focus on the points instead of side issues, I wanted to emphasize and extend his statements about what happens to words:
To which I’d add, “… or to criticize, rebel against, or replace the institutions.” I’m pretty sure this is consistent with your point.
Yes – although acknowledging that money is part of it, it’s only a part, so that we can escape the circular distraction of “it’s just economics,” or “that’s the business.”
That leads me to a complex point which tends to upset people. Consider the revolutionary space of the Forge Booth at GenCon for 12 years, specifically how it was derided. Literally condemned, in 2004, in a gathering of industry pros on Sunday night, where I was ceremonially “shot” in absentia for allegedly leading a cult of personality. The Cult of Ron rhetoric directed against me and the Forge stemmed from that event.
To explain my point about that, I have to turn to my discussions of cultist villains in comics (No one joins a "cult"). In the comments, I say some things very much like what you’re describing here, in that economics are not only money-making enterprises but existing systems which resist alternate forms … although, or perhaps because, the behavior of identification with those forms is the same.
For example, participants are expected to be grossly cultish, in all but name, in the context of the existing system (see sports, self-help, militarism, most so-called political activity). But if your social endeavor provides concrete economic alternatives, all of a sudden you’re a designated cult and subject to full censor/censure.
The above point applies no matter which “side” you may consider mistaken or immoral in any details of their beliefs and observances.
Critical concepts and causal imputation
You’re right to say that it was a secondary and speculative thought according to my development. I must confess here my lack of knowledge of the history of rpg and surely a very partial and biased experienced. I could easily retract from this hypothesis and get back to it later, but I’m not totally avoiding your question. In the days I met the “community” which were at that time gathering around stores and clubs – in a pre-internet era (1995-2004) in French Belgium, I barely encounter the tactical style of playing rpg (with or without minis), even in situations where a written module was played. Minis, for instance, were mostly used as a tool of representation, and war gaming were mostly separated clubs than RPG clubs with only a few players frequenting both (there were bridges, of courses, but not superposed spaces). I remember going to a war gaming club, invited by a friend from the RPG club, and facing a totally alien culture to me. The “rpg spaces”, let’s call them like that were superposed with Magic player. But this may be very restreined into a specific time and geography. In this setting, most of the GM I’ve met were into playing there own stories and their own world, with everything they could: industry books were used as tool. Also, Play your own adventures books were the main entry in the hobby for those who didn’t play Magic (which would lead to meet role players), and one game supplanted them in this role: The Black Eye. One of the reason is that the rules book existed in two editions: the traditional box, but also as a “play your own adventure”. Most of the people I played in the rpg world of French Belgium in this decade didn’t care about the tactical aspect of the game. There were some continuum between less and more immersionism (Robin D. Law use this concept in Hillfolk and it’s really heuristic for my own experience). In other words, more or less trying to interpret a role and looking to be emotionnaly engaged with the fiction. Most of the tables I’ve played were about playing some kind of high values, generally Chevalry ones, or romantic figures (in my statement, romantic figures and pretechnological aristocratic values has the same function: they have a critical content, I could expand about that). Even what I didn’t like as games were not as the historical description you provided. Your description makes totally sense to me : everything I write is highly speculative and it’s totally possible that I romanticize some facts. I'm not sure to go totally in the direction you wanted and maybe you can bring it back later (I have to think about this).
