Articles by Ratzo Harris
Musicians live and work in every city and town in the world, not just the “meccas” where most of the music industry’s corporate headquarters have set up shop. And I would venture to say that the locations of these headquarters aren’t that important to the musician choosing to relocate to one of these urban centers. The music industry doesn’t give value to a local music community, although it does attempt to assign value by manipulating the broader musical culture.
When I go to hear live music, I experience one of the few healthy things that our culture offers us: a chance to connect with members of our species without our differences being at the fore. Wouldn’t it be great to play music the same way?
NARAS’s elimination of the Vocal Performance Male, Female, and Duo/Group categories and the Jazz Fusion Performance, Original Jazz Composition, Latin Jazz Album, and Contemporary Album categories from the Grammy Awards will only help to mislead mainstream perceptions of American music, just as the elimination of Best Latin Recording and individual Best Latin Pop, Latin Rock/Alternative or Urban, Regional Mexican, Mexican/Mexican-American, Banda, Norteño, Tejano, Latin Urban, Merengue, Salsa, and Salsa/Merengue Album categories will.
While the standard mythology of the jazz club owner has been one of reptilian and canine ancestry and cross-breeding (with a little porcine influence on the family tree), the truth is that there was quite a bit of dedication to presenting and cultivating new artists going on in the likes of Max Gordon, Bradley Cunningham, and Amos Kaune.
According to trumpeter Jimmy Owens, recipient of the NEA’s 2012 A. B. Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy, “None of the jazz clubs you go to, and spend your money at, pay into the musician’s pension fund for the musicians who are working there.”
It’s important for the National Endowment for the Arts to bestow honors on individuals who spent their lives performing, producing, and promoting jazz. For one thing, the genre is young enough that the lineage from its inception is intact.
The NEA Jazz Masters ceremony was more about the soul of the music and its proponents than about who won and who didn’t. The messages delivered by the recipients, as well as by the planners and emcees, were sincere in their attempts to describe the value of this music as being more than mere entertainment, as transcending the profit motives of the very corporate sponsors who began marketing jazz in 1917.
On Tuesday, January 10, I attended the NEA Jazz Masters 30th anniversary award ceremony. As in previous Jazz Masters events, the awards’ presentations alternated with performances by select past Masters that occasionally included “emerging” artists considered worthy of inclusion.
The first half of January 2012 at The Stone is being hosted by Stefan Winter, who founded JMT records in 1985. Besides launching the recording careers of Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson, Robin Eubanks, Gary Thomas and Jean-Paul Bourelly, JMT (now called Winter and Winter) also championed many “downtown” artists, such as Tim Berne, Mark Feldman, Mark Dresser, Bob Stewart, Craig Harris, and Herb Robertson.
The standard end-of-the-year party is attended by people who have got, or are anticipating the arrival of, their end-of-year bonuses and want to party a little harder than usual. As the coarser forms of social lubricants are dispensed and imbibed, inhibitions and standards of decorum drop and playing music that everyone finds satisfactory can be, to use a single word, challenging.