Jazz, secure, shrugs off “joke” threat

“We’re doing everything we can to eliminate jazz from American culture,” a promoter for Live Nation Artists, the world’s dominant pop music production and marketing firm “joked” to Florida councilmen considering a proposed upcoming music festival. Jazz responds with a can’t-be-bothered shrug. 

Too hip to be rattled by ignorant, idle, defensive — and of course, revealing – threats, the greatest living musicians are basking in hard-earned recognition and producing inspiringly energized, not necessarily mellow music. Undeterred by Live Nation-like commercial disdain, jazz festivals are thriving throughout North America under nominally non-profit organizations run by a coterie of canny impresarios. Jazz clubs — not only in NYC, I saw it in Chicago, too — are hosting eager audiences, maybe because the cheap buck has lured international tourists. But the buck’s not cheap Canada, which is also promoting jazz. Jazz is always endangered, but right now it’s in high bloom. 

Detailed evidence of jazz’s elevated spirits, at least in New York last week:

  • The JVC Jazz Festival-NY was launched with a party at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s official (but unused) residence Gracie Mansion and a Cecil Taylor solo piano concert wherein the lion of the avant-garde revealed his tender, lyrical (no less distinctive and superficially dissonant) side in a series of caprices, improvisations from motifs he’s developed in a manner unique in piano literature (including but not limited to jazz);
  • The Vision Festival, a community-based effort of the stubbornly uncompromising non-commercial jazz fringe, has just ended, with a crisis over not enough air conditioning but generally good reviews for its ambitious programming of intense international improvisers. A Vision rump festival, the fourth annual New Languages concerts series, occured at the nearby Living Theatre;
  • ASCAP etched new names on its Jazz Wall of Fame, and SESAC presented ribbons to some of its highest earning artists;
  •  An unusually high degree of self-celebration was evident at the 12th annual Jazz Journalists Association’s Jazz Awards (full disclosure: my thing), as a host of worthies gathered in a virtual group hug. National Endowment of the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia bellied up with 83-year-rhythmic Roy Haynes, 90-year-elegant Hank Jones duetted engagingly with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, 88-year-cool conguero Candido was recognized as percussionist of the year, 90 year old Marian McPartland was announced recipient of a Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Award, 82-year-old fest producer George Wein was there to present it (though Marian had sent regrets), Musician of the Year Herbie Hancock couldn’t be make it because he’s on tour (with Up and Coming Musician of the Year Lionel Loueke), comparably young composer-arranger-orchestra leader Maria Schneider did speak gratefully upon copping four awards linked to her suite Sky Blue, a full house of winners (Jane Ira Bloom, Joe Locke, Anat Cohen, Nate Chinen, Hank Jones! Roy Haynes!!) players, writers, broadcasters, photographers and jazz record company survivors (the latter noticably rumpled) schmoozed merrily, and there were calls of “God is in the house!” when the ghost of pianist Art Tatum seemed to be playing via a new high-tech re-mixing software developed by Zenph Re-Performance.
Detailed evidence of jazz’s not entirely irrational exuberance next week:

  • Under the JVC-NY Jazz Fest banner, saxophonist Joshua Redman plays with hyper-pop jazzers Soulive on Thursday and Friday (June 26 – 27) at Le Poisson Rouge, former site of the famed Village Gate. But on Friday, too, thornily distinctive saxist Tim Berne and keyboardist Craig Taiborn play the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art, and Dianne Reeves opens at Carnegie Hall for Al Green. The JVC-NY fest offers ticket deals for some of the big time clubs — the Blue Note,  Smoke, Iridium, Birdland, Cachaca, Zinc Bar — but even for those it’s not (Village Vanguard, Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Jazz Gallery, Barbes and the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn) jazz be happenin’. If Live Nation were a belligerent red state, NYC would be painted the truest of blue. 
  • But it’s not just New York: as I’ve written elsewhere, the 2008 TD Canada Trust Vancouver International Jazz Festival, June 20-29 boasts Mose Allison, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, aforementioned Tim Berne and the trumpet magus Bill Dixon, the Cowboy Junkies, the Dixie Hummingbirds. . . No Jay-Zee or Madonna, though.
  • June 23 through 27 I’m attending the Ottawa Jazz Festival, hearing Salif Keita, the Return to Forever Quartet Reunion, bands about which I know nothing, and participating in three Jazz Matters panel discussions, each noontime: “Playing Between the Words,” (6/24) “Arts Journalism — At the Intersection of Artist and Audience,” (6/25) and “Fusion at 40” (6/26) at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage. 
  • I already plugged the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal — “29th edition, June 26 – July 6” — but not the Litchfield Jazz Festival (with NEA Jazz Masters Dave Brubeck and Paquito D’Rivera) August 1 – 3, Litchfield, CT; the JVC-Newport Jazz festival August 8 – 10, with Rollins, Hancock, Loueke, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, and also Aretha Franklin; the free city-sponsored Detroit Jazz Festival, Aug. 29-Sept. 1, overall theme “A Love Supreme” with artist-in-residence Christian McBride programming Geri Allen, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Pat Martino et al. to exemplify “The Detroit-Philly Connection”;’ the Tanglewood Jazz Festival Aug 29 – 31 with JJA Jazz Award winners Marian McPartland, Joe Locke (mallets player of the year) and Terence Blanchard (trumpeter of the year) among others; and though I mentioned it before, the free city-sponsored Chicago jazz Festival Aug 28-31, which has added Eddie Palmieri’s Latin Jazz Band and Dee Dee Bridgewater paying tribute to Betty Carter to an already impressive lineup (Sonny Rollins, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith leading AACM forces, Dave Douglas’ Brass Ecstacy, Kenny Burrell with Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra, the Dutch Instant Composers Pool). 
Live Nations’s dingbant producer Mike Luba ultimately recanted his slight of jazz, claiming “it was 100 percent a joke . . . Our company does thousands of jazz shows a year, and it is the foundation of everything we do.” Yeah, that’s right, you owe jazz, Mouseketeer. How you plan to pay up?

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  1. Jeff Schwartz says

    The Bill Dixon playing at Vancouver is a R & B singer who goes by Billy, not the trumpet player.
    HM: Oooops — that’s very different!