JJA Awards 2004 Brings Jazz Community Together at B.B. King's

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Being here reminds me how small our community is. It is one family. I love it. —Bobby Watson
Roy Haynes and Dick Gregory New York City has the largest jazz community in the world, but there are too few times when the community congregates other than at funerals and memorials. One such joyous time was this past week when the "community" gathered to see Dave Brubeck receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter bestowed with Musician of the Year, the legendary Hank Jones, Pianist of the Year, Vijay Iyer, Up and Coming Musician, and Gene Lees honored with the Jazz Journalism Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Journalists Association.

It was the "Academy Awards of Jazz:" the Eighth Annual JJA Jazz Awards 2004 celebration on June 15 at B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill-a star-studded event that produced 52 winners out of over several hundred more nominees. Comic/social activist Dick Gregory, guest host, said, "I loved it. It was easy; it was real nice. When I think about how many people listen to jazz, I think it's great to see people like the ones here doing something to help keep musicians alive and happy, especially ones who are in the twilight of their years."

Some of the proceeds of the event-including all of the money from the Silent Auction of jazz photographs-went to the Jazz Foundation of America's Jazz Musicians' Emergency Fund, said producer and emcee Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association, a New York City-based worldwide group of more than 400 writers, editors, photographers, broadcasters and new media professionals. He is editor of Jazzhouse.org—the official website of the JJA, whose members did the nominating and voting—and where all of the winners of the awards are posted. "The JJA's musician award winners truly play some of the best jazz that's ever been made, regardless of stylistic or genre distinctions, and its journalists honorees can proudly claim the admiration of their colleagues and peers." Another website, AllAboutJazz.com, was the winning Best Website concentrating on Jazz. Vying with AAJ were JazzCorner.com, JazzInstituteofChicago.com, and JazzTimes.com.

Jazz photographer Enid Farber, who won for an Excellence in Photography and Best Photograph Award a few years ago, said, "I'm glad my photo I donated of Ray Charles sold! It got six bids, and went for $200." Hers was one of 18 photos in the celebrated JJA photo auction. This year the Excellence in Photography Award went to Lee Tanner, and out of 24 entries, the Photo of the Year award went to John Abbott for his unusual photograph (posted at Jazzhouse.org) of Hank Jones taken at the great man's 85th birthday celebration last summer at the Blue Note. Besides, Tanner, the other nominees for the Excellence in Photography/the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award this year were Mitchell Seidel, Jack Vartoogian, Jimmy Katz, Lauren Deutsch, and Lourdes Delgado.

Five hundred crowded into the 42nd Street club for a 4-7 p.m. gala in which 33 musicians were honored in their categories, as well as 11 journalists, websites or publications covering jazz, and eight A Team individuals who are advocates, "aiders and abettors" of jazz.

Pianist Jill McManus said she thinks the medical and emergency fund "is doing fantastic things for jazz musicians who are going to need its help. We're all getting older, and it's a life that doesn't leave you with a cozy medical emergency amount." This is the fourth year in a row that the JJA's Jazz Awards have given money to the Musicians Emergency Fund, as well as to the JJA's educational initiatives. "The JJA is proud to have contributed in small ways to strengthening the network of medics in the U.S. who are volunteering their expertise to artists and other independent contractors who might lack access to preventative guidance and necessary treatment," says Mandel. Audience members were urged to get medical testing, including screening for prostate cancer, a disease that has afflicted some in the jazz industry.

Highlights at Jazz Awards 2004 included remarks and music played in tribute of the recent deaths of drummer Elvin Jones, saxophonist Steve Lacy (named Soprano Saxophonist of the Year), Ray Charles, and Barney Kessel, who were among the giants in jazz who passed away in 2004. The widow of Elvin Jones, Keiko Jones, stood on the stage and gave some special remarks, including this: "I feel like my husband 'is still living with me' since May 18th. I still make him breakfast every day (since he passed away), and I have been a great friend of his since I met him many years ago in Japan. Carrying on for him is a mighty responsibility." (It was announced that the Elvin Jones Memorial Service will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on June 26 at the Riverside Church.) The Awards evening was filled with other dramatic moments. One particular dramatic moment occurred as Roy Haynes, in receiving his award for Drummer of the Year, choked up because of the realization of the huge loss of Elvin Jones, saying, "It's heavy. It's getting heavier. However, it's my life; it's my religion." Only Gregory's joking was able to lighten the sobering moment.

Roswell Rudd (Trombonist of the Year) reminisced about Lacy: "He was an interesting guy, a real New York guy. He had charm and smarts, and he loved the soprano saxophone. Steve realized this was the instrument he was put on earth to play." The audience was awestruck and subdued as Joe Lovano, a Tenor Saxophonist of the Year Nominee (Chris Potter was the winner), walked out to tenderly play a gentle, touching tribute to Lacy on the soprano sax. Also an award presenter, Lovano gave a verbal tribute to Jones when he said, "Elvin Jones was the inspiration of my lifetime. I first sat in with him in 1974. It's so amazing to live in this community of jazz people. We need you all, and we play to live!"