I totally agree. I’m summarizing some aspects of Marcuse’s thought in a few words, which leads to approximations. It is exactly about that: criticizing and replacing the institutions. More than that and let me paraphrase yourself, it’s about the conditions of production (or repression) of a need “to criticize, rebel against, or replace the institutions”. Critical concepts are made of words and are needed to allow the realization of this rebellion. To have a critical content, concepts need to be contradictory to the established society (the dialectic between established and potential is fundamental here, to get out of the rhetoric of the pragmatic reality vs idealistic utopia). Concepts need a dialectical relationship in their own meaning, and with their opposing concepts. For instance, in the Communist Manifesto, the Bourgeoisie exists only in relationship with the Proletariat. And each of these concepts contains their own contradictory meaning: the bourgeoisie is about the production of wealth and the control of nature, but also the destruction of them; the proletariat is about the domination and oppression but also the liberation of domination and oppression. We could do the same reasoning with Tocqueville or Burke’s concepts. In our advanced technological society, the institutions are made to repress this dialectic, to block its movement, and the replacement of dialectical concepts by analytical predicate is an instrument of control. I’m sure that we could list and explore the predicates existing in the industry: the “story” is surely one of them. I realize that we are still far from discussing RPG here, because the structural evolution of the RPG industry is only a secondary effect of this. And, as something that we know very well, maybe that’s why it’s worth to investigate through these lenses. Let me know if I'm alone in this feeling. This is a secondary thought, but the fact that you try to contradict the repressive meaning of “Story” by trying to make it the subject again with a specific predicate, “Now”, in what it seems to be a struggle to bring back the meaning of the word story may be an expression of that. Let me friendly suggest, in the potential case that I’m right, that I’m not sure that this struggle of meaning can be won: in this view, I think that what we need are new critical concepts, not struggling to bring back the critical content of concepts that are so successful in their repressive function. Maybe I’m being patronizing by focusing on this particular example, because Story Now is not your only concept and you have developed many that are really useful not only for game design, or understanding the game, but to understand how a shared imaginary space works. I apologize in advance for that and I highlight that it’s a very fundamental thing to do today, and I would want to read more of your works in this particular topics.
I have to add some nuance, before going further. In this social theory, the fact that people are supporting the institutions in place is not only the result of a determining technological process (and I include this change in the language in the word “technology”, as its the cause and the effect of the reproduction of a system, a set of institutions, focused on improving the productivity). The videogame experience is the ultimate development and, today, the widest sector of the leisure industry (“open world” mmorpg being the paroxysm of the closed narrative rpg). The tabletop RPG industry seems to be only one point in this continuum. The fact that we have a leisure industry which actually try to repress practices and techniques that produce shared imaginary spaces is not what condition the players in a mechanical cause-to-effect relationship. It only expresses that people were already conditioned that way. They needed the industry to develop this way (even if this need is already produced by the technological system).
Now, an interesting question to answer is: how do you transcend this state? What are the actual elements of transcendance and what were the conditions for the possibility of their development? How could we examine that they really are elements of transcendance? Who are the subjects of this transcendance? I'm really still talking in the particular case we're talking about here, in the RPG industry.
This Cult of Ron anecdote is fascinating. Now we’re in a beckerian process of outsiding a category of people. Actually, it would be sociologically revelant if this event doesn’t only apply to yourself, but if we can identify systemic outsiding mechanisms. In the Beckerian process, we need two things to have and outsider group: transgressive practices, and a moral enterprise of disqualifying them. One of the main practice to disqualify is labelling (this theory is also called the “labelling theory”). Labelling permits a “causal imputation”. The label’s social meaning contains implicit characteristics. Let’s take, for instance, a hypothetical misuse of the GNS theory. Somebody could identify itself as a Narrativist, and use the other categories to “outside” other gamers (this process of identification of the subject with its social practice can be explained by Marcuse, I didn’t talked about that but it could be done). Something like, “f*** these simulationnists”. At some time, our Narrativist moral entrepreneur will design what’s despicable about simulationnists. They play ridiculous mini, they don’t look for immersion, they’re childish or stubborn. Anything, which does not even imply a good understanding of what does mean the category “simulationnists” by the way, as I show in this example. “Simulationnists” is not use as a concept here, but as a label. Well, “causal imputation” is explaining all the (“goods” and “bad”) behaviours of a person by deducing them from its label. “Dude this guy can’t find a proper job”, “of course he’s a simulationnist”. So here I agree, if the Forge (or the Cult of Ron or anything) is used as an enterprise to disqualify, not only the Forge or the Cult of Ron, but every person that seems to embody transgressive practices of roleplaying, there’s a Beckerian outsiding process. Becker’s theory is a microsociological and relative theory and the author’s would surely disagree to consider anything I talked just before about the technological society, but still I think it’s complementary to understand this process of industry structuring.
Your discussion about cults in comic books, I think, is really relevant to understand how the Marcusian explanation express itself in the collective consciousness (pop culture?) and how the Beckerian's oustiding process works ("he's a cultist!")
I’m pulling out one of your
I’m pulling out one of your statements first, out of sequence, as my response to it is foundational to the rest.
I think I must clarify my goals. To “bring back” is not the point so much as merely “to do.” I’m not interested in redeeming anything for the hobby, for the industry, for everyone, or for society at large.
