2009: The Year in Jazz

Ken Franckling By

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A year of troubles and triumphs—and some retooling

The jazz world was far from immune to the economic woes that have dogged nations, corporations and consumers around the globe for more than a year. A review of 2009 shows that the impact was profound. Despite it all—the music played on with adjustments in some cases. And it enjoys a high-profile spotlight at the White House.

Festival news

One of the biggest and longest-running sagas peaked early in 2009 when Festival Network LLC, which had bought veteran producer George Wein's operations two years earlier, ran aground financially—pretty much collapsing a wide range of festivals—some which had been run by Wein, and a few destination events that FN's upstart entrepreneurs started themselves.

A San Diego-based health care spin off called CareFusion helped Wein salvage Newport in 2009, and committed to his revival of the former JVC Festival in New York starting in June 2010. "George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival-Newport 55" was a success, as was his 50th anniversary edition of the Newport Folk Festival the prior August weekend. There is great confidence that CareFusion will be back in Newport again in 2010 and perhaps beyond.

Other festivals had their own drama. The Portland Jazz Festival in Oregon was closed to pulling the plug for 2009, but Alaska Airlines arrived on time as a cash-infusing presenting sponsor, The festival took place in February, but the economy caused the cancellation of a final weekend concert by singer Cassandra Wilson and Jason Moran because there were only 400 advance sales for the 3,000-seat venue.

Because of financial problems and the economy, organizers of the nonprofit Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival in northern Arizona decided against mounting their 28th festival in 2009 but plan to bring back the festival in 2010. The festival is a key incubator/supporter for new generations of jazz players in Arizona.

There was much positive festival news as well. The Montreal International Jazz Festival and Detroit Jazz Festival celebrated their 30th anniversaries in grand fashion (with Montreal tacking on an extra day of programming and opening its own new building overlooking the festival site), and several festivals tied the Blue Note jazz label's 70th anniversary into their programming.

Magazines retool

There were all sorts of twists and turns in the jazz print media—not a surprise given the ill health of most American newspapers these days. JazzTimes suspended publication, then was bought by Boston-based Madavor Media and is now producing seriously juiced online content, as well as a slimmed down print edition. JAZZIZ shifted from 10 issues per year to quarterly print publication supplemented by more-frequent digital issues. Canada's 50-year-old bimonthly jazz bible, Coda, suspended publication, while Mississippi Rag ended its traditional jazz coverage with publisher Leslie Johnson's death in January. After it own two-month hiatus (March and April) Britain's long-running Jazz Journal International resumed publication and absorbed the defunct Jazz Review. Latin Beat published its last print issue in August, shifting the magazine to the Web in mid-September.

The Obamas and jazz

Barack and Michelle Obama love jazz-and the music has been in the spotlight this year at White House events and other Obama-related gatherings. Bassist Esparanza Spalding has been a frequent performance guest at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and performed December 10 at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo -the day that President Obama received the award.

Jazz singers and musicians were prominent the pre-inauguration "A Celebration of America" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, as well as the Lincoln Memorial outdoor celebration. In June, jazz was the theme when the First Lady hosted the first White House "Jazz Studio" as part of a regular music education series she is overseeing.

In late summer, a new jazz composition about Mrs. Obama had its world premiere in Chicago at the Spertus Institute. Chicago flutist Nicole Mitchell's "Honoring Grace: Michelle Obama" was commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

Golden moments in the sun

How time flies. Much fanfare was made about this year being the 50th anniversary of at least four landmark jazz recordings. They included John Coltrane's Giant Steps, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall. It just goes to show what an indelible and powerful impact that jazz environment of the late '50s and early '60s had on the music. In December, Congress got in on the act, recognizing Kind of Blue as a landmark contribution to the genre.

In another golden moment, a statue honoring Billie Holiday in her hometown of Baltimore was rededicated on the 50th anniversary of her death. Two panels were unveiled that had been part of the original design but weren't included when the piece was erected in 1985. One featured a lynched man ("Strange Fruit") and the other a newborn baby "God Bless the Child.")

Flip a coin for Duke

Duke Ellington became the first African-American to appear on an American coin. The jazz pianist, composer and bandleader was featured in February on a new District of Columbia quarter that is part of the U.S. Mint's line of state-themed quarters. Ellington won the honor by a vote of D.C. residents, beating out abolitionist Frederick Douglass and astronomer Benjamin Banneker.

