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2008: A Year of Jazz Tumult, Controversy and Achievements

By Published: January 1, 2009
The demise of one of the world's premier jazz advocacy organizations topped the jazz world's headlines during 2008, a year that also saw several jazz festivals impacted by the worsening economy. Yet the music itself—and its makers—continue to survive if not thrive in many ways.

Here's a look at notable happenings and achievements:

IAJE: The International Association of Jazz Education, long considered the largest and perhaps most powerful jazz advocacy group, became a victim of its own success in April when it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The 35-year-old music educators' nonprofit group was best known for an annual winter jazz conference for professional and student musicians, educators, producers, record company executives and others from every corner of the jazz world. It's exhausting four-day annual gathering of seminars, concerts, workshops and musicians' hang generally attracted as many as 8,000 attendees. The tipping point was a disastrous conference in Toronto in January 2008, where the turnout was off by 40 percent. Educators and their students will miss its impact.

Economic woes: Jazz festivals are not immune to the twists and turns of the greater economy. Just ask promoters in Montreal, Oregon and Wales.

  • The Montreal International Jazz Festival announced late in the year that General Motors, one of the ailing big three U.S. automakers, will not renew its primary sponsorship of the world's largest and one of its most prestigious jazz events. Festival producers said GM Canada's 10-year involvement will run through the 30th annual festival in June and July 2009. Organizers are shopping for a new principal sponsor beginning with the 2010 edition.

  • What was here yesterday is gone today—but will be back tomorrow. That's how it seemed in Portland, Oregon in September. Three weeks after Portland Jazz Festival organizers announced their event was ceasing operations, they announced plans for a sixth annual festival in 2009 were back on, thanks to a multi-year title sponsorship agreement with Alaska Airlines.

  • The Brecon Jazz Festival in Wales closed after 25 years of operation and major losses in the summer of 2008. At year end, efforts were under way to develop support for staging a new jazz event next summer in the Mid-Wales market town.


Controversy in Denver: Jazz is all about individual expression, unless that involves tinkering with the national anthem. Singer Rene Marie got significant media attention after she performed a modified version of the national anthem at the Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's State of the City address. Marie sang lyrics to "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing"—a song that's also known as the Black national anthem - to a modified melody of "The Star Spangled Banner." "I didn't expect that singing the song would garner this kind of attention," Marie said. "I had sung the exact same song at the Colorado Prayer Luncheon earlier this year before a much larger and wider audience and there wasn't even a ripple." The singer called what she performed "a love song to her country. "The last thing I wanted to do was cause trouble for the mayor and so I have apologized directly to him for any distress that may have resulted from my singing," she said. "As for offending others with my music, I cannot apologize for that. It goes with the risky territory of being an artist."

Bringing new meaning to jazz licks: The U.S. Postal Service issues two new jazz-related postage stamps in 2008. The first, honoring singer Frank Sinatra, was initially sold in May in three cities important to his life—his birthplace in Hoboken, N.J., New York City, where his career took off in the 1940s, and Las Vegas, the home of his "Rat Pack" days. The Postal Service issued a Latin Jazz stamp in September, coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month.

Significant outreach: Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu announced that $6 million in state and federal funding will make a world-class Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans a reality, showcasing Louisiana's rich history as the birthplace of jazz. The Mint was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, but restoration efforts were completed in October 2007. At the core of the Louisiana State Museum's Music Collection is its internationally-known Jazz Collection, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the world. The exhibit has been stored since being evacuated from the storm. It will return as an integral part of the Centennial Project. The Jazz Museum is projected to be completed by 2010.

  • Minton's Playhouse in Harlem announced a massive expansion in its jazz programming and community outreach through the formation of the non-profit foundation Minton's Mentors. It also forged an international partnership with South Africa's Fort Hare University's Jazz Studies Department.

  • The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., created a venue dedicated to celebrating the culture of New Orleans and Louisiana for its June 12-18, 2008 event. The "Somethin' Else-New Orleans" venue featured Crescent City music all day and all night for the festival's weekend run.


First Bird, then Satchmo: Actor Forrest Whitaker, who played Charlie Parker in the film Bird, has been cast in the role of Louis Armstrong in the biopic What a Wonderful World, that is being produced by the Paris-based company Legende.

