In December 2001, the old and noble Italian city of Genoa invited the young and accomplished jazz violinist Regina Carter to play the Il Cannone Guarnerius (or simply "the Cannon"), a violin that was made more than 260 years ago and was once owned and loved by the 19th century composer and violinist Niccolo Paganini. Genoa owns the instrument, which is admired for its age and big/bold/explosive sound ("the Cannon"), and the city permits only violinists of the highest order to play it. Though classically trained, Carter is first and foremost a jazz musician, and jazz music has deep black American roots, and Carter is a black American who was born and raised in a very black city, Detroit. Genoa, a most European city, had never offered the instrument to a jazz musician and probably saw this 20th century tradition of music, a tradition that rose from the poorest section of American society, as not up to snuff. So you see the picture: The moment the violin was placed in Carter's hands, the hands of a black American, history was made.

After Carter played the instrument to the citizens of Genoa, she received a standing ovation. She came, she saw, she conquered. "One of the violin's keepers said I caused less stress to this violin than most classical players do, because in order to play jazz on violin, you usually have to use a much lighter bow-stroke and less bow, and so it doesn't stress the instrument," explained Carter to Marian McPartland on the radio show Piano Jazz.

The story, as you can see, is a modern fairy tale. It should be turned into a movie. It was, however, turned into an album, appropriately called Paganini: After a Dream (2003). The album contains pieces from films (Black Orpheus and Cinema Paradiso) and from the classical canon (most notably Ravel's "Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte"—a piece made famous in the hiphop world by Xzibit's "Paparazzi"). In 2006, Carter received a "genius" grant from the MacArthur Fellows Program. In 2010, she released a record that featured a kora (a West African string instrument) played by Yacouba Sissoko. There seems to be no tradition she will not explore with her violin. recommended