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96 Hours in the Jazziest City on Earth: IAJE Conference in Toronto 2008

By Published: March 9, 2008

A big bald bullet head guy with goatee took the stage. Ben Wolfe, the guest artist, an ex-Mt Hood Community College bassist who's played with Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton and toured with Diana, took one look at the All-Stars and said: "You look tired. What you been doing?" Nobody said a word. Trombone player winked at drummer. They'd been getting a taste of Toronto.

"I remember band trips," Wolfe said, knowingly, then played one solo and split. The All-Stars played on. When it was time for Miguel's solo, "Cottontail," he played with sufficient technical mastery to earn unprompted applause.

He found me afterwards. "You came to hear me."

"You sounded good," I said. He beamed.

The Oscar & Pulitzer of Jazz

Slowly they came, not a minute too soon—the legends of jazz, a few to receive the nation's highest honor, others to cheer. Nancy Wilson, 71, with silver hair. Frank Foster, 79, in a wheel chair. George Avakian, the producer, and Candido, the conguero, on canes. Even Quincy walked a little slower. Jon Hendricks, 87, in jaunty yacht cap, skipped into Constitution Hall. Paquito, the youngest at 59, came to play his clarinet.

The Jazz Master Awards ceremony, hosted by Ms. Wilson, was bittersweet. Two honorees—Oscar Peterson and pianist-composer Andrew Hill—didn't live long enough to receive the Oscar and Pulitzer of jazz. Peterson died two days before Christmas 2007 at the age of 82, and Hill on April 20. 2007. He was 76.

"It's a great honor," a tearful Quincy Jones said, "but I wish two of my friends were around.

"In my heart, no one I have ever loved has left, Nancy Wilson said, "They're always here."

Pianist Oliver Jones, protege of the late Oscar Peterson, performed a moving rendition of Peterson's civil rights anthem "Hymn for Freedom." Peterson's widow, Kelly, and daughter, Celine, accepted the Jazz Master Award from Dana Gioia, NEA chairman.

Other 2008 NEA Jazz Masters are Candido Camero, 87, Tom McIntosh, 80, composer/arranger; Gunther Schuller, 83, historian, and trumpeter Joe Wilder, 81. "I will be 75 in a few months," Quincy Jones said, "and, whew, I don't know how we made it. "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." A two-time cancer and brain surgery survivor, Jones looked over his shoulder at his life and said, "It's all about hills and valleys and you learn who you are when you're in the valley."

Kurt Does Frank by Quincy

In tuxedo in front of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra he looked familiar—the slick black hair, the right moves, and when he sang he sounded so much like Frank, late 60s, vintage Vegas, you could close your eyes and swear Ole Blue Eyes was back in town.

Elling, with Quincy Jones' Sinatra at the Sands arrangements, swung through "Luck be a Lady," "You Make Me Feel So Young," and his own arrangement of "Leaving Again/In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" from Nightmoves, his new CD.

And then came Candido on three congas, Paquito with clarinet, and Joe Wilder on trumpet for a Grand Finale that had the house of 4000 on its feet, roaring for more. "More?" Candido asked, and flashed his fiery hands to encourage the notion.

Fame & Glory: Same Old Story

Standing on the corner in pre-dawn darkness waiting for the airport shuttle, he looked so at home I didn't recognize him at first. "Good time?"

"Great time," he said, smiling. "At first nobody got along. We were strangers. Didn't think we'd get it together. After rehearsal we all became friends. Didn't see Paquito," he said. "Too busy rehearsing. And we been jamming. Every night. It's been great. We just got in." It was 4:15 a.m. on a cold Sunday morning in Toronto. The bus came. Miguel loaded his horn.

"Don't want to go," he said.

As we rolled through Toronto's empty streets, I saw in reflected neon that the kid from Laredo had started growing a goatee.

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