Notable happenings and turning points:
1) A research grant worth more than $4 million USD is awarded from a Canadian governmental agency for an international multi-part study of “Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice” as exemplified by jazz-oriented music, to be led by the University of Guelph’s highly-regarded (by me, among many others) Professor Ajay Heble, founder of the Guelph Jazz festival (my Down Beat December issue review is getting a rare in-print correction, but that’s a topic for another post), itself going into its 11th year.
2) Ornette Coleman (77 years old) was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Sound Grammar, a quartet concert recording from 2005), and a Lifetime Achievement Award (presented by Natalie Cole) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, although his recordings remain far from big hits.
3) Sonny Rollins (77 years old) celebrated the 50th anniversary of his triumphant first Carnegie Hall concert in trio (sounded something like A Night at the Village Vanguard(same year), this time with drummer Roy Haynes (81) and bassist Christian McBride (35), as well as his regular touring band. Sonny launched his own record company and website in 2006, rather than renew his 30-year contract with the label that is now part of Concord Records Group.
4) Pianist Cecil Taylor (78) and reeds virtuoso Anthony Braxton (61) performed for the first time, in quartet with bassist William Parker (55) and drummer Tony Oxely (69), in London’s Royal Festival Hall; a concert recording could be heard for free for two-weeks via web-based BBC broadcast.
5) Pianist Herbie Hancock’s Rivers: The Joni Letters validates his long path to making enduring jazz of “the new standards.” Hancock (67), with tenor and soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter (74) and subtle rhythm support (from bassist Dave Holland, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, guitarist Lionel Loueke), creates interpretations of songwriter Joni Mitchell‘s work that expand and deepen it, enfolding vocalists Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Corrine Bonnie Rae, Leonard Cohen and Mitchell herself.
6) George Wein (82) turns over Festival Productions to Festival Network — Conceptualist of the present-day jazz festival, in his mid ’80s, passes on his company to an upstart organization. Festivals that book big name jazz attractions in Europe as well as the United States depend on the Wein organization’s experience, dating to the first Newport Jazz Festival, in 1954. Has this business changed in 50 + years? Yes: it has grown, and now faces global challenges.
7) Blue Note Records’ cafe installation Somethin’ Else at Bonaroo — for the first time, a concerted show of major label-suppported jazz in a mockup of a nightclub, in a tent at the largest multi-day outdoor gathering of hip alt.rock, hip hop and neo-soul talent in the U.S. Reportedly a big hit, with lines forming for entry though music by bigger name pop bands was going simultaneously on other stages, the jazz cafe made further news when Ornette Coleman collapsed from heat and exhaustion after his performance. He recovered, and is scheduled to perform at the Portland (Oregon) Jazz Festival in Feburary 2008 (full disclosure: I’m planned to interview him there, onstage).
8) New Orleans continued to rebuild — with anxiety and problems, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Tipitina’s Foundation among the organizations serving as musical ambassadors, fund-raisers and relief agencies. Multi-artist recordings in benefit for victims of the two-year-old floods that swamped the city continue to be released, and significant US media keeps a spotlight on the ongoing efforts to return this evidently under-appreciated font of American culture to stability, and glory.
9) Keith Jarrett (62), whose first recording of a solo acoustic piano recital Facing You of 1971 may be his humblest, attained new heights of pissy behavior towards audiences, cursing his audience at Italy’s paradisical Umbria Jazz Festival for taking cell-phone photos of him coming onstage.
10) The re-release of Miles Davis’s most controversial music — The Complete On The Corner Studio Sessions — is met with eager embrace by young critics across edgy pop genres as well as fan-like gushing from fusion-generation veterans such as myself.
11) The death of Max Roach, canonical jazz innovator, percussion and rhythm-master, bandleader and fruitful collaborator (with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Abbey Lincoln and unforgettably Clifford Brown) (83) after several years’ decline.
12) Health and longevity benefits jazz beyond jazz: besides those mentioned above, Franz Jackson (95!), Hank Jones (89), Marian McPartland (89), Clark Terry (87), Chico Hamilton (86), Von Freeman (85), Buddy DeFranco and Sam Rivers (84), Randy Weston (82), Frank Wess (82), Paul Motian (76), Paul Bley (75) and are among first rank musicians whose creativity has continued, largely unabated.