Crossing Borders: Reflections on the 30th Annual IAJE Conference
Even though each day's schedule of events would get started by 9 a.m., those of us used to swinging into the wee hours of the previous night would find a little extra sleep in order before officially starting one's day at IAJE. It was strictly 'standing room only' then for an eleven o'clock panel that highlighted the gifts of 2003's NEA Jazz Masters Elvin Jones, Jimmy Heath, and Abbey Lincoln. Once again, Dr. Billy Taylor offered some perceptive questions with each participant weighing in with both amusing and thought-provoking commentary. Lincoln offered insight into the events surrounding the alternative performances that her and ex-hubby Max Roach fronted at the time of the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival. For Heath, the economic windfall as of late has been plentiful due to the sampling of some of his classic recordings by today's hip-hop artists. Do doubt though, it was Jones who earned the greatest attention, with discussions of everything from his appearance in a cowboy flick back in the late '60s to his time spent with John Coltrane and recording at Rudy Van Gelder's studios.
After lunchtime, saxophone maker Keilwerth gathered some distinguished horn men for a tribute to the late baritone saxophonist Nick Brignola. With Gary Smulyan holding down the low end, the extended front line also included Mike Smith, Dave Liebman, Ernie Watts, and Don Braden. The charts were strong ('Syeeda's Song Flute' and Liebman's pretty 'Mommy's Eyes' were standouts) and the solos no less engaging, even if the focus on Brignola seemed merely perfunctory at times.
The rest of my afternoon involved networking with some musicians and catching an early evening cocktail bash hosted by the Jazz Journalists Association. President Howard Mandel sure knows how to throw a party and both the libations and the company were top notch. Sighted at this gathering were AAJ publisher Michael Ricci and fellow AAJers Ken Dryden, Forrest Bryant, and David Adler.
Friday evening at the main hall featured both Slide Hampton's The World of Trombones and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Jazz Orchestra. It was great to see such legends as James Moody and Frank Wess rubbing elbows with youngsters like Greg Gisbert, Antonio Hart, and Robin Eubanks. As far as the rhythm section went, Renee Rosnes continued to strut her stuff as did drummer Dennis Mackrel, who might just be one of the best big band drummers that I've heard in quite some time. Even Nancy Wilson's two brief cameos cut right to the chase without the histrionics that can often tarnish her flashy presentations.
Saturday, January 11
By Saturday morning I quickly realized that I had yet spent any significant time in the large exhibit hall where instrument manufacturers, record labels, colleges, and other organizations were doing business and making connections. So that meant cutting back on the workshops and panels, but a 1 p.m. performance by the Maritime Jazz Orchestra featuring Kenny Wheeler was not to be missed and ultimately proved to be another gem of a moment. Of course, opportunities to see the 73-year-old Wheeler are limited at best for American fans, but what an unadulterated luxury it was to hear the accomplished Maritime unit tackle Wheeler's majestic originals including a standby 'Double, Double You.' In the front row I spotted fellow trumpet talents Greg Gisbert and Brad Goode soaking up the inspiration offered by Wheeler as he skirted in and out of his multifarious charts with strong-willed solos on both trumpet and flugelhorn.
Later in the afternoon, it was another rare event that brought pianist Denny Zeitlin to the John Bassett Theatre. For a recital that reiterated the pianist's importance as one of the finest innovators to emerge from the post-Bill Evans school of trio performance, Zeitlin shared the stage with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson. According to Wilson, this group has been working together on and off over the past six months and the empathy they shared was clearly evident. Even on familiar standards, the trio took things into unexplored territory and everyone in the hall seemed to enjoy the opportunity to come along for the ride.
Before retreating to a Thai restaurant for a well-deserved feast and then out to a sports bar for drinks and conversation with a few other journalists, I attended a panel featuring our own Michael Ricci, along with The Jazz Corner's Lois Gilbert, Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services, and Bill King of ejazznews.com. The topic involved a discussion of innovative approaches for marketing jazz on the Internet and it was a popular one for the musicians and arts presenters present, who guided the session's direction by asking their own questions throughout.