A park for Peterson

At the request of friend and keyboard colleague Oliver Jones, Montreal has renamed a park near the place where Oscar Peterson grew up into a permanent homage to the late jazz pianist. A multi-leveled plaza on the site in Little Burgundy will be opened next year for concerts and other events. Jones told the Montreal Gazette that Peterson's "rise from humble beginnings would strike a chord with the black youths of today."

Harlem Jazz Museum

In April, the New York City Economic Development Corporation selected The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, a nonprofit arts group, as a major tenant for the former Mart 125 redevelopment project. If backing from developers is secured, the plans call for the museum to make its new home on the site, right across the street from the Apollo Theatre. "The project will help to ensure the future of 125th Street as a premier arts, cultural and entertainment destination, as well as a center of economic development," said NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky.

Marketing through musicians

Banana Republic recruited musicians to "celebrate the richness of city life" in a new spring/summer campaign the clothing company called City Stories. The nine musicians included two from jazz: saxophonist David S_nchez and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding. The musicians were photographed wearing Banana Republic apparel and accessories, along with one favorite accessory: their instrument, for a series of billboard and print ads.

ArtistShare evolution

"Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes," a new biography of the bassist, written by Dan Ouellette, became ArtistShare's first fan-funded book. The book, available for purchase online through ArtistShare, covers Carter's 60-year career as sideman (most notably as the anchor in Miles Davis' '60s quintet), studio musician, teacher and bandleader.

Return reunion

The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles was the setting September 2 for a reunion concert featuring the original members of the fusion group Return to Forever. Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White (who then embarked on a worldwide trio tour shortly thereafter, were joined for this one concert by original RTF guitarist Bill Connors. It was the first performance of the original electronic lineup since 1974.


Splendid company -Pianist Dave Brubeck was one of five 2009 Kennedy Center honorees for contributions to American culture along with rock icon Bruce Springsteen, actor Robert DeNiro, actor-director Mel Brooks and opera singer Grace Bumbry. A December 6 tribute at the Kennedy Center was preceded by a White House reception.

Grammy accolades -Jazz-related winners of the 51st annual Grammy Awards on February 9, were: Best Contemporary Jazz Album: Randy Brecker, Randy in Brazil, Best Jazz Vocal Album: Cassandra Wilson, Loverly, Best Jazz Instrumental Solo: Terence Blanchard, Be-Bop, Jazz Instrumental Album Individual or Group: Chick Corea and Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence, Large Jazz Ensemble Album: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard,Latin Jazz Album: Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Song for Chico;, Best Traditional Blues Album: B.B. King, One Kind Favor, Best Contemporary Blues Album: Dr. John And The Lower 911, City That Care Forgot, Best New Age Album: Jack DeJohnette, Peace Time, Best Album Notes: Francis Davis, Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition.

JJA Awards -Saxophonist Lee Konitz received the Jazz Journalists Association's Lifetime Achievement in Jazz award at the annual JJA awards event in New York in June. The many other winners included: Sonny Rollins, Musician of the Year; Maria Schneider, Composer of the Year; Esperanza Spalding, Up & Coming Artist of the Year; George Wein, New Festival Productions Events Producer of the Year; Carla Bley Big Band, Appearing Nightly (Watt/ECM), Record of the Year; Arturo O'Farrill, Song for Chico (Zoho), Latin Jazz Album of the Year. Media categories: Kris King, image of Hank Jones, Montreal Jazz Festival 2008, Best Photo of the Year; John Abbott, Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography; Nate Chinen, Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Review and Feature Writing; Mike Zwerin, Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism.

DB Critics Poll -The many categorized winners of Downbeat magazine's 57th annual critics poll included: Hall of Fame -Hank Jones; Jazz Album -Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy/Emarcy); Jazz Artist -Sonny Rollins; Jazz Artist, Rising Star and Alto Sax, Rising Star -Rudresh Mahanthappa; Jazz Group -Keith Jarrett Standard Trio; Jazz Group, Rising Star -Mostly Other People Do The Killing; Record Label—ECM; Female Vocals -Cassandra Wilson; Female Vocals, Rising Star -Dee Alexander; Male Vocals -Kurt Elling; Male Vocals, Rising Star -Giacomo Gates.