The emotions of the afternoon affected everyone. "Being here reminds me how small our community is. It is one family. I love it," said former New Yorker Bobby Watson, who came from Kansas City, Mo., for the event, and who was one of the five nominees for Alto Saxophonist of the Year, along with Greg Osby, Ornette Coleman, Steve Coleman, and Lee Konitz (the winner).

Trumpeter Jon Faddis, one of the presenters, said, "It was a saxophonists night! For me, the high points were listening to music played by Dewey Redman and Joe Lovano on tenor sax and Brad Leali on alto."

Some musicians talked about getting more exposure for jazz on television. For example, Redman lamented and said half-jokingly, "I get so tired of looking at all the morning shows with all the people jumping around with their guitars. We should unite and see to it that the (rock) guitarists could give us (jazz musicians) a break"

Winners and losers were gracious and patted each other on the backs. Buddy De Franco, for one, (set to perform at the Iridium), one of the nominees for Clarinetist of the Year, said, as he was leaving with his wife Joyce, "Paquito (D'Rivera) got it (the award). He's a good man."

"It's a wonderful event held here in New York to honor all of these living artists in the face of so much death that has happened recently in the jazz industry," says Bill Milkowski, a freelancer since 1974 who won this year's Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Excellence in Newspaper, Magazine or Online Feature and Review Writing. The other well-deserved reporters and writers who received the highest number of votes from JJA members are Ben Ratliff (New York Times), Francis Davis (The Atlantic, etc.), Kevin Whitehead (Chicago Sun-Times, Down Beat), and Mark Miller (Globe & Mail, Toronto). One of the publications for which Milkowski writes, Jazz Times, received the award for Best Periodical Covering Jazz for the fifth time. "As someone who lives from check to check, this award is great payment for being in the trenches." The other periodicals esteemed high in votes by the JJA voters were Cadence, Coda, Down Beat, Jazziz, and Signal to Noise.

Gregory says about the Jazz Awards: "There's no political agenda, no axes to grind. What you see is what you get. It's nice to see writers and musicians in the same room who aren't critical of each other. This Jazz Awards reflects Howard Mandel's personality: love, loveable and kind, gentle and respectful." Mandel says he hopes the Jazz Awards will be "an occasion for jazz activists, aficionados and artists, community stalwarts, educators, industry movers and shakers, publishers, presenters and retailers alike to applaud the musicians and those who spread their message in pictures and words." Some of the "movers and shakers" this year included major sponsors BETJazz: The 24 Hour Jazz Channel; Blue Note Records; E-TRADE Financial; HEI-Arts International; HIP Health Plan of New York; Hot House magazine; Iridium Jazz Club; Marsalis Music; Michelob; Pfizer Inc., and WBGO-FM Jazz 88. Since 1996, the JJA's Jazz Awards have become established as the highest profile, longest continuous commuity and industry recognition of accomplishments in jazz, independent of any single publiction or binding commercial affiliations.

The comedian and civil rights activist proved a popular host. Gregory set a good pace for the Jazz Awards. He hails from St. Louis and grew up shining shoes to help feed his family. At his high school he set a state record in track and led a march against conditions in segregated schools. He later ran for president in 1968. He has authored more than a dozen books.

In 1992, Gregory started the "Campaign for Human Dignity" to fight crime in St. Louis neighborhoods. He has always loved jazz; he starred in the 1966 film "Sweet Love, Bitter" as a saxophonist modeled after Charlie Parker. A resident of Massachusetts, his most recent work is a three-CD set entitled "21st Century State of the Union." An anti-war leader, Gregory has always proclaimed love and peace.

There was so much love and socializing at the JJA Awards that publicist Jim Eigo, Jazz Promo Services, said, "They should call it the JSO Awards, standing for the Jazz Schmoozers Organization Awards!" Saxophonist Lew Tabackin would agree. "It was a great event to meet fellow jazz musicians. I tell all the writers to 'keep on writing and listening to our music."

'Schmoozers' even found time to get to know (Dick) Gregory at his table in between his hosting activities. Jazz writer Patricia Willard, a JJA member who has been writing record liner notes for Columbia Legacy, came to the event from Washington D.C. and remembered to bring along copies of books Up From Nigger (1976) and From the Back of the Bus (1962) for Gregory to autograph, and he happily obliged. "I thought this was a great opportunity to get Dick Gregory to sign these classic books." There were even some "jazz kids" hanging out with the jazz celebrities. Rosie Mandel, 12, and Chris Lee, 11, were running around helping out because of their parents' connections to the event. "My father (Howard Mandel) has about 16,000 CDs and 6,000 records, so of course I like jazz," said Rosie. And Chris, who plays bongos and min-congas, said, "I think jazz is okay. I like percussion because I go to gigs with my dad (Duke Lee), and my mom (Lois Gilbert) runs Jazz Corner, which consists of jazz musicians."

