As Noddy Holder and the mighty Slade remind us every year, "It's CHRISTMAAAAAAS." With the Yuletide festivities comes the annual avalanche of End Of Year lists, Best Of awards and Grammy nominations. This year, JazzLife UK adds its own awards to the list: the inaugural JazzLife UK Gilded Butterfly Awards (or GBs). In line with the GrammysJazzLife UK has streamlined the GBs, down from the originally proposed 642 categories to a core group of seven. But it's the seven that everyone covets.
The Voting Process
JazzLife UK decided, at an early stage, to make the process of awarding the GBs totally transparent. Too many music awards are shrouded in mysterywho votes? who nominates? how much does it cost to enter? The GBs are open and honest about all of these questions. There is no charge to enter these prestigious awards: no additional strain on the budgets of the management, the label, or the PR firm; no brown envelopes filled with used notes in small denominations. The costs are borne fully by JazzLife UK (and kept to a minimum by having no awards ceremony, no cash prizes and no statuettes of any description even ones that look amusingly like someone's relative).
Any contributor to the text of a JazzLife UK article during the year is eligible to make up to three nominations, and to vote for one winner, in each category. The 2011 Voting Panel was, therefore, as follows:
Number of contributors to JazzLife UK articles: 1.
Eligible members of the Voting Panel: 1.
Actual participating members of the Voting Panel: 1.
It's clear that, with a 100% voter turnout, the GBs are truly representative of the wishes of those who really matter.
The 2011 JazzLife UK Gilded Butterfly Awards
Album Of The Year
Forget about the resurgence of vinyl, dismiss the revival of the humble cassette, view the imminent re-imagining of the 8-track cartridge with disdain. There's one clear winner of the Album Of The Year in 2011: the Box Set.
Occasionally inexpensive (although anyone buying a Warner box set will need to factor in the cost of a magnifying glass in order to read the sleeve notes), often beautifully packaged, sometimes filled with indispensable outtakes, remixes, alternative takes and live versions, the box set offers the newcomer an artist's entire history in a single package. Admittedly, this can be too much to take in some cases, but it seems churlish to grumble.
Most Unjustly Ignored Instrument Of The Year
A unanimous verdict from the Voting Panel: it's the Squeaky Toy. No more need be said, surely? Especially when the award includes the humble balloon, as utilized by Polar Bear
This was a hotly contested Gilded Butterfly category. Falling album sales, closing venues, financial problems and rising costs all vied for nomination. But the award goes to a trend that seems to have almost dominated jazz in 2011, especially in the UK. "Jazz is dead," "jazz isn't cool any more," "he's not playing real jazz," "she's not improvising, she's not playing jazz" and more such dreary statements have appeared in print, on blogs, on the wireless and across Facebook and Twitter. Thank goodness television doesn't care about jazz, or they would no doubt have popped up on TV as well.
Despite all of the great things that are happening in jazzthe terrific young musicians who emerge year-after-year, the continued willingness of players to take musical risks, the energetic involvement of fans in the running of clubs, festivals, labels and blogsI suspect that this award might well go to the same nominee next year. I would carry on complaining, but then I'd have to share the award myself.
The Gilded Butterfly for Most Depressing Trend goes toWhinging. Or Whining. Or as Bobby Timmons
Thankfully, this category also had many potential nominees (see the "great things" listed above for just a few examples). But the Voting Panel went unanimously for one musical trendFusion.
This is not the twiddly-widdly, jazz-meets-prog fusion of decades past: there's no award here for overdriven guitars, squealing keyboards, badly styled hair. This is an award for the spirit of collaboration with which jazz encompasses many other musical genres: the spirit that incorporates British folk musics, European classical works, the traditions of India or North Africa and the back catalog of rock and roll. It's a spirit that led to the JazzLife UK mailbox receiving, within a single 48 hour period in December, jazz albums inspired by Merle Haggard, AC/DC and Guiseppe Verdi's Otello. It's also an award that recognizes the fusion that led to jazz itself.
So, Fusion, a well-deserved GB wings your way. But please, no celebratory synthesizer solos.
Most Justifiably Resurgent Instrument
Another relatively uncontested category, as one clear winner stood out in all its ungainly and cumbersome glory. The GB goes to the Bass Clarinet.
It looks funny, it sounds funny, it's bendy in an almost sensuous fashion. In the hands of players such as Shabaka Hutchings
(pictured left) it brings great joy and delight to all who hear it. Welcome back, Bass Clarinet.
Band Or Ensemble Of The Year
The Voting Panel displayed real indecision for this GB. The duo was initially rejected on the grounds that two people is not a band, then reinstated on the grounds that a lot of duos are quite good. Individual artists playing multiple instruments through the wonders of modern technology, or simply by attaching a selection of accoutrements to their bodies to enable the simultaneous playing of guitar, harmonica and percussion, were excluded with no discussion.
Eventually, the winner self-selected through the rather threatening argument that "My band's bigger than your band."
The winner is: the Big Band.
It might be more correct to give the award to Big Bands; such is the diversity of ensembles that is to be found. There are big bands playing original material, big bands re-imagining the music of past greats such as Duke Ellington
, student big bands, amateur big bands. Despite (or perhaps because of) the economic downturn more and more young players seem intent on establishing their own versions of these unmanageable, financially suicidal agglomerations. And more power to them.
The Sharp Dressed Man (or Woman) Award
JazzLife UK has long held the belief that sartorial elegance is paramount in any successful jazz performance, and is convinced that the nattily-dressed musician can get away with far more on-stage errors than his or her less elegantly attired compatriot. Sadly, it's all too clear to JazzLife UK that far too few jazz people (with the honorable exception of vocalists) share this view. Hence this final, and most prestigious, Gilded Butterflythe Sharp Dressed Man (or Woman) award. After much heated debate a clear winner emerged. It's at the foundation, literally, of style and so seems especially worthy of this inaugural GB.
The winner is: The Brogue.
Practical, hard-wearing, comfortable, elegant and at home on the feet of men and women alike, the brogue is the stylish jazzer's footwear of choice. In black, it works perfectly with the dark suit so often required when deputizing in a functions band. In tan or oxblood it looks good when paired with denim (if denim must be worn on stage). For the racier young performer, in a jive or swing combo perhaps, the two-tone brogue (or Spectator), in brown and white, sets off a cutting-edge trouseras sported by bandleader and trumpeter Jay Phelps
in this article's lead photo above. And if a quick spot of onstage instrument repair is necessary, the brogue doubles effectively as a hammerjust try that with a pair of hi-tops.
Style and function: the brogue deserves its Gilded Butterfly.
What's Wrong With The British Jazz Scene This Month?
Lots, probably. But nothing that a bass clarinet and squeaky toy big band fusing jazz and Warwickshire Morris tunes couldn't fix. As long as the band members wear brogues. JazzLife UK looks forward to the Box Set and wishes everyone a Happy New Year.