Monk Competition -Bassist Ben Williams, 24, who hails from the District of Columbia but is now enrolled in Juilliard's Masters program, won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition the finals, which were held in Washington in September. The two other finalists were bassists Joe Sanders of Milwaukee and Matt Brewer of Albuquerque. Williams received a $20,000 scholarship and a contract with Concord Records.

Essentially Ellington -Winners of the 14th annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center were Garfield High School (1st place) and Roosevelt High School (2nd place), both of Seattle, and Wisconsin's Eau Claire Memorial High School (third place). The 2009 event included performances of works by Duke Ellington and Benny Carter. The 2010 competition will include works by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and Mary Lou Williams.

Foster honored -Saxophonist, composer and jazz educator Frank Foster was honored October 2 with the BNY Mellon Jazz 2009 Living Legacy Award at the Kennedy Center in Washington The award, through the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, honors living jazz masters from the mid-Atlantic region who have achieved distinction in jazz performance and education.

Austrian Cross -Saxophonist Sonny Rollins was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class while in Salzburg in November. The award is given to leading international figures for distinguished achievements. The only other American artists who have received this recognition are Frank Sinatra and Jessye Norman.

Murphy Scholarship -Jua Howard, 30, of Chicago, was named the first recipient of the newly established Mark Murphy Vocal Jazz Scholarship from the Berkeley, Calif.-based Jazzschool Institute.

United States Artists -Jazz musicians Hannibal Lokumbe (trumpeter and composer) and Lionel Loueke (guitarist and singer) were among a group of 50 artists to receive $50,000 unrestricted grants for artistic excellence from United States Artists (USA), the national grant-making and advocacy organization. Its fellowship program has been handing out grants since 2006.

ASCAP Wall of Fame -ASCAP added Jon Hendricks, Johnny Mandel, Annie Ross and Randy Weston; and posthumous honorees: John Coltrane, Dave Lambert and Tito Puente to the ASSCAP Jazz Wall of Fame in June. It also presented violinist Regina Carter with the ASCAP Foundation Vanguard Award, and presented the first ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame Prize to clarinetist/saxophonist/composer Anat Cohen for her promise in composition and musicianship.

More international awards -German jazz vibraphonist and bass clarinetist Gunter Hampel received the Order of Merit First Class of the Federal Republic of Germany. Swiss trumpeter Hazy Osterwald, 87, received the Swiss Jazz Award for his lifetime achievements.

Lifetime Achievement -Saxophonist Marshall Allen, 85, a member of Sun Ra's Arkestra for more than 50 years and its director since 1995, received the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award on June 10 from Arts for Art and the Vision Festival.

Bluegrass connection -The Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans forged a creative partnership with Del McCoury's bluegrass band. Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that McCoury traces many influences on bluegrass music back to New Orleans, and that McCoury's band faces "a lot of the same challenges we do" in terms of honoring their musical tradition while also trying to produce something new. Jaffe brought his tuba and sat in with McCoury's band and at the afternoon all-hands-on-deck finales at the Newport Folk Festival in August.

Folk connection -American icon Pete Seeger, 90, received a standing ovation even before he played a note at his Arena performance at the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival inv September, then a standing ovation as the curtains opened—and then presented a range of songs from "Midnight Special" to "This Land is your Land." which left the audience in a state of proud admiration. As has often been said—all music is folk music because we're all just folks.

Best surprise moment:

The Vaca High Jazz Ensemble was in the middle of its concert set during the Vacaville Jazz Festival in September when someone from the audience got up with his trumpet "and joined in with the stunned students," according to News 10ABC. Turns out Wynton Marsalis who "was on his way to Monterey when he saw the sign for the jazz festival and decided to check it out.

Final Bars

While there were many losses within the jazz community during 2009, none of them were more tragic than the deaths of guitarist Coleman Mellett and saxophonist Gerry Niewood. The two members of musician Chuck Mangione's band perished aboard a commuter plane that crashed into a suburban Buffalo, N.Y. house on February 12.

Here's the full 2009 list:

Accordionist Mat Mathews.

Banjoist Albert Leet.

Bassists Leanne Butts, Jeff Clyne, Leopoldo Fleming Sr., Leonard Gaskin, Hugh Hopper, Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez, Sirone (Norris Jones), Fred Williams; bassist and writer Whitey Mitchell; bass guitarist and former NBA star Wayman Tisdale; bassist and singer Joe LaCaria.

