Announcing 13th annual JJA Jazz Awards nominees and gala

The Jazz Journalists Association — of which I’m president — has announced finalist nominees in 42 categories of excellence in jazz music, recording, presenting and journalism at a new website, — which also  details who’s playing at the Jazz Standard (NYC) cocktail barbeque where winners will be announced on June 16, 3 – 6 pm. and lets you buy tickets to the event.

What’s a Jazz Award? I’m deep into it, but why should you care?

Work on the Jazz Awards website, the finalists nominations ballot (tabulating thousands of votes by professional members of the JJA) and the program for the event itself (featuring music by the Charles Tolliver Big Band, Jane Bunnett and Spirits of Havana, and the duo of pianist Marian Petresu and Andreas Öberg, plus surprise guests) has kept me from posting to the blog this week. But I think it’s worth it, because jazz, its traditions and extensions, deserves the highest level of attention that informed journalists can get for it.

It’s the underlying principle of this blog that jazz culture is a progressive, adaptive merit-and-experience based way-of-being, embodied in the music and reflecting what’s going on all around us, in the present. The people who best represent this ethos are the musicians, presenters, employees of supporting industries and journalists who document and comment on it — those who the JJA honors with Awards (engraved statuettes).

Besides voting for winners in 42 categories of musical and music-journalism achievement, the JJA celebrates what we call “A Team” honorees — activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz. The “A Team” inductees this year are Herb Alpert (for extraordinary commitment and philanthropy to jazz education); Dr. David Baker of Indiana University; Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note Records; Dr. Agnes Varis of the Jazz Foundation of America; Chicago cultural historian Timuel Black and Jazz Institute of Chicago past president Steven Saltzman; band directors Clarence Acox of Garfield High School and Scott Brown of Roosevelt High School (both in Seattle); Ruth Price, proprietor of the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, and, posthumously, author-journalist-musician Richard Sudhalter and author-publicist Peter Levinson.

Awards are funny things — they exclude more viable nominees than they ultimately applaud. The JJA is very conscious of that dilemna, and also that voting in polls to select “winners” upholds the questionable notion that there’s a genuine hierarchy of excellence when it comes to artistry. But given that jazz journalists have occupied themselves with such polls since the ’30s,  that every other musical genre, from Western classical music (via MusicalAmerica, for instance) to rock ‘n’ roll (the R&R Hall of Fame), country music (the Country Music Association), blues (the Blues Foundation), jam bands (the Jammies) and world music (by organizations such as Afro-Pop Worldwide) also promote their heroes with such initiatives, and that no other organization in jazz, independent of a single publication, queries informed listeners internationally about who’s most creative in the jazz movement (no, Grammies don’t do the job), the JJA feels more than justified in putting on the Jazz Awards. Indeed, the Awards seem like a necessary project. I must add, the Awards event is a fundraiser for the JJA and its ongoing projects, too.

Though the honors and voting are problematic, I personally am proud that the Jazz Awards are reaching their maturity, the 13th iteration being the endeavor’s bar mitzvah year. I’m sure some readers will take exception — and as always, comments are welcome. But until another practical idea for promoting jazz and jazz journalism to the widest available audience comes along, the JJA will keep doin’ it. Other ideas, anybody?
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