I’ve run into this expectation a lot lately, particularly among grad students who are afire to do something, change something, about the role-playing hobby or geek culture or even “story” itself in our general society, and who are surprised and frustrated when I say I’m not going to join their crusade.
It’s also evident in the views of some dedicated attackers (I do not say “critics” as their critical capacity is evidently nil), who are convinced I pose a danger to the role-playing hobby or geek culture due to some goal or effect, which they perceive as mine, that they fear.
That is debatable. At the very least, the entire topic rests on the existence of “need,” and I am ruthless enough to suggest that any statement of need is imposed by the speaker, and subject to anyone else simply shrugging and saying “I don’t care about that.” For example, it may be that I would like a different meaning for “stories” and “storytelling” to prevail, but that doesn’t mean I can flatly state that other people, or society in general, need it. As I tried to explain above, my actual aspirations are far more concentrated anyway.
Another point of view, more idealistic than my own, might accept your phrasing, but maintain loyalty to a perceived meaning for whatever the term at issue may be. Perhaps “the original,” perhaps “the real” meaning; conversely, perhaps an “evolved” or “future” meaning; it doesn’t really matter. That speaker would agree that the term was currently compromised through the mechanisms which you describe, but since the wider population still values and idealizes the term, abandoning it would be a concrete defeat with consequences, i.e., a worse situation than at present. Therefore fighting for it, even though the best to hope for at present is that it will stay at the current level of confusion/co-option, is worthwhile.
In case anyone is interested, my actual goal is simply for us, this group, right here and right now, to play on purpose for maximum enjoyment and maximum use of the medium, in any of the identifiable purposes, and in any of a remarkable number of possible procedures. I also happen to want to make these purposes and procedures available to anyone who might feel similarly, but strictly without interest in making anyone.
Therefore I have had the unpleasant experience of being criticized both because I won’t prosletyze and because I’m perceived to be doing so, especially during the period of 2007-2012.
Table-top and digital/screen games
(I'm pulling this out into its own Comments topic)
This deserves its own topic! As the sole table-top RPG participant at the Polytechnical Institute’s “Designers on Stage” last year, surrounded by scholars of screen gaming of all kinds, I can make a case against your perceived continuum.
I suggest that table-top role-playing is a folk activity whose economics are, at most, what’s called a cottage industry, and that this has not changed. As such, it is entirely separate from all other leisure activities that have co-opted the term “role-playing, and for which “story” means something you basically watch, read, or at most navigate. To put it slightly differently, no one who wants to make real money gives a shit about table-top.
[The famous sale of D&D to Hasbro was made over the latter’s unwillingness, or at the best, dismissal; the actual sale was for Wizards of the Coast, specifically Pokemon and possibly Magic, and WotC’s ownership of TSR simply tagged along.]
Part of that suggestion includes the relationship between table-top role-playing to everything else: a constant grassroots fountain of content, constantly mined and retooled into the other forms.
Cult as a label
(We now have three separate topics in the Comments. Please use the Reply button for the right leading post for each one.)
I remembered a little bit more and need to clarify that the phrase “cult of Ron” did exist prior to that point, but as an in-joke at the Forge, along the lines of, if this is a cult, where are our bubble-baths and groupies?
Regarding labeling, that is one of the things my ideas were accused of, especially coded with the accusation of being “divisive.” You may find today that talking about categories of play is still read as judgmental labeling of persons.
This becomes complex in practice, for two reasons. First, more than one person, many actually, responded angrily to “GNS” as I called it then, because a perceived label seemed familiar. No one gets mad at an entirely irrelevant accusation, especially in the absence of a larger “crowd” who might act on it. We became wearily familiar, at the Forge, with people who were enraged that they were nothing at all like “x,” as well as nothing being wrong with “x” because they did it all the time.
In regard to Creative Agenda specifically, it is also observably true that individuals identify with one of them personally and strive to realize it in play, all the more obsessively when they have not been well-satisfied in the past. These persons do conform to the specific Agenda in question, or a given purpose to play to use my current phrasing. They do so in a kind of tragic way in that they are rarely and barely satisfied, and display mostly unhappiness with role-playing at the table. That’s when the terms do serve to identify players – but also acknowledging that people tend, upon actually enjoying playing on purpose in a specific way, to lighten up and not be so obsessed with it any more.
