2005 Jazz Journalists Awards at B.B. King's - A Hot and Successful Night

AAJ Staff By

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Maria Schneider took away the most awards (four) this year, holding forth with an admiring entourage afterwards.
The 9th Annual Jazz Awards at B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill in New York City went smoothly.

And a real crowd-pleaser was what seemed like a 12-minute, amazing drum rendition by Jack DeJohnette.

Many jazz industry greats—musicians, producers and journalists—as well as others, such as actors in the entertainment industry, announced winners of the JJA Awards at B.B. King's on June 14, with even more of their colleagues receiving well-deserved recognition from the Jazz Journalists Association.

Quite a few winners were present at the popular, overflowing jazz community gathering put on by the JJA along with underwriting sponsor BETJazz, while others were away at gigs or sent representatives to receive their awards celebrating excellence in jazz and jazz journalism.

Maria Schneider took away the most awards (four) this year, holding forth with an admiring entourage afterwards. Some said she really needed an escort home with all those statues. Jason Moran also won in several categories, piano and ensemble. And the great legendary pianist Hank Jones took the honor for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz.

Howard Mandel disclosed that Jones was home in Hartford, N.Y., but that Cecil Taylor, who won the coveted award last year, would accept the award for Jones. And Taylor did, saying, "I feel honored to be asked to receive this for Mr. Jones because of how I feel for the brothers - and for the extra pleasure I enjoyed with Elvin, as well as for the encouragement I received from Thad." You could feel everyone in the crowd agree with Taylor as the vice president of the JJA, Willard Jenkins, came up to present the next awards.

AllAboutJazz.com, the important organization for jazz news, reviews and features, took the top honors in its category. Michael Ricci, its founder, was away on business, said Chris M. Slawecki, a colleague and friend of Ricci's, who accepted the award for All About Jazz to great applause. "Mike Ricci would want this award for all of the dedicated, great volunteer All About Jazz staff."

For one musician, three was the magic number. After actor Joe Piscopo announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the organ keyboard player of the year, Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith," the humble musician revealed his gratitude:

"For three years in a row, I have been nominated and after three years it has finally come true: I won a JJA Award this year. It means so much to me. My advice is to just stick with it, whatever you do."

Don't Give Up

That seemed to be a theme: The idea of jazz musicians, jazz journalists and photojournalists persisting in a craft they love and have chosen, sharing their skills and talents—and bringing joy and needed information to others. The awards event benefited the Jazz Foundation of America's Musicians Emergency Fund and the Jazz Journalists Association's educational initiatives.

Beatifully-coiffed in the wonderfully air-conditioned music club on an especially sticky 4-7 p.m. evening, Marian MacPartland, known for her agile fingers on the piano, surprised us when she said, "Why do these envelopes always stick together when you want them opened?" She pronounced Rhonda Hamilton, from WBGO, a winner. Because Hamilton was not present, Dorthaan Kirk, her colleague at WBGO, went up for an affectionate hug ("Oh sweetheart," they told each other) and to accept the award.

The night went like that: lots of networking, celebrating, looking at photographs of Dizzy Gillespie, Barry Harris and others on the two big screens and in the Silent Auction— giving us all a much needed, happy respite for the jazz community.

Quamon Fowler, saxophonist/composer/arranger of Fort Worth, Texas, warmed up the excited audience with his group's music. An ASCAP winner, Fowler represented the new generation, using hip hop in his jazz music. Bob Reynolds, another ASCAP winner, closed the jazz awards with his group. Ken Cicerale, director of awards for ASCAP, said he was happy these young musicians could play at the JJA Awards. Other young musicians also entertained.

A touching moment was when Jimmy Heath accepted one of the A-Team Awards fot the Heath Brothers. "I'll give Percy's to his wife June," Heath said. The noted bassist and longtime member of the Heath Brothers and the famed Modern Jazz Quartet, had passed on recently, and Percy Heath was in people's thoughts and hearts. Another touching moment was when Arnie Lawrence's name came up.

Several other notables who stopped up to the stage and delighted the jazz audience were Dr. Billy Taylor, Clark Terry and George Wein. Before Wein announced the Jason Moran Trio as the best small ensemble of the year, the producer commmented that "traveling in Times Square was unbelievable!" He praised Moran:

"Jason, you're a great young pianist - and enjoy this win! You have a good group, a cool group."

While Lonnie Smith waited three years to win, one musician won three years in a row! When Andy Bey took best male jazz singer, he said, "Ive gotten this award three years in a row, and I think the Jazz Journalists Association is the greatest group for the work that they do—and I thank them for honoring me. I also have to thank Herb Jorgan, Geri Allen, Frank Wess and Cornelia Pitts. This award is for them, too, for working with me."

Getting to the sort of theme of the night—persistence in jazz—Bey told the audience to keep enjoying this industry, even thought it is a business: "If you can, just hang in the business. the setbacks mke you keep going.

"Everybody is a winner if you can keep going and hang in there."

Even Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz at Rutgers University, was able to be handed a statue by Ira Gitler. Said Morgenstern, "Thank you Ira. Maybe it's because I've been around so long, that eventually you'd be able to give me something." They smiled together happily on stage.

And the New York night went on, with many more winners. Yvonne Ervin, on the board of the JJA and a Hot House writer, said, "I really think the jazz awards went smoothly. They went off really well. I love being in New York City. The awards ceremony was fabulous."

Bob Cunningham, bassist, said he was "just delighted to see the Heath Brothers get an award."

Fran McIntyre, vocalist and television producer, says the JJA Awards are needed to recognize artists and "to give them praise for their accomplishments. I am glad I am a member; it makes me feel like we are really doing something worthwhile. Keep doing it JJA—and congratulations to the winners."