The envelopes, please: Jazz awards and honors were plentiful in 2008.
  • Herbie Hancock's The River: The Joni Letters, a tribute to the songs of Joni Mitchell, was the first jazz album in 43 years to win Album of the Year honors at the Grammy Awards, the last one being Stan Getz and João Gilberto's Getz/Gilberto classic. The other jazz awards were:

  • Best Jazz Vocal Album: Patti Austin, Avant Gershwin

  • Best Jazz Instrumental Solo: "Anagram," Michael Brecker, soloist

  • Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group: Michael Brecker, Pilgrimage

  • Best large Jazz Ensemble Album: Terence Blanchard, A Tale Of God's Will (A Requiem For Katrina)

  • Best Latin Jazz Album: Paquito D'Rivera Quintet, Funk Tango

  • Best Instrumental Composition: Maria Schneider, for her work "Cerulean Skies" from Sky Blue

  • Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon and music critic Alex Ross won two of 2008's $500,000 "genius fellowships" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Zenón was cited for "his potential in terms of 'creating a new jazz language for the 21st century." With $500,000 in MacArthur funding over five years, he plans to bring jazz back to Puerto Rico, organizing a series of free concerts in several cities there. Ross authored a cultural history of 20th century music called "The Rest is Noise."

  • Pianist/composer Geri Allen was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for music composition. According to a news release, "Allen's project celebrates humanity and embraces the continuity of innovation as personified by three artists: pianist-composers Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor."

  • New York-based alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon won the 21st annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Tim Green of Baltimore finished second, and Quamon Fowler of Fort Worth, Texas, was third in the 2008 competition.

  • Three high school jazz bands took top honors in Jazz at Lincoln Center's 13th annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival in May. First place went to Roosevelt High School in Seattle, followed by Garfield High School in Seattle and Sun Prairie High School in Sun Prairie, Wisc.

  • Drummer Han Bennink of The Netherlands was honored with the European Jazz Prize 2008, the top honor among the Austria-based Hans Koller Preis 2008.

  • Pianist Hank Jones was one of six recipients of the National Medal of Arts on November 17 from President George Bush at the White House.

  • Not waiting for the calendar year to roll around, and absent an IAJE concert, the National Endowment for the Arts in October presented recipients of the 2009 NEA Jazz Masters Award, the nation's highest honor in the genre. The six recipients were singer-guitarist George Benson, drummer Jimmy Cobb, saxophonist Lee Konitz, harmonica and guitarist Toots Thielemans and trumpeter Snooky Young. Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder received the 2009 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.

  • ASCAP added six musical greats to its Jazz Wall of Fame at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The 2008 inductees were Ron Carter, Bill Holman and Sonny Rollins, as well as posthumous greats Bunny Berigan, Art Blakey and Tadd Dameron. Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba was honored with the ASCAP Foundation's Vanguard Award.

  • Composer-arranger-big band leader Maria Schneider took home the most awards, four, including Record, Composer, Arranger and Large Ensemble of the Year honors, at The Jazz Journalists Association's 2008 Jazz Awards. Pianist Marian McPartland was given a JJA's Lifetime Achievement award. Among the many awards at the 12th annual event, Hank Jones won Pianist of the Year honors, Herbie Hancock was named Musician of the Year and singer-guitarist Lionel Loueke was named Up and Coming Musician of the Year.

  • The 2008 inductees to the California Museum's California Hall of Fame included jazz pianist Dave Brubeck and producer/musician Quincy Jones.

  • During a celebration of jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown's legacy at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, comedian/kid's show host Soupy Sales was presented with a medal and certificate for his "advancement and preservation of jazz." Now in his early 80s, Sales was a huge jazz fan and regularly introduced greats like Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker to the stage of his 1950s Detroit-based Soupy's On TV show. Brown's appearance on the show remains the only film in existence of Brown playing his trumpet.


Remembering Jaco: Twenty years after his death, the city of Oakland Park, Fla., has honored late bassist Jaco Pastorius, a native son, by dedicating a local park in his honor. The December 1 grand opening (held on Jaco's birthday) was followed by a free Jazz on the Green concert featuring several artists who were closely associated with Pastorius.

Billy Tipton legacy battle resolved: A court in Spokane, Wash., greed to award the estate of pianist and bandleader Billy Tipton to three illegally adopted heirs. Tipton had never been legally married with the woman he lived with as his wife. Furthermore, after his death Tipton turned out to be a woman who had lived for years as a man. The children "just tried as best they could to live with the hand they were dealt," said the judge and awarded them the $300,000 estate.

Here are one writer's choices for the top jazz recordings and reissues of 2008.

