Suppose your raison d’être is to perform Oscar Peterson solos note for note. The potential for creativity and innovation here is endless. First of all, nobody’s doing this. Even if there was, he/she wouldn’t be able to mimic Oscar exactly; there would always be room for “improvement.” Improvement would require creative, innovative thinking.
Innovation is simply “the introduction of something new”. It could be a new idea, method, product or perspective. The best copycats need to be creative, disciplined thinkers. They require new, innovative ideas in order to be better than other copycats. The person who figures out how to best mimic Oscar Peterson is no different than the person who invents the best photocopier. They’re both innovators.
The person who mimics Oscar Peterson is no less innovative than Miles Davis. Yet, the jazz community doesn’t encourage copycats. Why?
Innovation can be subtle; it can also slap you in the face. It depends on what you already know, and what turns you on. A copycat will slap you in the face if you don’t realize he’s copying. Even if you know he’s copying, his methods may still impress you, if that’s what turns you on. Then again, if copycats don’t interest you, no matter how innovative his methods are, you won’t care.
The jazz community isn’t interested in copycats. Fine. But that doesn’t make them any less innovative or expressive. When the community encourages “innovation,” they’re really referring to innovation within a narrower field – a field dictated by taste and tradition.