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