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Live Reviews

IAJE 2005 Notebook

By Published: January 10, 2005
I missed an early-evening performance by the Oakland Jazz Choir, but the loss was repaid with a moment of pure serendipity. While I typed this article in the rear corner of a nearly empty concert room, Bay Area pianist Larry Vuckovich appeared and began playing the piano, as a handful of admiring students looked on. Within a few minutes, the mighty Giacomo Gates was alongside him, singing a hip version of "Lady Be Good" and thus allowing Larry to give an impromptu clinic on the art of vocal accompaniment. Before long, an honest-to-god jam session had broken out, unannounced, right in the middle of the conference swirl. It was one of those things that can only happen at IAJE.

Postscript for the day: Organist Rhoda Scott, who's appearing at Pearl's on January 11 and 12, tore up the Center Theater in a duo with French drummer Lucien Dobat. Playing her Hammond barefoot, dreadlocks hanging down in front of her eyes, Scott delivered some gorgeous ballads, burning up-tempo jams, a grooving spiritual and even a charming vocal ("Don't Worry 'Bout Me"), all with a strong, heavy tone that was all her B-3 could handle. Too bad only a few dozen people were there to hear it.


Long Beach looked more like San Francisco South at a morning panel on jazz radio called "What We Play." This session, the second of a three-day series on broadcasting issues, focused on the questions of what records should be played, at what times and how often. With KCSM's Alisa Clancy and Chuy Varela in attendance along with Dr. Brad Stone of KSJS-FM in San Jose — plus a bevy of working musicians including Frank Jackson, Larry Vuckovich, and Josh Workman — a lengthy but lively discussion ensued.

Most radio stations nowadays operate on an hourly clock, with specific types of tunes played at particular times. Some, like Denver's KUVO, are surprisingly structured. While the station tries to incorporate "the whole spectrum of jazz," according to music director Arturo Gomez, some of the rules are highly specific: not only are vocal tracks played in specified blocks, but the station tries to incorporate one male and one female singer in each. Other stations, such as WEMU in Michigan, use a more flexible version of the clock.

But with many stations concerned with creating a particular mix of music, and audiences demanding a certain quantity of standards and classics, new artists find it increasingly difficult to break in.

Guitarist Mark Elf, who has been as successful as anyone at gaining airplay, suggested that musicians should do a little clock-watching themselves: "If an album is made up of all thirteen-minute songs," said Elf, "it's not gonna get played in the daytime, which limits your exposure even further... And if it's only played late at night — assuming it's played at all — who's gonna hear it except for the pot smokers? And they're not gonna buy it. All their money goes to reefer." He was kidding of course, but his point was serious, and valid. Although artists shouldn't tailor their albums specifically for radio play, they do need to be conscious that artistic decisions such as track length and material can affect an album's exposure and success.

Friday afternoon held a delightful surprise as Dee Dee Bridgewater, always a dynamic singer, turned up in the convention center hallway for an impromptu set with tuba (played by Ginger Bruner, Bridgewater's associate on the "JazzSet" radio program). This warmup for the evening's NEA Jazz Masters concert displayed Bridgewater at her playful, teasing best, although solo tuba can't really compare to her usual combo.

KCSM's Varela was back in action soon after, sitting on a diversity panel entitled "Closed Doors and Glass Ceilings." Dr. Anthony Brown of the Asian American Orchestra was also on hand. Although events concerning race and gender issues are notorious for heat and controversy, this year's panel was tame, if not tepid. The panelists did provide some interesting insights into their own histories and philosophies, but with all the participants in general agreement, little was debated and less was resolved.

The main event for the day was the NEA Jazz Masters concert, built around the induction of seven legendary figures into the National Endowment for the Arts' coveted fellowship. Kenny Burrell, Paquito D'Rivera, Slide Hampton, Shirley Horn, Jimmy Smith, the late Artie Shaw and impresario George Wein were all honored over the course of the evening, thus joining an official pantheon that has been growing since 1982.

Shirley Horn was unable to attend, instead accepting her award by video, but the other living honorees were gracious and well spoken in their brief remarks. George Wein won special appreciation for his anecdotes about forging relationships with artists such as Thelonious Monk. "The best way to earn their trust is to pay artists what you owe them," quipped Wein to substantial applause.

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