The 10 best new jazz releases, listed alphabetically:

  • Brian Blade, Season of Changes (Verve)

  • Randy Brecker, Randy in Brazil (MAMA Records)

  • Avishai Cohen Trio, Gently Disturbed (RazDaz)

  • Donal Fox, The Scarlatti Jazz Suite Project (Leonellis Music)

  • Melody Gardot, Worrisome Heart(Verve)

  • Generations, Tough Guys(ICA)

  • The Roy Hargrove Quintet, Earfood (Groovin' High/EmArcy)

  • Danilo Perez, Across the Crystal Sea (EmArcy)

  • John Santos Quintet, Perspectiva Fragmentada (Machete)

  • The Stein Brothers Quintet, Quixotic, (Jazzed Media)



The 10 best new songs of 2008, listed alphabetically:

  • Brian Blade, "Stoner Hill" from Season of Changes (Verve)

  • Jon Cowherd, "Return of the Prodigal Son" from Brian Blade Fellowship's Season of Changes (Verve)

  • Taylor Eigsti, "Let It Come to You" (Concord Jazz)

  • Tigran Hamasyan, "Leaving Paris" from New Era (Plus Loin)

  • Virginia Mayhew, "Toe Tickler" from Duke Ellington Legacy's Thank You, Uncle Edward (Renma)

  • Pete Malinverni, "Istanbul" from Invisible Cities (Reservoir)

  • Dafnis Prieto, "Until the Last Minute" from Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music)

  • Marty Sheller, "The Route 40 Flyer" from Why Deny (PVR Records)

  • Brooke Sofferman, "Da Bull Stops Here" from Fine Whines (Summit)

  • Bobby Watson, "For Milt" from From the Heart (Palmetto)



The best jazz boxed set or historic recordings of 2008, listed alphabetically:

  • Dave Brubeck, Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007 (Concord Jazz)

  • Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, Showtime at the Spotlite, 52nd Street, New York City, June 1946 (Uptown)

  • Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Blue Note)

  • Horace Silver, Live at Newport '58 (Doxy)

  • Nina Simone, To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story (Legacy Recordings)



Final Bars

The list of jazz and jazz-related musicians, singers and industry figures who have passed on to the celestial jazz big band keeps on growing, year-by-year. Heavyweight losses during 2008 included Bill Finegan, Jimmy Giuffre, Johnny Griffin, Neal Hefti, Freddie Hubbard, Eartha Kitt, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Teo Macero, Miriam Makeba Jimmy McGriff, Dave McKenna and Esbjorn Svensson.

Here is the full list, in alphabetical order by instrument and artist:

Arranger and bandleader Bill Finegan; bandleader and historian Harry O. Brunn.

Bassists Dave Carpenter, Hubie Crawford (late 2007), Mel Graves, Dennis Irwin, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Earl May, Wilfrid Middlebrooks, Jushi (Jean Segal).

Clarinetist Mahlon Clark (late 2007), Al Gallodoro and Derek Moore; clarinetist, writer and educator John Fell.

Cornetist, bandleader and writer Richard Sudhalter.

Drummers Jimmy Carl Black, Rob Blumenthal, Omar Clay, Bobby Durham, Allan Ganley, Randy Kaye. Kostas Kouvidis, (2007). Buddy Miles, Mitch Mitchell, Earl Palmer, Tony Reedus, Bill Reichenbach, Klaus Weiss, Peer Wybori, Lee Young; drummer and percussionists Diego "Mofeta" Iborra and Jozef Dodo Šošoka.

Guitarists Joe Beck, Hiram Bullock, Jimmy Gourley, Davy Graham, Augusto Mancinelli, Nico Rojas, George Russell, Wayne Wright; guitarist, singer, and bandleader Frankie Tam Sr.; guitarist and educator Werner Pöhlert.

Multi-instrumentalist, composer and label owner George Davis.

Multi-reed players Alfred J. Gallodoro and Jimmy Giuffre.

Organists Jimmy McGriff and Winston Walls.

Percussionist Omar Clay, George Gaber (late 2007), Walter "Tata" Gross, Tata Güines (Federico Aristides Soto), Norman Hedman, Randy Kaye, Tommy Lopez Sr., Long Joe Rodriguez, Salah Ragab.

