2008: A Year of Jazz Tumult, Controversy and Achievements
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.