2004: A Year of Institutional Triumphs and Great Losses

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Mark down 2004 as a year in which the makers of jazz celebrated their sustained successes - and mourned the passing of many musicians and members of the jazz industry. Those milestones and losses stand out even ore because there were no significant stylistic rumblings on the performance scene.

Here's a look at significant happenings over the past 12 months:

American Jazz Masters Shift

At a time when Americans have grown accustomed to arts cutbacks, the National Endowment for the Arts expanded its NEA JAZZ Masters program. There were six honorees at the 2004 Jazz Masters event at IAJE last January 23. There was one in each in each of five musical categories: solo instrumentalist, rhythm instrumentalist, pianist, arranger-composer, and vocalist. A sixth NEA Jazz Master award went to a non-musician who has made major contributions to the field. The 2004 NEA Jazz Masters were guitarist Jim Hall, drummer Chico Hamilton, pianist Herbie Hancock, arranger-composer Luther Henderson (1919-2003), singer Nancy Wilson, and music critic Nat Hentoff. It was the first time a jazz critic has been honored. International Association for Jazz Education president David N. Baker welcomed the expansion. "The decision to place the NEA Jazz Masters award on a par with the Pulitzer Prize as the highest award our nation can bestow in the jazz field is a courageous act and an historic event," he said.

A Golden Weekend in Newport

Festival Productions Inc. knew how to throw a spectacular party for the 50th anniversary of one of the great events in jazz - the Newport Jazz Festival. It was unfortunate that the host, founding producer George Wein, couldn't be present for most of it. It was fitting that Dave Brubeck opened. The pianist has been the festival's most frequent attraction since he first played here in 1955. It was his 32nd year at Newport - and it featured three appearances by the octogenarian jazz legend.

Wein didn't let abdominal surgery the prior week keep him from The Breakers' black-tie tented gala, a fund-raiser for the Preservation Society of Newport County held at The Breakers, a Vanderbilt family mansion now owned by the Society. He talked about the respect that jazz has developed in the U.S. since the first American Jazz Festival (as it was then called) took place in Newport in July 1954.

The traditional Newport weekend at picturesque Fort Adams State Park was an embarrassment of riches. Longtime festival veterans - and only a handful of prominent newcomers, like Jamie Cullum and Peter Cincotti - were featured on three stages running simultaneously with more acts than usual and tacked on an extra hour or more each day.

On Sunday, the Dunkin' Donuts stage featured back-to-back performances by the festival's two 1954 veterans present that weekend - bassist Percy Heath (who was with the MJQ the first time around) and saxophonist Lee Konitz (who first visited Newport with a quintet co-led with pianist Lennie Tristano). The festival crackled to a close with the Herbie Hancock-Wayne Shorter-Dave Holland-Brian Blade quartet, which is pushing the mainstream jazz envelope with its extended explorations of rhythm and form.

The House that Wynton Built (with help)

Jazz was institutionalized in a rather large way when Jazz at Lincoln Center moved into its $128 million new home on New York's Columbus Circle, which opened to the public on October 18 with a three-week-long grand opening festival. The 100,000 square foot Frederick P. Rose Hall features three main stage performance spaces - The Allen Room, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola and Rose Theater - and a jazz hall of fame.

Only time will tell if the glittering facility will help bring more attention to an art form that has long been treated by the general music industry as an asterisk, or whether it will make it tougher for the city's relatively small jazz clubs to stay afloat.

Awards Galore

In DownBeat's 52nd annual Critics Poll, drummer Roy Haynes entered the mag's Hall of Fame and was named Drummer of the Year. Dave Holland collected Artist, Album, Acoustic Group and Bassist of the Year.

Gretchen Parlato of Los Angeles won the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in September in Washington, D.C. The 17th annual edition of the competition featured jazz singers.

More than 400 programmers from around the country participated in the voting for this year's Jazz Week Radio Awards, presented in June in Rochester, N.Y. Pianist Michel Camilo was named Artist of the Year. The Jaco Pastorius Big Band's Word of Mouth Revisited was named Record of The Year: Telarc Records was honored as Label of The Year.

On April 29, Sunnyside recording artist Joe Gilman, a full-time professor at American River College in California, won the 20th annual Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, Fla. Previous winners of this competition have included Marcus Roberts, Lynne Arriale, Deanna Witowski and Kenny Drew Jr. Other finalists have included such notables as Harry Connick Jr. and Brad Mehldau.

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