Crossover Realities

Seeking ways to get heard and to grow, and more often succeeding at the latter

When Branford Marsalis left his brother's band to tour with Sting, he was accused of selling out. Maybe he was just briefly cashing in while broadening his horizons. Meanwhile, Wynton is seen as the antithesis of a crossover star. As the primary voice of Ken Burns's Jazz, the trumpeter narrated a largely purist history of jazz. Actually, Ken Burns Jazz is itself a major crossover phenomenon, and Wynton himself the latest, greatest crossover story in jazz. For all the early press about his New Orleans roots or the nod Art Blakey gave him, what made him a star above all else was his simultaneous 1983 Grammy Awards in jazz and classical music. In the years since, Marsalis has helped to engineer a third kind of crossover—into institutional respectability, which in the end may well be the most commercially viable in the sense of bringing jazz musicians funding and steady paychecks rather than large-scale sales.

Jazz crossovers that seem new or even radical may in fact mark a return to some of jazz's core values. Diana Krall's wildly successful trio owed a huge debt to Nat King Cole. Cassandra Wilson's cherry-picking from recent pop history isn't a far cry from jazz takes on Tin Pan Alley songs a half-century ago. The many American jazz players looking to Cuba and Brazil these days retrace a diaspora that gave rise to jazz in the first place. And those who embrace hip-hop honor an idea that critic Martin Williams wrote about decades ago—that jazz development comes from rhythmic innovation.

Greg Osby: Grateful, not dead
photo: Clay Patrick McBride
Greg Osby: Grateful, not dead


The Village Voice Jazz Supplement: Crossing Over Everywhere

  • Fleishedik and Milchedik
    Jazzing the classics and classing the jazzers from Jelly Roll Morton to Uri Caine
    by Francis Davis

  • Band in My Head
    How Mojo, Bitches Brew, and Butch Morris inspired a funktional African American family unit
    by Greg Tate

  • The Joan Baez of Jazz
    A great tradition strives to keep itself young by discovering its inner Melissa Manchester
    by Tom Smucker

  • Darn That Dream
    Major tie-up on the one-way street from jazz to jam
    by Martin Johnson

  • Summer Jazz 2004
  • No music is pure. But jazz, more than any other form, celebrates miscegenation, thrives on it. And in the sense that both African philosophy and postmodern thought express identity through dualisms and multiplicities, jazz takes this idea and runs with it. The best jazz these days is and isn't jazz. So we needn't run from the crossover impulse. It's cursed us with some miserable music. But trust me—it's a blessing.

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