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2009: The Year in Jazz

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A year of troubles and triumphs—and some retooling



The jazz world was far from immune to the economic woes that have dogged nations, corporations and consumers around the globe for more than a year. A review of 2009 shows that the impact was profound. Despite it all—the music played on with adjustments in some cases. And it enjoys a high-profile spotlight at the White House.

Festival news

One of the biggest and longest-running sagas peaked early in 2009 when Festival Network LLC, which had bought veteran producer George Wein's operations two years earlier, ran aground financially—pretty much collapsing a wide range of festivals—some which had been run by Wein, and a few destination events that FN's upstart entrepreneurs started themselves.

A San Diego-based health care spin off called CareFusion helped Wein salvage Newport in 2009, and committed to his revival of the former JVC Festival in New York starting in June 2010. "George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival-Newport 55" was a success, as was his 50th anniversary edition of the Newport Folk Festival the prior August weekend. There is great confidence that CareFusion will be back in Newport again in 2010 and perhaps beyond.

Other festivals had their own drama. The Portland Jazz Festival in Oregon was closed to pulling the plug for 2009, but Alaska Airlines arrived on time as a cash-infusing presenting sponsor, The festival took place in February, but the economy caused the cancellation of a final weekend concert by singer Cassandra Wilson and Jason Moran because there were only 400 advance sales for the 3,000-seat venue.

Because of financial problems and the economy, organizers of the nonprofit Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival in northern Arizona decided against mounting their 28th festival in 2009 but plan to bring back the festival in 2010. The festival is a key incubator/supporter for new generations of jazz players in Arizona.

There was much positive festival news as well. The Montreal International Jazz Festival and Detroit Jazz Festival celebrated their 30th anniversaries in grand fashion (with Montreal tacking on an extra day of programming and opening its own new building overlooking the festival site), and several festivals tied the Blue Note jazz label's 70th anniversary into their programming.

Magazines retool

There were all sorts of twists and turns in the jazz print media—not a surprise given the ill health of most American newspapers these days. JazzTimes suspended publication, then was bought by Boston-based Madavor Media and is now producing seriously juiced online content, as well as a slimmed down print edition. JAZZIZ shifted from 10 issues per year to quarterly print publication supplemented by more-frequent digital issues. Canada's 50-year-old bimonthly jazz bible, Coda, suspended publication, while Mississippi Rag ended its traditional jazz coverage with publisher Leslie Johnson's death in January. After it own two-month hiatus (March and April) Britain's long-running Jazz Journal International resumed publication and absorbed the defunct Jazz Review. Latin Beat published its last print issue in August, shifting the magazine to the Web in mid-September.

The Obamas and jazz

Barack and Michelle Obama love jazz-and the music has been in the spotlight this year at White House events and other Obama-related gatherings. Bassist Esparanza Spalding has been a frequent performance guest at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and performed December 10 at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo - the day that President Obama received the award.

Jazz singers and musicians were prominent the pre-inauguration "A Celebration of America" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, as well as the Lincoln Memorial outdoor celebration. In June, jazz was the theme when the First Lady hosted the first White House "Jazz Studio" as part of a regular music education series she is overseeing.

In late summer, a new jazz composition about Mrs. Obama had its world premiere in Chicago at the Spertus Institute. Chicago flutist Nicole Mitchell's "Honoring Grace: Michelle Obama" was commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

Golden moments in the sun

How time flies. Much fanfare was made about this year being the 50th anniversary of at least four landmark jazz recordings. They included John Coltrane's Giant Steps, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall. It just goes to show what an indelible and powerful impact that jazz environment of the late '50s and early '60s had on the music. In December, Congress got in on the act, recognizing Kind of Blue as a landmark contribution to the genre.

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