By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
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 crossoverinto 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 agothat jazz development comes from rhythmic innovation.
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 meit's a blessing.