Clarinetists Charly Hallering and Nick Jerret.

Cornetists Jim Goodwin and Harry Roland.

Drummers Rashied Ali , Vince Bilardo, Louie Bellson, James Bochetta, Buddy Christian, Antonio Luis Alves de Souza, Wilby Fletcher Jr., Tony Hannan, Ricardo "Papin" Abreu Hernandez, Billy James, Eddie Locke, Craig Oakley, Lothar Scharf, John Thomas Smith and Klaus Weiss; drummer and author Jim Chapin; drummer, trumpeter and jazz promoter Bob Anderson.

Guitarists Victor Lewis, Lawrence Lucie, Andy Masters, Coleman Mellett, Fred Rundquist; guitarist and inventor Les Paul; guitarist and cuatrista Edgardo Miranda; guitarist, singer and composer Kenny Rankin; guitarist and singers Snooks Eaglin, Huey Long, John Martyn; guitarist, banjoist and composer Robert Degen .

Organist Lyman Woodard.

Percussionists and bandleaders Gilberto Miguel Calderon ("Joe Cuba") and Manny Oquendo; percussionist, composer and educator Fallecio Jesus Alfonso Miro; percussionist and singer Frank "Pavo" Valerino-Hernandes.

Pianists Eddie Bo, Geoff Clarkson, Muriel Havenstein, Gugge Hedrenius, Eddie Higgins, Artie Jenkins, Hans Otto Jung, Dick Katz, Mike Mancini, Morris Nanton, David Hill Phelps, Terry Jean Pollard, Jarmo Savolainen and Earma Thompson; pianist and vibraphonist Buddy Montgomery; pianists and educators Gunter Horig and Consuela Lee; pianist, writer, and broadcaster Steve Race; pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Ed Metz Sr.; pianist and arranger Torrie Zito; pianist and conductor Shep Meyers; pianist, bandleader, composer arranger, educator, editor and consultant Hale Smith; pianist and trumpeter Billy Hall Jr.; pianist, composer, author and educator Charlie Banacos.

Saxophonists Ray Beckenstein, Leroy Cooper, Hank Crawford, Jean-Claude Fohrenbach, Carmen Leggio, Joe Maneri, Charlie Mariani, Pee Wee Moore, David "Fathead" Newman, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Gerry Niewood, Jack Nimitz, Sam (Leroy) Parkins, Bud Shank, Aubrey Simani, Willie "Face" Smith, Ron Stallings, Luther Thomas and Bob Thulman; saxophonist and big band leader Charlie Kennedy; saxophonist, singer, arranger and bandleader Sam Butera; saxophonist, clarinetist, bandleader and composer Gianni Basso; saxophonist and flutist Hart McNee; saxophonist and educator Larry McCrorey; saxophonist, writer and broadcaster Jaap Ludeke.

Singers Julio Barreto Bringas, Juanita Brooks, Chris Connor, Genie Grant, Caridad Hierrezuelo, Judy Kreston, Jillian Omsberry, Nancy Overton and Greta Woodson; singer and saxophonist Henry Butch Stone; singer-songwriter and pianist Blossom Dearie; singer, composer and guitarist Luis "El Terror" Dias; singer and actor Pat Martino; singer and actress Beverly Roberts; singer, actress and educator Anne Brown; singer, actress, songwriter, jazz author and manager Julie Coryell; singer, bandleader and composer Tina Marsh.

Trombonists Joel Helleny, Arch Martin, Bobby Pring and Randy Purcell.

Trumpeters Sonny Bradshaw, Irving Bush, Nicholas Capezuto, Agustin Caraballoso, Steve Hawdon, Edie Preston. Mike Serpas, Teddy Washington and Rubin "Zeke" Zarchy; trumpeter, flugelhorn player and singer Stacy Rowles; trumpeter and author Ian Carr; trumpeter, arranger and bandleader Jerry van Rooyen.

Vibraphonist Fats Sadi; Vibraphonist, keyboardist and singer Edward Burn.

Composers Jack Lawrence, Vic Mizzy and Aaron Schroeder; composer, theoretician, educator, pianist and bandleader George Russell; composer, arranger, producer, conductor and trombonist Billy VerPlanck.

