A year of triumphs, support, tragedies, controversy and great losses
In the jazz world, 2006 was a year that defied a tidy little description. There was much going on, including the continuing efforts to rebuild New Orleans from the tragic and deadly aftermath of August 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Support initiatives for Crescent City musicians and their unfathomable losses continued all year. There seemed to be some New Orleans presence at virtually every major jazz festival. While a lot of musicians still couldn't go home to New Orleans, they were ambassadors for their history-rich city... ambassadors who could be found touring all over the world.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival went on as scheduled in April and May, despite major logistical obstacles in and around the city. The festival did pare one day and one stage from its humongous schedule but reports from the Crescent City indicate the music was emotional and powerful. For many musicians still living elsewhere, it truly was a homecoming. For the city itself, it was a key step in bringing back hope for normalcy.
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis organized a Katrina first anniversary event in New Orleans... including a "New Orleans: Rebuilding the Soul of America... One Year Later concert featuring Stevie Wonder, Yolanda Adams and Earth, Wind & Fire.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band - the Crescent City ensemble that brings the exuberant art of New Orleans jazz to festivals near and farwas granted a 2006 Medal of Arts by the National Endowment for the Arts. The National Medal of Arts, established by Congress in 1984, is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government, for those who have made extraordinary contributions to the creation, growth and support of the arts in the United States.
Preservation Hall, a tiny wooden musical gem in the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter, has had a mission of preserving classic New Orleans jazz. In the struggle to remain vibrant and help all genres of music rebuild in the city, the club this year began offering a late-night series of performances by bluesand funk-infused bands, as well as rock and bluegrass. Musical Director Ben Jaffe also set up a New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund based at Preservation Hall with a goal of helping bring home and housing some of the estimated 1,200 displaced musicians, and create a new infrastructure for New Orleans music.
Brecker's welcome cameo - Tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, who has been off the jazz scene for more than a year while battling a deadly bone marrow disease called MDS (myelodyplastic syndrome), made a surprise, cameo appearance in June with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall in New York as part of the JVC Jazz Festival. His inspired and inspiring solo on Hancock's tune "One Finger Snap brought down the house. Word has it Brecker also has recorded material for a new CD to be released in 2007 on the Heads Up label.
Ponomarev's broken arm - Russian-American jazz musician Valery Ponomarev suffered a broken left arm in early September in a struggle with French airport police. It happened when he refused to relinquish his trumpet and flugelhorn case. It had already been tagged as carry-on luggage for an Air India flight from Paris to New York.
Digital inroads - Jazz is making great strides in the digital music world. The Blue Note label began releasing memorable portions of famous jazz tunes by Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Chet Baker, Art Blakey and others for sale as ringtones through most major cellular phone carriers. Similarly, several artists including Pat Metheny and Billy Taylor have begun podcasting as away to further distribute their music. Many musicians have also joined the myspace.com phenomenon to market their CDs and merchandise and keep in touch with fans.
Speaking your minds through music - Several jazz and blues artists teamed up to record a 15-track compilation of material that speaks out against the Bush administration in Washington. The Random Chance Records compilation is called Got the Impeach Bush/Cheney Blues. Participating artists included singers Bill Withers and Pyeng Threadgill, pianist Jason Lindner and guitarist Grant Green Jr.
There were other developments of note in the jazz world during the year:
The House That Trane Built - The Impulse record label marked its 45th anniversary with the publication of the book The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records by Ashley Kahn; the release of 12 Best-Of Impulse CDs; and the kickoff of an international tour by a McCoy Tyner-led All-Star Septet.
Minton's Redux - In May, Minton's Playhouse in Harlem reopened for the first time since 1974. The club of West 118th Street, once the dining room of the Cecil Hotel next door, was the venue where Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian and others began their development of the bebop style.