Howard Mandel, president of the JJA and longtime jazz journalist, proudly gave the flautist-of-the-year award to Frank Wess. "I'm such an amateur flutist, but I'm so glad to give Frank this award." Wess then said short and sweetly, "I thank all the jazz journalists and flutists who help me have a valid voice in jazz."

Mandell brought author Michelle Mercer to the stage (Footprints, the Wayne Shorter book) to announce the awards in the saxophone categories. Judy Silvano accepted for her husband Joe Lovano, tenor saxophonist, who was away in California for a Sax Summit. "He's a very hard-working musician; I know that for sure. Thanks for the recognition."

Phil Woods won for alto; Wayne Shorter for soprano saxophone. Neither were present. "If Wayne were here, he'd say something like 'I don't really play the soprano saxophone,' but he'll definitely put the award statue in a place of honor with the others...in his home," said his biographer. When it came time for the baritone sax award, the author exclaimed, "And she's even here!"

Claire Daly, the winner, was very happy to be voted the baritone saxophonist of the year. "A blessing for one is a blessing for another," she said. "I have to think of the other baritone saxophonists. I've been to these JJA Awards events a number of times and I'm just so happy to be a part of our community."

Later at the bar, where a lot of networking was happening, Daly said, "It was so shocking to me to win: I was shaking. I don't even know what I said." Writer Bill Milkowski kissed her—and others did, too, as she was holding her familiar video camera (she loves documenting jazz).

Tom Staudt, a journalist for the New York Times and Downbeat, called the Jazz Awards a "perfect place" for people to meet. "This is a great place for people to come and meet friends. I'm big into friendship." He shook hands with Fred Hersch, who walked by. Voicist Barbara Sfraga would agree, saying, "It was fun. I got to see a lot of old friends—and make some new ones, too, tonight!"

At that point, Don Byron was announced as the clarinet winner. He was not present, but they said he was going to be working at the Vanguard. Then John Abbott (for a picture of Henry Grimes) took best photo of the year, saying, "As long as I can keep seeing, I'll keep taking photographs. This is just a great group." Jack Vartoovian took photographer of the year.

Other winnners this year were Regina Carter for strings, Jim Hall for guitar and Stefan Harris for vibes. Said Harris, "This award really means a lot to me. I'm working hard." Carter wasn't there and Hall was recording at the New School.

Michael Dorf joked on stage: "It was really cool tonight to see George Wein without a tie. I think we've come a long way in jazz!" Everyone laughed. Dorf said he felt enthusiastic and proud to participate "in this well-organized event."

And what a great night it was with a lot of good vibes and good-natured ribbing. Ira Gitler, at one point, called the night "antiseptic," but was thrilled to later intoduce his friend Dan Morgenstern, who won an award for his huge achievements in jazz.

Paxton Baker came back on again and re-announced Todd Barkan for the cameras. Barkan was acclaimed as one of the great jazz events producers. "One of the great secrets in this secrets for surviving in this business is to keep breathing. You have to keep breathing. I'd like to thank Wynton Marsalis and all the great people who work at Jazz at Lincoln Center. It's a dream for all of us who work there. And you all take care of yourself and we'll take care of you."

Martin Mueller got up and said, "I'm very proud of the relationship with Hoard and the JJA. It's all about partnering. We'll keep pushing for that." Mueller cited the vision of the late Arnie Lawrence, who passed on recently, in the jazz program at the New School.

Wendy Oxenhorn talked about the Jazz Foundation of America's Musicians Emergency Fund ("If it were the HIP Foundation, I'd be rich and get me a big home!") and how it has grown and all the doctors who work for free. She mentioned Ben Riley and how musicians aren't turned away from being helped. She said in the beginning they helped 35 musicians a year and how that figure is up to 35 musicians a week.

Said performer Bob Wisdom, "We often hear that jazz is dead. That is just not true. This music will take you to places none of you can imagine. I'm so happy to be alive to see all this music and all these musicians." He mentioned the Sy Johnson Octet. Just then George Avakian walked by the bar and said he had some work to do. "I have to announce some winners."

Sitting near the stage was young tenor saxophonist Tommy Morimoto, who came to accept in case Roswell Rudd won for trombone. "It has been so great to see everbody: all the great musicians are being recognized. I don't think I have ever seen so many talented, great musicians in one place!"

(L-R) David Adler, Carla Rupp, Chris Slawecki, R.J. DeLuke, C. Andrew Hovan

The night was always in good humor. When George Avakian (producer for Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck) got up to give the award to AllAboutJazz.com, he said, "They didn't used to have all these dots!"

"I'd like to thank our founder and publisher, Mike Ricci, who could not be here with us this evening, Senior Editor Chris M. Slawecki said in accepting the award. "I'd like to thank the JJA for presenting this award, and everyone who voted for us so that we could win this award. I'd like to thank our readers.

"Most of all, I'd like to thank our writers, he concluded. "At any time, AAJ has between two and three hundred volunteer writers, people who do what they do just for their love of the music. This belongs to them. Thank you very much.

Other important journalist winners were Bob Blumenthal and Ben Ratliff. Said Blumental, "I'd like to thank all of those who have asked me to write liner notes. I would like to acknowledge my friends Gene Lees, the late Leonard Feather, Stanley Dance, Dan Morgenstern and Gary Giddens. They have all been examples to follow."

Concluded Howard Mandel, "This evening has been an incredible expedition." He thanked a long list of people, including his daughter Rosie, Lois Gilbert, people from Blue Note, Hot House, E*Trade and many more.

Discuss the 2005 JJA Awards on the AAJ Bulletin Board.

Visit the JJA on the web.

Photo Credit
R. Andrew Lepley

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