Due to these phenomena, it’s been impossible to convince people that they are not being labeled in the negative sense, at the same time that they personally are conforming to a named category, and are furious that it has been given a name.
Regarding the cult accusation, I will leave it to you to investigate the extent to which this content has become accepted wisdom regarding me and the Forge. I’d be interested in your findings.
Have you guys read his On Writing? I reread it from time to time, and I think it’s actually the first, only book from him I’ve read. King's position is very interesting regarding these discussions surrounding story, as you guys’ve pointed out. Just as Ron said, he identifies many of his books as cries for help, but he seems to be more aware of it from the substance addict side of things than from the commercial one. His theory regarding art and addiction is that many authors justify it as a way to cope with sensitiveness, under the pressure of manhood, and that ultimately it is all bullshit and they’re just as regular folk as any “truck driver who drinks to keep the demons away”. Apropos of story, he discusses plotting ahead vs not doing it – he remarks he had one pretty good novel plotting ahead of time, but that it usually doesn’t work for him and prefers the latter. To describe that process of writing, he employs the metaphor of someone carefully digging out a fossil: you can really concentrate on one piece at a time, you don’t know what the final shape will be until you’re done even if you do make a guess, you can rearrange the pieces you’ve dug out so they make sense to you.
Shoot, I was just thinking
Shoot, I was just thinking about relaxing and remembered I hadn't replied to this.
We talked about this a long time ago, in our email dialogue. I do like his fossil analogy – but not in the way that he presents it, which also happens to be the way many others have presented it too. That presentation, distinguishing between “outline first” or “power forward” writing, isn’t relevant to anything about the moment of decision that “this happens” in the fiction, whenever that moment may be or however it relates to anything else.
My position about that is that this fossil-process moment applies to these moments of decision no matter what, outline or no outline, kiss of the muse or no kiss of the muse. If I were a romantic, I’d go on to extoll all writing processes as inspiration, yay, go ye forth and outline without fear of not being intuitive enough, because intuition is there in each Roman numeral too.
However, I’m not interested in interior experiences but in phenomena. What is that fossil-process moment, without its goopy romance on? There’s a difference which means we have to set aside the analogy once it’s acknowledged as sort of relevant, because it simply isn’t true at a basic level. Why? Because the fossil really was there before you find it or all of it, and the story, meaning your story, this particular time, was not.
I’m not a metaphysician about that observation. It simply means to me that making a story is an activity which requires decisions about what you make up. Discussing those decisions without the commodity of the story being involved is … well, good luck with that.
That brings me to his point about “cry for help” that you paraphrase. I don’t see any sense to his distinction that there’s money stress over here, and psychological/emotional stress over there, easily separable, so that identifying the latter as present argues against the existence of the former. That’s simply category error.
Related to that is the point that economic stress is a much bigger and more complex thing than merely “I don’t have any,” although that certainly counts. The obligation to produce, specifically to produce what, is what I’m talking about, and I think I articulated it pretty well in the video.
More specifically, his point seems to me to be remarkably classist, as if truck drivers were contented grunting bovines, not themselves subject to economic stresses, whose substance abuse problems were wholly “demons,” i.e., inexplicable psychological constructs, divorced from mone-relevant cares.
With respect, I’m not interested in talking more about Stephen King. I knew mentioning him in the conversation was an invitation to endless diversion, none of which I really enjoy or want to do. He unfortunately came to mind when I should have been talking about Clifford Odets and Raymond Chandler.
For once, I actually think
For once, I actually think you talked enough! I wasn't really expecting you to reply – it was a pleasant surprise, becuse you've shed light on a couple points that are immensely valuable to me – both as a creative person and as a teacher of creative endeavors. That what you're talking about applies even if one's plotting ahead, and that the metaphor only reaches so far – with "so far" having precise demarcation. Thank you.
I was offering this to supply more information about the author mentioned – it so happened he had written a book about the creative process, which also happens to be one of the tools I use.
There is one thing I'd like to know more about, now: It seems, then, that "planning ahead VS being in the moment" is no more than a topic of discussion in relation to writing, perhaps even an important one. But that the same phrase, spoken about roleplaying (and jazz?), is a make-it-or-break-it deal. I'm reading you as saying that even "plotting ahead" in writing is still a guy being in his moment, whereas "planning ahead" in roleplaying would be really out there. In jazz… I can picture how ridiculous it would look if a guy brought his own music sheet – and copies for the group. I'm tempted to say it's simply a matter of there being more than one people, but I suspect that's not the case, that there's another difference. Am I articulating this question properly? Can you add anything more about what's really going on when we say "That game broke down because of too much planning ahead", that isn't what King's talking about when he says "My stories come out worse when I plot them beforehand"?