"These events like the Jazz Awards are the type that the jazz community needs!" exclaimed Bassist of the Year Nominee Ron Carter, who was among the hundreds mingling at the event, along with bassist Bob Stewart, the beloved jazz teacher at LaGuardia High School, who stated it was "great to see the jazz community meeting in New York City rather than at a European jazz festival," Cassandra Wilson, named Female Singer of the Year, and noted pianist Cecil Taylor, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Other musician winners and their categories (not mentioned above) include Wayne Shorter, Alegria , on Verve (Jazz Album); Sam Rivers, Fusia Swing Song , on Blue Note, Jazz Reissue; single CD; Miles Davis, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions on Columbia Legacy (Jazz Reissue, boxed set); Blue Note (Jazz Record Label of the Year); George Wein, Festival Productions (Jazz Events Producer); Maria Schneider, (Jazz Composer of the Year and Jazz Arranger of the Year); Andy Bey (Male Jazz Singer); Cucho Valdes, New Conceptions , Blue Note (Latin Jazz Album); Wayne Shorter Quarter (Small Ensemble Group); Dave Holland Big Band (Large Ensemble); Dave Douglas (Trumpeter of the Year); Toots Thielemns, harmonica (Miscellaneous Instrumentalist); Gary Smulyan (Baritone Saxophonist); Frank Wess (Flutist of the Year); Dr. Lonnie Smith (Organ-Keyboards of the Year); Bill Frisell (Guitarist of the Year); Dave Holland (Acoustic Bassist); Steve Swallow (Electric Bassist); Regina Carter (Strings Player of the Year); Stefon Harris (Mallets); and Ray Barretto (Percussionist).

Past winners of the Jazz Journalism Achievement Award have been Whitney Balliett, Stanley Dance, Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, and Gary Giddens. This year Gene Lees, of California, was the winner among nominees Bob Rusch, Francis Davis, Howard Mandel, and Stanley Crouch. Steve Schwartz (WGBH-FM, Boston) won the Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Excellence in Jazz Broadcasting this year. The other jazz broadcasters receiving top nomination status were Bob Parlocha (WFMT/Jazz Satellite Network), Leigh Kamman (Minnesota Public Radio), Linda Yohn (WEMU-FM) and Rhonda Hamilton (WBGO-FM). The best website concentrating on jazz was given to All About Jazz (Michael Ricci). The Best Book About Jazz Award went to Myself Among Others , by George Wein with Nate Chinen (Da Capo). Other books in the running for the award were Blue Note Records: The Biography, by Richard Cook (Pimlico); Cubano Be, Cubano Bop-One Hundred Years of Jazz in Cuba, by Leonard Acosta (Smithsonian Institute Press); I Put a Spell On You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone, by Nina Simone with Steven Cleary (Da Capo), and Jazz and Its Discontents, by Francis Davis (Da Capo). JazzTimes (Glenn Sabin) received The Best Periodical Covering Jazz.

The JJA "A" Team Award for advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors went to Arthur H. Barnes, R. Jarrett Lillien, Sandy Jackson, Bethany Bultman, Rudy Van Gelder, Les Paul, and Horace Silver. Most of them lined up on the stage for photos and accolades for their humanitarian work in the jazz community.

Lillien is currently the president of the Jazz Foundation of America (whose organization's Wendy Oxenhorn was associate producer of the JJA Awards along with Mandel). During the Awards, Lillien, president and chief operating officer of E*TRADE Financial, announced the drive to establish a Players' Residence in Harlem to house 40 needy senior jazz and blues musicians, a first in the history of jazz to honor such musicians.

"The need is great. Many elderly jazz musicians are living alone without the support of family," said Lillien. He said destitute musicians may be sidemen "who have played with Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, Theolonius Monk, Nina Simone and Dinah Washington.

"Many are living on miniscule Social Security payments and do not have pensions, saving or royalities to sustain them. Because of their limited income," said Lillien, "it is very difficult to pay rent. Some fall victim to poverty and become homeless. Since 2002, we have assisted 300 cases."

That's why, he said, that the Player's Residence in Harlem is so needed and will "be a major step forward when it is completed." He said the JFA needs individual, corporate and foundation support for this project. "I think the cause is worthy. My wife and I will donate the first 100 grand. I don't know where the other 9.9 million is going to come from."

(Contact for The Jazz Foundation of America is 212-245-5800, or Email: jazzfoundation.wendy@rcn.com )

Photo Credit
Nancy J. Parisi


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