The Temperature is HOT at the 2003 JJA Awards

On Wednesday, June 25, 2003, which was the hottest day of the year thus far, the heat of great music and occasional flaring tempers permeated the otherwise adequately air-conditioned B.B. King‘s Club near New York’s Times Square where the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) held their Seventh Annual Awards Celebration for excellence in music and journalism.

Perhaps the unforgiving humidity contributed to occasional spots of restlessness in the audience, an issue which particularly gnarled an unfairly noise-beleaguered WBGO‘s Dorthaan Kirk, a 2003 Award recipient, who was forced to repeatedly admonish the crowds with statements like: “Would you do this to classical?” But overall, for those of us who were paying attention the entire time, the 2003 Awards Celebration was arguably the single finest event ever assembled by the JJA. The 39 JJA member-voted awards and 4 discretionary awards presented with the Jazz Foundation of America, which was interspersed with some steamy performances by the Wallace Roney Quintet, the New Jazz Composers Octet, and others, provided an afternoon of positive reflection on today’s wonderfully vibrant jazz scene as well as the documentation of it both on recordings and in critical writing.

It was an inspiration to see Cecil Taylor accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from the JJA as well as to hear the words of Wayne Shorter, winner of 4 awards (Album of the Year, Musician of the Year, Tenor Saxophone of the Year, and Combo of the Year), even if he was unable to be present to read them himself. In his prepared comments read by a representative from Verve Records, Shorter proclaimed that: “Originality is an attempt to confirm the eternity of human beings,” a sentiment echoed by another award-winner who was present (though late), Greg Osby, who described the awards as “a beacon of light for creativity and individuality.”

Individuality and freedom of expression was a running theme of the afternoon and was perhaps most clearly articulated during various comments made both in support of and against Stanley Crouch, the controversial jazz journalist whose column for JazzTimes was recently discontinued following an uproar over his April 2003 column, “Putting the White Man in Charge,” in which he claimed that Dave Douglas “will never be seen standing up to the black masters of the idiom” and that he has been “elevated far beyond [his] abilities” by “white writers to make themselves feel more comfortable about being in the role of evaluating an art from which they feel substantially alienated.” Crouch, who was given center stage about a third of the way through the proceedings, said little. He introduced a drum solo which he alternately titled “Freedom of Speech” and “Lack of Consensus” and then just played and walked offstage, prompting Larry Blumenfeld, a subsequent awards presenter, to later remark to the crowd: “If I would’ve known about Stanley, I would have brought my harmonica and we could’ve had a big, old amateur hour.” Jazz author Francis Davis, who was described in Crouch’s April 2003 JazzTimes column as being “intimidated by Negroes and quite jealous of them,” also derided Crouch’s journalistic polemics during his awards presentation intro: “Was it freedom of speech? No, it was demagoguery.”

However, Nat Hentoff, a fellow JazzTimes contributor who presented JazzTimes with the award for Best Periodical Covering Jazz, defended Crouch and rebuked his being “discontinued” from JazzTimes, a euphemism he claimed “it would take Orwell to untangle,” commenting that: “They made a big mistake to their discredit; free expression is a two way street.” [It must be remembered that JazzTimes did in fact publish Crouch's column knowing its content in advance and even touting it as "his most incendiary column yet" in their April 2003 table of contents.] And Dave Douglas, despite Crouch’s viewpoint, easily captured the Trumpeter of the Year Award once again.

Composer of the Year was awarded to Andrew Hill. (The other nominees were Dave Douglas, Ben Allison, Maria Schneider, and Wayne Shorter.) Ms. Schneider meanwhile received the JJA’s first-ever Arranger of the Year award while the Big Band of the Year award went to the Dave Holland Big Band [Comments about orchestration from Maria Schneider and Dave Holland are both featured in the June 2003 NewMusicBox.]

Gary Giddins won both the Jazz Writer of the Year Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award for Jazz Journalism. Ashley Kahn‘s A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album (Penguin Putnam) won Best Book of the Year. AllAboutJazz.com received Best Website of the Year, Blue Note received Record Label of the Year, and Alyn Shipton of BBC Radio 3 received the Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Broadcasting Award. Shipton, upon receiving the award, acknowledged that the “BBC wouldn’t be anything if people didn’t pay,” referring to a government imposed surcharge on all users of radio and television which is a common practice in the U.K. and Europe.

A complete list of 2003 JJA Award winners appears on the Web site of the Jazz Journalists Association.