Celebrating jazz excellence — Awards, honors and privileges

The NEA zeroes out its Jazz Masters program, the Grammys cuts categories so pop best-sellers regain prominence vis a vis less obviously commercial stars, but the Jazz Journalists Association’s 15th annual Jazz Awards — to be held June 11, 2011 with an afternoon gala with all star music at City Winery, NYC, satellite parties hosted by prominent fans and grass roots organizations around the U.S. and streaming live video on the web at www.JJAJazzAwards.org — hails loud and clear the achievements of the jazz music and media makers. (See that website for a list of all the nominees).   

maria schneider &.jpeg
Pianist Randy Weston, trumpeter Wallace Roney’s Sextet, soprano sax/flutist Jane Bunnett with pianist Hilario Duran, and the Hammer Klavier Trio from Hamburg will play up a storm at the gala to further demonstrate the power and beauty of what we’re talking about. This photo of orchestra leader Maria Schneider the year she won four Jazz Awards shows what such honors can mean to a musician.

Usually the journalists who cover an art form aren’t responsible for being the art form’s leading public advocates, but we live in challenging times. At this point it’s the independent and freelance critics who can assert more noisily that jazz is an American musical art form uniquely fit for, reflective of and adaptable to the here and now, and that we all should stop for a moment to give its beloved players a sustained round of applause. 

I’ve produced the JJA Jazz Awards under the auspices of the Jazz Journalists Association for 15 years as a labor of love and, I believe, necessity, since better-funded, larger and more quasi-“official” jazz lobbying entities such as the Jazz Alliance International, the International Association for Jazz Education, etc., have disappeared. Down Beat, JazzTimes, the Village Voice and other periodicals or groups in the U.S. have polls and honors about the best musicians and music, but no publication or platform other than the JJA (of which I’m also president) holds a public event, brings together musicians, presenters and journalists from the spectrum of jazz activities — and this year (again) streams it live, free, for the world to see and hear on www.JJAJazzAwards, where you can also buy tickets to be at the event. Which is a fundraiser, by the way, for the JJA’s ongoing education and audience outreach efforts. Food will be served, Brother Thelonious Ale and Celebrity Jazz cognac will flow and jazz celebrities will be there, maybe to take home a statuette. 
If you can’t make it in person, please make a donation (also at www.JJAJazzAwards.org), because it costs $s to honor our heroes. Speaking of such, the JJA has designated a baker’s dozen Jazz Heroes this year who represent the extramusical activism that goes into making the jazz world spin. They are: 
  • Omrao Brown, curating co-owner of Bohemian Caverns, Washington, D.C.
  • Peggy Cooper Cafritz, educational and cultural warrior who co-founded Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts
  • John Gilbreath, director of Earshot Jazz (Seattle) and busy radio show host
  • Lori Mechem and Roger Spencer, pianist and bassist, respectively but also educators who have founded and for ten years nurtured the Nashville Jazz Workshop
  • Don Z. Miller, festival impresario and supporter of live jazz in Arizona
  • Dr. Maitreya Padukone, dentist for musicians sent by the Jazz Foundation of America, and an accomplished tabla player
  • Mike Reed, Chicago drummer and presenter across genres, vice-chair of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)
  • Ed Reed, Bay Area singer and substance abuse counselor
  • Elynor Walcott and her sons Paul, Frank and Lloyd Poindexter, sustainers of Wally’s Café Jazz Club in Boston

These folks and all the nominees (more than 200) in 39 categories of Awards for excellence as well as, of course, the winners of the Awards, are why Jazz Awards are worth giving. In Berkeley, Boston, Nashville, Portland, Seattle, Telluride, Tallahassee and Washington D.C. local people think it’s fun enough to have satellite parties the way we used to gather to watch the Academy Awards, the way people go to sports bars for big games — to watch, schmooze, debate the event and maybe tweet about it. 

Last year the JJA received tweets from the world over in real time; this year MC Josh Jackson (producer of WBGO-FM’s “The Checkout”) will try to read those notes from our stage, for greater interaction. Because that’s one of the main things jazz is about: connection and collaboration, collective creativity, communication of the highest order. Come June 11, the JJA is having a party at City Winery, celebrating all that and more. Reserve your tickets, be with us in New York or watch us on the web with your jazziest friends or even alone, if you find yourself that way. But know that if you love jazz, there’s a large population all over the globe that feels the same. Join in! Contribute! It’s a privilege of those who dig this music. Play it, sing and swing, pick out a jazz hero and express your thanks, pleasure, appreciation — maybe in the form of a Jazz Award. 

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  1. says

    Howard, thanks for keeping the JJA Jazz Awards going when some other elements of the jazz support system have weakened. I’m not sure I would include the Grammy Award category reductions as an example of the latter, though. I’ve been looking at the new categories and I’m not really seeing what it is that makes them more favorable for commercial artists than they already were. Here’s what I see: the pop, rock and R&B categories had as many cuts as less commercial genres, and the cuts are mostly accomplished by eliminating separate male and female vocalist awards, combining some overlapping categories, and eliminating most of the “traditional” vs. “contemporary” distinctions, which can be somewhat arbitrary. I think they should have kept the Latin Jazz category, but any Latin jazz record is now eligible to win the regular jazz award, and there still are several awards for various other genres of Latin music. Some have assumed the retooling was in some way a capitulation to Steve Stoute, who published an open letter to NARAS complaining about Esperanza getting Best New Artist over Bieber, but I think that was a coincidence of timing, because NARAS began to work on this overhaul 2 years ago and the changes appear unrelated to what Stoute wanted.