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Jazz Journalist Association 2009 Awards Dinner


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All art has its patrons, and in a real sense jazz journalists and publicists must be patrons to the musicians that they write about and promote. It is a symbiotic relationship, for without the artist and the music he or she creates, what would we journalists and publicists have to write about? Part of the process of injecting vitality into the music and encouraging expansion of the listener base is to reward the young talent more generously and acknowledge their efforts more openly. Awards are a case in point. We have a tendency to venerate in retrospect or, even worse, posthumously! Who could argue with the choosing an icon, but to go out on a limb and reward an unheralded newcomer takes courage! This plea for recognition of newcomers in no way is meant to slight the veterans; they should be rightly revered and cherished for what they continue to bring to the jazz banquet table. They should be acknowledged with their own distinguished career awards and as such venerated for their body of work. Hank Jones' self-effacing comment about receiving the award for pianist of the year—he said it made him want to work harder—was a testament to the contributions these masters continue to make, contributions for which they certainly deserve respect as well as recognition.

We should, however, admit that it does require some risk-taking on our part when choosing award recipients when they are less well-known and at the peak of their creative powers. To some degree we are all victims of falling in love with the classics, the memorable; the reliable masters who have made their mark and deservedly so. Miles Davis was once queried as to why he stopped playing ballads, and his response was because he liked them too much. Like Miles, we must be courageous enough to let go of what we already know and do all too well; we must push past our tendencies to become too comfortable with the familiar and trusted and be more willing to honor the new and daring or the music will suffer from rigor mortis. New artists that challenge the boundaries, that can bridge the gap between the dedicated and the uninitiated, deserve more of our praise and should be rewarded with meaningful recognition and more representation in awards like the JJA's. This will help infuse new life and a new audience into our ever-shrinking art form.

The proliferation of fine conservatories that concentrate on the music and its history, are producing some outstanding young prodigies who will amply supply us with our new heroes. It remains to be seen where all these talented people will be able to perform. The loss of the JVC Jazz Festival in NYC this year is another severe blow that the music and the artists can ill endure. George Wein, an award recipient, has thankfully returned to the business of producing quality world-class events, but we need more youthful and visionary producers to carry on the tradition he and others like him have championed for so long. It is the mandate of the jazz journalists, jazz producers, jazz activists and jazz philanthropists to be the criers for the music and to create the fire of desire in the minds of a broader public. We need to inspire young people with Woodstock-like events, if necessary, to encourage the rebirth of the community of jazz. We need to demonstrate that jazz is not only wonderful music but that it provides a deeply rewarding experience that communicates great joy and hope, especially in times when the future is so muddied. When we as journalists do our job correctly we stimulate interest in deserving offerings by our enthusiastic and critical reviews. We not only credit the artist for a job well done, but we create the possibility of extending the artist's reach and with it his economic viability. Such enabling helps sustains the entire effort.

The JJA awards event was a wonderful gathering of people of like mind and interest, and I commend Howard Mandel and all of those at the JJA ceremony committee for an outstanding job at an equally outstanding venue, The Jazz Standard. I look forward to the organization expanding its awards outlook toward new artists as a clear path to the longevity and vitality of our beloved music.

Photo Credit

Steven Sussman


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