Pianists Chris Anderson, John Arpin (late 2007), Patti Bown, Kenn Cox, Joseph Diamond, Larry Eanet, William "Doc" Hunter (late 2007), Ronnie Mathews, Dave McKenna, Marc Moulin, Bheki Mseleku, BJ Papa (William Jackson), John Osnes, Jack Perciful, Yusuf Salim, Esbjörn Svensson, Bobby Tucker, Lawrence Wheatley, Gerry Wiggins and John Young; pianist, bandleader and arranger Bob Florence; keyboardist Merl Saunders; pianist, composer and producer Geo Voumard; pianist and singer Page Cavanaugh.

Saxophonists Phil Bodner, Frank Chace (late 2007), Pat Crumly, Leo Curran, Arne Domnerus, Ray Ellis, Bob Green, Johnny Griffin, Franz Jackson, Henry MacKenzie (late 2007); LeRoi Moore, Danny Moss, Ray Reed, Joe Romano, Mario Schiano, Hal Stein, Mike Terry, Phil Urso, Donald Walden and Monty Waters; saxophonist and clarinetists Gene Allen, Alfredo Gallodoro; saxophonist and bandleader educator Jack Oatts; saxophonist, educator and civil rights activist Andy Goodrich; saxophonist, songwriter and bandleader George Lee.

Singers Clea Bradford, Connie Haines, Eartha Kitt, Evelyn Knight (late 2007), Julián Llános, Frances Lynne, Mae Mercer, Anca Parghel , Gene Puerling, Irene Reid, Lita Roza, Jo Stafford, Yma Sumac, Ralph Young; singer, pianist, bandleader, and composer Iris Bell; singer, composer, and guitarist Dorival Caymmi, singer and guitarist Henri Salvador; singer-guitarist-trumpeter and clarinetist Jeff Healey; singer and actress Edie Adams; singer, actress and painter Estelle Reiner; and singer and activist Miriam Makeba.

Trombonist Deryck "Kanga" Bailey, Warren Brown, Jimmy Cleveland and Ralph Hutchinson; trombonist and jazz critic Campbell Burnap.

Trumpeters Pete Condoli, Bob Enos, Freddie Hubbard, Tommy McQuater, Johnny Moore, Calvin Owens and Keith Smith; trumpeter, composer and arranger Neal Hefti; trumpeter and pianist John Brunious; trumpeter, clarinetist, bandleader, broadcaster and author Humphrey Lyttleton; trumpeter, big band leader and vocalist Tommy Sampson.

Vibraphonist Walt Dickerson.

Violinist Titi Winterstein; Violinist and record producer Gayle Dixon.

Blues, R&B, Soul, Zydeco, Gospel and doo-wop performers Nappy Brown, Bo Diddley, Evelyn "Cookie" Gabriel, Isaac Hayes, Pervis Jackson, George Jones, Robert Lucas, Ulysses Slaughter, Levi Stubbs, Ira Tucker, Dee Dee Warwick and Al Wilson. Blues and folk singer, guitarist and social activist Odetta Holmes.

Blues radio hosts Dee (Cap'n Pete) Henderson and Steve Ladd.

Broadcaster Joseph J. Valerio.

Composers Donald Erb and Lew Spence; composer, producer and record company executive Clyde Otis; composer and trombonist Earle H. Hagen; composer, educator, and pianist Ray Loring; composer and electronic instruments inventor Michel Waisvisz.

Festival founder, pianist, broadcaster, and composer Géo Voumard.

Filmmaker George Lamboy.

Manager, producer, booker, and bandleader Jerry Kravat.

Painter Iba Ndiaye.

Photographers William Claxton, David Gahr and Michael P. Smith.

Piano manufacturing executive Henry Steinway.

Poet Hayden Carruth; poet and performance artist Peter Rühmkorf.

Record company executives Jheryl Busby and George Butler; record producer, saxophonist and composer Teo Macero; Record producer Ozzie Cadena; record producer and writer Jerry Wexler.

Dancer and educator Gus Giordano; tap dancers LaVaughn Robinson and Jimmy Slyde.

Writers Werner Burkhardt, Ed Fenner III and Edgardo Vega Yunqué, writer and educator Wilfrid Mellers; writer and broadcaster broadcaster Erik Eriksson; writer and producer Juul Anthonissen; writer and publicist Peter Levinson; writer, jazz critic, writer, producer and activist Rosetta Reitz; syndicated radio talk show host and actor Studs Turkel; broadcaster and promoter Norm Bobrow; broadcaster Bill Pandozzi.

Hartford Jazz Society co-founder Arthur T. Fine (late 2007); jazz society founder and president Harold Gray.

Mona Hinton, wife of bassist and photographer Milt Hinton.


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