Singer-songwriter Michael Jackson.

Blues, R&B, Soul, Zydeco, Gospel, etc. performers Barry Beckett, John E. Carter, John Cephas, Willy DeVille, Jim Dickinson, Rev. Claude Jeter, Wyclife Johnson, Uriel Jones, Willie King, Marie Knight, John "Crawlin' Snake" Mac, Haydain Neale, Fayette Pinkney, Jack Rose, Eugene Smith, Koko Taylor, David "Pop" Winans and Rev. Timothy D. Wright; artist manager Allen Klein; gospel, R&B and soul producer and broadcaster Ted Jarrett.

Artist Ali Kurt Baumgarten.

Dancers Ernest Brown and Frankie Manning; Dancer, choreographer and educator Pedro "Cuban Pete" Aguilar; Storyteller, improviser and performer Hugh Morgan Hill (a.k.a. "Brother Blue").

Arts presenter Suzanne Fiol.

Producers, promoters and recording executives Alan W. Livingston, Ralph Mercado, Skip Miller, Richard Nader, Shelby Singleton and Jackie Tracey; impresario, manager and author Werner "Josh" Sellhorn; producer, songwriter, clarinetist and big band leader Bob Keane; record producer and writer John Storm Roberts.

Recording executive Hal Gaba.

Broadcasters Ed Beach, Sam Jackson and William C. Lunt Jr; broadcaster and educator Harrison Ridley.

Club owner Art D'Lugoff.

Photographers Roy DeCarava, Ted Williams and Bob Willoughby.

Poet and saxophonist Raymond Federman.

Writers Vasily Aksyonov, Alfred Appel Jr., Joe Goldberg and Konrad Heidkamp; editor and writer Janet Cook; publisher, editor, and writer Leslie Carole Johnson; writer, educator, and jazz institute president Susan Meyer Markle; writer, broadcaster and photographer Len Dobbin; writer, editor, broadcaster and jazz society executive Don Farwell; writer and filmmaker Robert Hilferty; broadcaster, producer, club founder and writer Jacques Braunstein.

Patron of composers Betty Freeman.

Here are one writer's choices for the top jazz recordings and reissues of 2009:

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2009, listed alphabetically:
  • Lili Anel, Every Second in Between (Wall-I Records)
  • Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Citt_Di Verona, Restless Spirits (Velut Luna)
  • Seamus Blake, Live in Italy (Jazz Eyes)
  • Mike Clark, Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1 (Talking House)
  • Bill Cunliffe, Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2 (Resonance)
  • Kat Edmonson, Take to the Sky (Convivium Records)
  • Steve Kuhn, Mostly Coltrane (ECM)
  • LeBoeuf Brothers, House Without a Door (LeBoeuf Brothers Music)
  • John Scofield, Piety Street (EmArcy)
  • Joe Zawinul, 75 (Heads Up International)

The 10 best new songs of the year, listed alphabetically:

  • Lynne Arriale, "A Gentle Soul" from Nuance (Motema Music)
  • Jeff Ballard, "Lady B" from Fly's Sky & Country (ECM)
  • Scotty Barnhart, "Haley's Passage" from Say It Plain (Unity Music)
  • Gerald Clayton, "Peace for the Moment" from Two-Shade (ArtistShare)
  • N. Glenn Davis, "Come Right In" from Come Right In (Jazzed Media)
  • Richie Goods, "Desert Song" from Live at the Zinc Bar (RichMan Productions)
  • Fareed Haque. "Big Bhangra" from Flat Planet (Owl Studios)
  • Sean Jones, "The Ambitious Violet" from The Search Within (Mack Avenue)
  • Mark Rapp, "Thank You" from Token Tales (Paved Earth)
  • Greg Skaff, "Willie D" from East Harlem Skyline (Zoho)

The best jazz boxed set or historic recordings of 2009, listed alphabetically:
  • Dupree Bolton, Fireball, (Uptown)
  • Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, The Classic Prestige Sessions, 1951-1956 (Prestige)
  • Lucky Thompson, New York City, 1965-65 (Uptown)
  • Freddie Hubbard, Without a Song (Live in Europe, 1969) (Blue Note)
  • Scott LaFaro, Pieces of Jade (Resonance)

The best jazz-related DVDs of 2009

'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris (Outsider Pictures/Naxos of America)


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