New York: Something That’s Actually Positive from a Journalist (The 2005 Jazz Journalists Association Awards)

One of my favorite music industry events of the year has long been the Jazz Journalists Association Awards. In an era when all we ever seem to be talking about is how bad things are in the record business or in arts journalism—both of which are necessary components of a healthy music ecology—this noisy, overcrowded annual June event is always an affirmation that, despite all the undeniable negativity, there’s also a lot to be proud of.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there this year. But luckily, the event’s chief organizer, JJA President Howard Mandel, sent me an extremely infectious email which filled in all the details. (He is, after all, a journalist.) It’s a very personal and obviously biased narrative—no one is really without bias anyway—but it probably isn’t all that much different from what I would have written about it had I been there.

—FJO

This week’s Jazz Awards, the 9th annual Jazz Journalists Association celebration of excellence in jazz, jazz journalism and jazz advocacy, altruism and activism, was another smashing success, if I say so myself.

B. B. King’s Blues Club was filled with musicians (in no particular order, and a list woefully incomplete, but to give you some idea): Marian McPartland, Sam Rivers, Howard Johnson, Robin Eubanks, Gary Smulyan, Hamiet Blueitt, Winard Harper, Kevin Mahogany, Kitty Margolis, Jamie Baum, Judi Silvano, Fred Hersh, Bob Stewart, Alex Foster, Craig Handy, Giacomo Gates, Kendra Shank, Jane Ira Bloom, Billy Bang, Jeremy Pelt (winner of Up and Coming Musician of the Year), George Wein, Bobby Sanabria, JJA members and colleagues (way too numerous to mention, but note the attendance of our Portuguese member Jose Duarte and past JJA pres. Art Lange of Chicago), record industry execs (from Concord, Blue Note, High Note, Sunnyside, Telarc, JustinTime, Palmetto—which won Label of the Year—and Revenant (winner for the Albert Ayler box set) but unfortunately not Verve, Columbia, Warner Bros., BMG (which had a winner in its Coleman Hawkins Centennial reissue), jazz educators (for one, Jazz Alliance International’s Suzan Jenkins representing IAJE), aficionado-listeners, presenters from Festival Productions, the Vision Festival, Iridium Jazz Club, Jazzmobile and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and our sponsors including the movers and shakers of BETJazz, HIP Health Plan of New York, Anheuser-Busch, ASCAP, WBGO and Madison Square Garden.

Robert Wisdom, our host, was a cool and calm presence, low-keyed while guiding several dozen performers, winners, and presenters through their stage paces. W. A. Brower, JJA member and pro stage manager, with help from Elise Axelrad, confidently brought in the show’s end five minutes early!

Nnenna Freelon sang a swinging short set including Billie Holiday’s “Now, Baby or Never,” and Jack DeJohnette played a dynamic and coloristic solo. Sy Johnson’s Octet, performing his specially commissioned 75th Birthday Suite, was by turns sweet, sophisticated, and powerful, like the man himself. ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Competition winner Maurice Brown, an exuberant trumpeter, brought the Awards to order with a bugle call in traditional New Orleans style and Chicago renditions (his partner, Texas tenor saxist Quamon Fowler, co-led their quintet as the Music Room filled, while JJA photographer Gene Martin gathered all the nominees, journalists, and musicians in Lucille’s for our annual group photo). ASCAP tenor saxist Bob Reynolds’s Quartet had the unenviable job of ending the entire show, but attendees lingered to listen to the band and schmooze, and eventually had to be hearded out so that the 8 p.m. show at B.B.’s could set up.

The proceedings moved too fast for me to fix on many of the special moments, but here are a few that I caught: Clark Terry’s genuine gratitude for his unexpected win as Trumpeter of the Year, which he credited to Jeff Lindberg’s direction of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra which backed him on recording his version of Gil Evans’s classic arrangements of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Cecil Taylor’s elegant words, upon accepting the first HIP-JJA Lifetime Achievement Award for Hank Jones, who had been refused help getting his suitcase into his limo trunk by a car service driver and so did not come down from Hartwick, New York to the Awards; Cecil spoke of his admiration for Hank, and also of his love of Elvin Jones, with whom he had created astounding duets, and the early encouragement he had enjoyed from Thad Jones, as well. The pride of repeat winners such as Roy Haynes, Andy Bey, and Frank Wess, and the pleasure of first-time winner Luciana Souza in being welcomed to the Jazz Awards. Guest presenter Rupert Holmes’s spot-on introduction to the event, and Maria Schneider’s beatific smile upon sweeping the Awards with wins for arranging, composing, big band, and record of the year.

Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider lands four JJA Awards
Photo by R. Andrew Lepley, courtesy Jazz Journalists Association

There were many equally exciting incidents, happening simultaneously all over the room – including the alcove where the Silent Photo Auction, our best yet, was run by Enid Farber, R. Andrew Lepley, and Lois Mirviss. Wendy Oxenhorn of the Jazz Foundation of America spoke movingly about the JFA’s Musicians Emergency Fund in her introduction of Lauren Roberts, JFA administrative director who is departing for law school, and Douglas Duchak (of Englewood Hospital), both of whom received “A Team” Awards (for Advocates, Altruists, Aiders and Abettors) [Ed. Note: e.g. doctors who treat ailing jazz musicians who have no health insurance, etc.] The JJA needs a spokesman like Wendy to trumpet our mission to promote jazz journalism through education initiatives, including but not limited to the Clarence Atkins Fellowships. (Two of our fellows, Michele Drayton of Tampa, Florida, and Laylah Amatullah Barrayn of Brooklyn, New York, were in attendance; so was VP Willard Jenkins, who filled in admirably presenting Awards to winners who couldn’t attend. Michael Dorf, who started the Jazz Awards with the JJA in ’97, did this too, an almost thankless task…but thanks!). Paxton Baker, the JJA’s main man at BETJazz, graciously gave the Award for Presenter of the Year twice—once when scheduled, and again when the winner, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Todd Barkan arrived in the house. This will make for much better television, when the Awards show highlights are broadcast by BETJazz in early autumn ’05 (and thanks to Waymer Johnson, director, Rocky Mabrey, and the entire crew videtotaping this event, as well as B.B. King’s efficient staff. Comic actor Joe Piscopo, by the way, did a rousing presentation early in the event, and will be host of the BETJazz show—can’t wait to see that). Thanks also to JALC’s Derek Gordon, who kindly presented Singer of the Year Awards to Mr. Bey and Luciana Souza.

Other A Team Awards recipients: Olga Garay accepting for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation didn’t stop beaming, James Newcomb of The Boeing Company explained succinctly the visionary corporate philanthropy of the Chicago Jazz Partnership, podiatrist and diabetes specialist Dr. Marc Brenner (www.Icare4YourFeet.com) was visibly honored, as were: A.B. Spellman, poet-author-recently retired NEA Deputy Chairman; the Heath Brothers, Jimmy and Tootie and Percy (posthumously, sad to say); and Martin Mueller, the JJA’s good friend at the New School Jazz Program.

Oh, yeah—the Awards for Jazz Journalism: George Avakian, venerable jazz producer and the man who invented the liner note, the record album, and the reissue, announced Website of the Year (AllAboutJazz.com) and Periodical of the Year (Jazz Times), as well as Label of the Year (Palmetto). Ira Gitler, co-author/editor of The Encyclopedia of Jazz, bestowed the award for Book of the Year upon his good friend Dan Morgenstern. Dan turned around and presented the award for best Newspaper, Magazine and Online Feature writing to The New York Times‘s Ben Ratliff. Gary Giddins nicely introduced all the finalists for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism, saying that each of the four—Bob Blumenthal, Francis Davis, Mike Zwerin, and me—were bound to get the award at some point, it was just a question of the order in which we received it. Bob Blumenthal was obviously thrilled to be this year’s recipient.

I’m sure there was more, and as the moments crystallize, I’ll try to post them as comments addending to this post, at Jazzhouse.org. ‘Til then, thanks to all the Jazz Awards committee members, to those of you who came to the event and made it so much fun, and to all the non-JJA members who contributed in every which way. We’ll do this again—looking forward to the tenth anniversary—so save a date in early/mid June 2006 for the next Jazz Awards.

—Howard Mandel

Ed. Note: The website Jazzhouse.org also has a complete listing of all of the 2005 Jazz Journalists Association Award Winners.