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JT Notes: Selling Out Is In

It’s an occupational hazard. Even when an issue doesn’t have an explicit theme, I seem to divine a common thread. For this issue I’ve conjured the implicit theme of “Crossover Without Compromise,” a personal favorite. Feature subjects Madeleine Peyroux, Tony Bennett, George Benson, Al Jarreau and Eddie Palmieri have all managed to reach large audiences, while maintaining their own artistic vision. There’s no shame in reaching a large audience. Or is there? Looking back at the history of jazz, we’ve seen many artists who’ve had hits or become celebrities and nearly all of them at one time or another have been upbraided for sacrificing their musical integrity at the altar of money and fame. Louis Armstrong, a founding father of jazz, was denigrated for many years for pandering to the audience. Thanks in no small part to Dan Morgenstern and Wynton Marsalis, the reassessment of Armstrong’s musical legacy has dimmed the memory of that time when Miles Davis said of Armstrong (and Dizzy Gillespie), “I hated the way they used to laugh and grin for audiences. I know why they did it-to make money and because they had families to feed. Plus they liked acting the clown.”

Such is Armstrong’s current reputation in the jazz community that many folks were horrified a few years ago when Kenny G did a simulated duet with Satchmo, post mortem. In one of the more widely circulated and vitriolic attacks on Mr. Gorelick, guitarist Pat Metheny said of that collaboration, “By disrespecting Louis, his legacy and, by default, everyone who has ever tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be, Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture-something that we all should be totally embarrassed about-and afraid of.”

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