TV on the Radio and Jazz
So here’s my question (and my topic for the day): Why aren’t jazz musicians more involved in this sort of music? The stream sometimes flows in one direction—Brad Mehldau has covered Radiohead tunes, Jason Moran and Matthew Shipp have made excursions into hip-hop—but not so much in the other; that is to say, today’s pop bands tend not to hire established jazz musicians to play with them. (A few go both ways—for instance, Nels Cline plays with Wilco, Marc Ribot came out of the Lounge Lizards—but those are exceptions.)
Crossover was once far more commonplace. Joni Mitchell recruited Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock; Steely Dan hired Shorter, Phil Woods, and (fairly recently) Chris Potter; Stevie Wonder once featured Dizzy Gillespie on an inspired solo; the Grateful Dead briefly brought David Murray on tour, to wild acclaim from Deadheads, who hailed him as “the Hendrix of the tenor sax” (if anyone has a bootleg of those concerts, please let me know).
One could argue that pop has moved on since those heady days; even the Dead had closer ties to Tin Pan Alley than to TV on the Radio’s multiculti polyphonies. But many of today’s best young jazz musicians grew up on rock and rap as well as Kern and Gershwin, and incorporate everything they’ve heard into what they play. As John Zorn, who’s not so young (a year older than I am), once said, in an age when you can buy records from all over the world with a single click, there’s no reason why music shouldn’t absorb and reflect that diversity.
That attitude is shared by a lot of today’s jazz musicians and pop musicians. You can hear it in their music. But they’re not making music together. There’s plenty of fertile ground for crossbreeding, but there’s little mating going on. David Murray once said in an interview (I think with Cadence magazine) that he’d love to play on a Stevie Wonder record, that he could bring a lot to it. When are the likes of Murray, Moran, or Dave Douglas, or John Zorn going to be asked to play with TV on the Radio? The polygot world awaits.