LET ALL of the confused and disenfranchised fusion-drippers and musical Brave-New-Worlders weep and wail from now until Duke Ellington's birthday. The Marsalis Miracle -- named after Wynton and Branford Marsalis, its most visible symbols -- did its work in 1990 at an accelerated rate. What the Marsalis Miracle was, was the wholesale rediscovery of jazz's integrity, the sudden heartening popularity of jazz in its pure and uncompromised forms.
(So, too, was 1990 a year of blues resurgence.)
The weird and wonderful evidence kept showing up on Billboard magazine's list of jazz best sellers -- the Marsalises, Carmen McRae, Kenny Garrett, Jon Hendricks, Tony Williams, all manner of jazz musicians who have no reason to apologize to anyone at any time.
What seems to have happened is that listeners first beguiled by Bobby McFerrin or Harry Connick or Branford Marsalis' music in Spike Lee's movie "Mo' Better Blues" were willing to travel a few yards to the left and discover Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and their hugely active heirs among musicians now in their 20s and 30s.
The year's best in jazz:
REALLY THE BLUES
James Brown's wailing bandleader Maceo Parker passed the time waiting for Brown's release by pairing off with Don Pullen on Roots Revisited (Verve 843-751-2) and Art Blakey, Dr. John and David "Fathead" Newman made a delightful if unlikely threesome on Bluesiana Triangle (Windham Hill Jazz WD-0125). Some of Mose Allison's wittiest tunes in a long time were on My Backyard (Blue Note CDP7-938402), while Miles Davis teamed up with Taj Mahal and John Lee Hooker on Jack Nitzche's soundtrack for The Hot Spot (Island 422-846-813).
The most exciting of contemporary pianists, Don Pullen, produced Random Thoughts (Blue Note CDP-7-94347-2) and the most overlooked of senior pianists, Dick Hyman, produced the magnificent solo recital Music of 1937: Live at Maybeck Recital Hall Vol. 3 (Concord Jazz CCD-4415). Allen Farnham's Fifth House (Concord Jazz CCD-4413) was proof that the unalloyed article could make best-seller lists. Europe's premiere rhythm section -- Joachim Kuhn, Daniel Humair and J.F. Jenny-Clark -- sizzled on Live at the Theater de la Ville Paris 1989 (CMP-CD-43). Richie Beirach's tribute to Chet Baker, Some Other Time (Triloka 180-2), had moments of the sublime.
Pat Metheny got Dave Holland and Roy Haynes together to make Question and Answer (Geffen 9-24293-2), John Scofield made what may be his best record, Time on My Hands (Blue Note CDP-7-92894), and Mark Whitfield made a terrific, best-selling debut on The Marksman (Warner 9-28321-3).
In a very productive year, brother Wynton teamed with his father, Ellis, to make Standard Time Vol. 3: The Resolution of Romance (Columbia C-46143) and, by himself, wrote and played the splendidly Ellingtonian score for Tune in Tomorrow (Columbia CK-4704). Brother Branford had a fine old time on Crazy People Music (Columbia CK-46072).
SINGERS AND SONGS
It was an incredible year for jazz singers (see the jazz records of the year). Jon Hendricks got some friends together on Freddie Freeloader (Denon-81757-63202-2) and, without any shadow of doubt, Ella Fitzgerald was featured on a reissue that is one of the great vocal anthologies in the history of jazz, For the Love of Ella Fitzgerald (Verve-841-765-2).
SAX, HOT AND COOL
Ivo Perelman somehow married Brazil with the avant-garde on Ivo (K2B2-CD-2769-2), Stan Getz celebrated a superb Anniversary (Emarcy 838-769-2), and the title tune of Kenny Garrett's African Exchange Student (Atlantic 7-82156-2) was a full-throated cry in the first new dialect in the Coltrane language to be discovered in five years at least.
From New York's newest musical waves came grand music -- Marty Ehrlich's The Traveller's Tale (Enja R-2-7963), for instance, and Ray Anderson's What Because (Grammavision R2-79453-2). (See also jazz records of the year.)
LAND OF THE LOST
It was an incredible year for reissues -- Art Tatum's group recordings on Pablo, Clifford Brown on Emarcy, magnificent multirecord sets of Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton on RCA/Bluebird that are like nothing so much as American national parks on disc. But in a very quiet way, some cardinal jazz recordings reappeared after long periods of odd unavailability -- Miles Davis' epochal Birth of the Cool (Capitol CDP-92862-2), Duke Ellington's equally epochal duets with bassist Jimmy Blanton on Ellington's Solos, Duets and Trios (RCA Bluebird 2178-2-RB) and the Complete Art Tatum on Capitol, Vol. 1 (Capitol Jazz CDP-7-92866-2) and Vol. 2 (Capitol Jazz CDP-7-92867-2).
YIN AND YANG
The extraordinary power of Thelonious Monk to influence other musicians couldn't have found more disparate pianists than Randy Weston at his most percussive on Portrait of Thelonious Monk: Well You Needn't (Verve 841-313-2) and Harry Connick Jr. at his most cafe casual on the trio record Lofty's Roach Souffle (Columbia CK-46223).
RECORDS OF THE YEAR
An uncommonly rich year. Chief among the youngbloods was Bobby Previte's Empty Suits (Grammavision R2-79447), from a musician who spent his early apprenticeship gigging around Buffalo. The jazz project of the year was unquestionably Gunther Schuller's gathering together Charles Mingus' huge work Epitaph (Columbia C2K-45428). The great idea that no one had ever thought of before was putting Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie together for duets on Max and Diz: Paris 1989 (A & M CD-6404). And Carmen McRae will never make a better and purer record than Carmen Sings Monk (RCA Novus-3086-2-N).