(I was about to hit Send, reread your comment, then wrote the following paragraph.)
Oh wait. Is it simply that when we do that in roleplaying, we're putting that fossil-processing moment outside of the playing of the game? Meaning, before? Have I just circled back to the 'Now' of the 'Story Now' for no reason. So then, when you criticize bad franchise-driven stories and that guy who wrote scripts like he GMed games… Maybe even the case of Superman never actually performing Supermanny nicey things in-page… Are you saying that of course they're dead inside, they were made by a process related to putting in pointers to other stories or stand alone complexes, with no fossil processing. I mean, they were done by putting "story" outside of them.
I know you hate it when I say
I know you hate it when I say this, but you managed to answer your own question really well, and anything I'd say would dilute or direct your views on it, so I'll call it closed for me.
Ha ha I don’t really hate it,
Ha ha I don't really hate it, but let me tell you, it's such a relief when you answer to tell me why you didn't answer. From this side it's hard to distinguish when I answer myself from when I just go off rails and off topic, and I don't want to do the easy thing and engage less. So thanks.
I'm currently very busy and I am expecting to answer all the previous post when I can. I'm just answering shortly to this:
Actually, the guy bringing his sheets is exactly what is happening sometimes. I disgressed with the Marcusian talk but I'm expecting to deepen the jazz discussion in some comments (they are linked). When talking about jazz improvisation, I was talking exactly about this: people unknown to each others meet for an evening and play songs in a way that satisfy themselves, their audience and the guy paying them. How does it work? There's a bunch of variables here: each player has its own individual repertoire, but how does he build its own repertoire? He hear songs at the radio, he read partitions, somebody teaches him the song, he shares some of these special jazz sheets made for this, he listens to records. In other words, let's define the Repertoire not as a product but as an activity.
What is the jazz repertoire? The jazz repertoire is the collective repertoire of a set of musicians in a given territory. That's the "local" "culture". To define this jazz repertoire as an activity, we define these basic components: the individual repertoire I just described, musical skills (read music, recognize a song that is played on a record, to learn a song on stage, to feel confortable while playing for an audience, etc.), the organization of the local musical life (the local history, places where musicians meet and play, ways of learning about songs in these places), and music itself (the classics, new individual repertoires, ways of mastering and sharing them, and some kind of morale of the local music culture). I'm summarizing and every of these components could be discussed deeper. What I'm saying here may seem to be very obvious, but we're talking about the phenomenology of collective action and, that's it. So we have that. Then we have the situation. Every musician have its personal biography and repertoire and skills, and we have a nexus of biography, repertoire and skills when these musicians meet together on the stage. What happens there? As told in the video: forms of negociations, coordination and introduction of new songs. In the negociation, which generaly begins with the phrase "Hey, Do you know … [name of a song]?", sometimes, in this process of negociation, one can answer "do you have the sheet?" and the proposer did. The song is not always played as it was created. One of the musician can know the song with another tempo, another musican knows it in another note, another musician doesn't know it at all, etc. There's a process of creation that is part of the process of negociation and coordination. Improvization is based on that, and is not really about following premade sheets or totally innovating. In a more general way, we could say that there's always this equation in play: "interiorized past" (lived experience translated into way of thinking or acting) + context = observable practices. And the articulation between these three things could explain how people who actually wanted to play in some ways didn't think it was possible.
I think it's interesting to understand all the process of formation these collective repertoire to provide an heuristic tool to study what is a "culture" (to understand the local cultures of constructing or locking shared collective spaces). I mean, the focus is on how people try to solve their problems of coordination, not the problems themselves, and it's not just about the people directly involved but also the one indirectly involved (in the jazz example, the guy paying the band, the one owning the material). In other words, I think this discussion it helps to understand how is the shared collective space created .(and not only what it is), when we look at this as an activity.
I'm not sure if I'm helping or anything here: I think that this description of the activity of creation of the jazz repertoire actually fits well as an example with your own answer to your own question.