The Jazz.com Blog
June 18, 2009 · 8 comments
The annual awards ceremony of the Jazz Journalists Association, which took place on Tuesday, has grown into a high-profile affair. And with the disappearance of other celebratory occasions where jazz people can congregate (such as IAJE convention and the JVC Jazz Festival) it has taken on even greater prominence. A number of jazz.com editors and writers were on hand, including arnold jay smith, who reports below on the event. A full list of honorees can be found here. T.G.
In the face of what is fast becoming a debacle of biblical proportions for jazz, the Jazz Journalists Association held its 13th Annual Awards buffet at Jazz Standard on Tuesday, June 16. From all over the globe they came; scribes, radio and computer folks, business and professorial types, from the east, Midwest and western U.S., from across the pond, from up Scandinavia way, from down in the Caribbean, out of Africa, India, Russia and Kazakhstan. Proving once again that jazz is a multi-cultural, international language.
Calling it “our Bar [Bat] Mitzvah,”—13 year-old Jews celebrate their coming-into-adulthood at this age—JJA president, Howard Mandel presided over a phalanx of awards, awardees, presenters and musical interludes worthy of any televised event of this ilk. But there was a serious undercurrent: JVC is out of festival sponsorship mode, and, as an indirect result of that, JazzTimes has suspended publication. Who’s, what’s next!
Ironically, George Wein won the “Best Presenter” award again as he stepped up to the plate to save his formerly JVC-sponsored Newport Jazz Festival, at least for now. As ballots were cast prior to their announcement, JazzTimes won best periodical, seemingly for the last time, as they have for all the years the category has been extant. Presenter, author and journalist Dan Ouellette’s announcement as “posthumous” drew nervous laughter and applause.
For me there were several special, if not downright poignant, moments at this year’s Awards. A separate new category with a candidate of one was announced. Co-sponsored by the Jazz Foundation of America and the Jazz Journalists Association, the “Special Award for Words and Music” was presented to Mark Murphy. Murphy, who is ailing, was flanked by singers Sheila Jordan, Giacomo Gates, Roberta Gambarini and the “Male Vocalist” awardee (and sometime Murphy acolyte) Kurt Elling for a photo op. It was a teary moment indeed.
Following his NEA Grant earlier this year, OctoJAZZarian Lee Konitz was named for his “Lifetime Achievement”; Maria Schneider and Sonny Rollins were multiple obelisk winners with three apiece. There was a larger-than-usual contingent of global awardees this year: Richard Galliano (France), accordion, Anat Cohen (Israel), clarinet, and Rudresh Mahanthappa (Italian born—of Indian descent—but New York-based), alto sax.
Then there are the ‘A’ Team: the activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz without who, no us. They may be world-renowned such as this year’s Herb Alpert, or educators like David Baker, or a jazz-loving record company exec Bruce Lundvall, or an industry lion Dr. Agnes Varis, or names-you-may-never-have-heard-of-if-you-aren’t-a-jazzer, Timuel Black, Steven Saltzman, Ruth Price, Clarence Acox and Scott Brown.
And the A Team honorees missing from the stage were also noted. The ones closest to me are author, historian, trumpeter and cornetist Richard Sudhalter and publicist-cum-author Peter Levinson, both of whom we lost in 2008. (Click on the links to find their bios.) Dick and I shared many hours of discussion if not in utter disagreement over one issue or another, notably his controversial book Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz. Who knew we needed such a title let alone such a book? It caused some polarization, let me tell you. But his bios of Bix Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael are still referenced in my Jazz History classes.
Branded a “noodge” by Mandel, Levinson was publicist to the jazz stars and beyond. But that’s not what mattered to me. In the spirit of full disclosure, I worked for him in two capacities: I ran his New York office, penultimately, and I conducted research for his Tommy Dorsey bio, Living in a Great Big Way. Peter took press agentry and made it nearly an art. He brought it into the modern era where it became public relations. He produced campaigns where obscures became household names and recordings went gold. Like Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers, Peter created a group of publicists who went out into the jazz world and created more—but gentler, publicists: Don Lucoff, Michael Bloom, Linda Yohn, Helene Greece…and me. Speaking of Blakey, when a prospective client balked at Peter’s princely fees, he would reply, “Think of us as another sideman; what do you pay them?”
In my JJA presentation moment I told how Peter led a near biblical existence. Peter and wife Grace lived on a hillside in Malibu. Fire came, but like Shadrak, Meshak and Abednigo, they were encircled by flames which never touched them. When the floods came, they seemed to have an ark on their property for the water; and mudslides came close, never in.
The brief musical moments at the Awards event were presented almost as entre acts by the Charles Tolliver Big Band, Marian Petrescu, piano, Andreas Oberg, guitar, Jane Bunnett and her Spirits of Havana Band, Carol Sudhalter, sax and flute, Daryl Sherman, piano and vocals; and finally the Matt Miller Trio took us home.
We trudge on however gingerly towards another gathering of the faithful in 2010, or as I prefer to call it my Jazz Family Reunion.
This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith