In my humble opinion, the Jazz Artist of the Aughts was... Radiohead. I'm not joking. Were you expecting Dave Douglas or Jason Moran, Wayne or Tain? You could, make an cogent argument for any of the above, as well as a dozen others, but did any single band change the sound of jazz more than Radiohead? I remember when I first was first hanging in New York, as the buzz for Kid A was building, seemingly everyone was talking about them. Meldhau had already covered "Exit Music", and the covers and sound-alikes followed. I heard more jazz compositions without solos, more bands with piano and guitar, and much more sonic consideration in how music in small groups is arranged and recorded.
Radiohead was in some ways a perfect storm- they're a great band with a lot of musical ambition. "Creep" broke them big enough to give them tremendous exposure and name recognition, but not to the megastar level that would turn. At the same time, they are a perfect band to get "jazz cred"- Johnny Greenwood cites Messien as a major influence, they use a lot of noise techniques, their sound is very forward looking and "modern" (as opposed to the many good indie bands at the back end of the decade who looked backward to American folk music as a primary influence) And as the decade wore on they were the biggest act to play with new mechanisms of releasing music directly on the web with the In Rainbows experiment.
Lots of jazz artists covered them, Brad Meldhau most notably, but more importantly the number of artists that cite them as an influence and rave about specific things they do are huge and range across all but the most Lincoln Centric places in the jazz world. I know they affected how I write- the first tune I performed in grad school. I certainly wasn't alone. And I honestly can't imagine a band like Christian Scott's band, who I reviewed at Newport in '08, without a band like Radiohead as a reference for how they write and play.
And they're a nerdy white British band, reflecting in many ways the new nerd hipster ethos that has come to define a lot of twentysomething culture this decade. (I'll write more about this later when I talk about trends.)
The larger trend at work here, I think, is that of jazz musicians openly, rather than covertly, taking broader licenses with what a jazz band is and can do than was acceptable in the 90s. It's no longer even surprising to hear jazz artists talk openly about how J Dilla, or Grizzly Bear or even Miley Cyrus is influencing what they do. (Okay, maybe that last one is a little stretch) And you're the listening public less likely to raise an eyebrow. To the point where when Darcy made a joke about Wynton's upcoming Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tribute album, I stopped and said "gee, what would that be like?" More germanely, I heard a story in the early 90s about a well known young Blue Note artist who had his record contract threatened because- in private, not on gigs- he was making electronic music. Labels don't have the sway they did then, for sure, but I have to think now they'd probably do the opposite.
I know that "Artist of the ___" statements are inherently a little silly- Wynton was as important in the '80s for the trend he came to represent as for his music and even his visibility. Radiohead didn't do any of the things I write about here by themselves, or maybe even best. And would all of this happen if no one had picked up "The Bends"? More than likely. But I'd argue that Radiohead, and what they've come to represent, had a bigger impact on the jazz world than any other single artist or band in the music. Any better ideas?