Howard Mandel: At the 2008 Jazz Awards

June 20th 2008 12:20 pm

Copyright © 2008 Howard Mandel

June 20, 2008 — The Jazz Awards, the 12th annual such celebration of excellence in music and music journalism produced in New York City by the Jazz Journalists Association, went off last Wednesday afternoon with plenty of highlights and nary a hitch. Hank Jones — voted Pianist of the Year — engaged in three bebop-referencing improvisations with big-toned tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, there was cool quartet music to start by The Miller Quartet (graduates of the New School and CUNY’s jazz program), an upbeat version of “I Love You Madly” sung by Roseanna Vitro, accompanied by pianist Mark Soskin, and a tear-up end set by trumpeter Igmar Thomas & the Cipher. But beyond the music itself, the event was star-studded — with appearances by Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia, 83-year-hip drummer Roy Haynes, NEA Jazz Masters including Candido Camero (awarded as Percussionist of the Year), Frank Wess, George Wein, Dan Morgenstern — and especially Maria Schneider, who won Awards as composer, arranger, leader of the large band and principal of Sky Blue, the Record of the Year.

A-Team honorees Dr. Valerie Capers and Wendy Oxenhorn, director of the Jazz Foundation of America, were there, too — with earlier A-Team honorees R. Jarrett Lilien and George Avakian, who presented the Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Award to Marian McPartland, who earlier in the day sent regrets.

Other Jazz Award winners coming onstage from the audience included Joe Locke, Mallets Player of the Year; Jane Ira Bloom (Soprano Sax of the Year); Anat Cohen (Clarinetist of the Year), Patricia Nicholson-Parker (Presenter of the Year), Sue Mingus (representing the Charles Mingus Sextet’s Historic Recording Cornell 1964), Nate Chinen (recipient of the Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Feature and Review Writing), David G. Baker, co-author with Holly Maxson of Playing The Changes: Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs, Laurence Donohue-Greene, photographer of the Jazz Photo of the Year “Time Stood Still for Andrew Hill.” Representatives of Blue Note Records, Jazzheads Records, JazzTimes magazine,, and Ms. Terri Hinte accepting an award for Sonny Rollins were in the house — as was “God” in the form of Art Tatum’s astounding 1933 and 1949 tracks long known as Piano Starts Here, newly issued in astonishing fidelity by Zenph Re-Performance/Sony BMG Records.

The party, with Blue Smoke/Jazz Standard barbeque, was sold out — approximately 150 jazz journalists, musicians and associates from related jazz industries attended. Ken Drucker, director of public education events at Jazz at Lincoln Center, announced nominees and recipients of the first awards — to trumpeter Terence Blanchard, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and “Player of Instruments Rare in Jazz” Scott Robinson — the last of which Maria Schneider accepted for Robinson, one of her loyal orchestra members. Ted Panken, a nominee for the Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting named the reeds and winds players — Yvonne Ervin, an associate producer of the event, presented Small Ensemble (to Ornette Coleman’s quartet/quintet), Up ‘n’ Coming Musician of the Year (to guitarist Lionel Loueke, currently on tour with Herbie Hancock), and Musician of the Year (to Herbie Hancock). David Adler, editor of the JJA journal Jazz Notes, announced nominees and ultimate recipients of Guitarist of the Year (Bill Frisell), Organ-Keyboards Player (Dr. Lonnie Smith), and Mallets Player (Mr. Locke). Nate Chinen, who took home the Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for excellence in feature and review writing, named Bassist of the Year (Christian McBride), Electric Bassist (Steve Swallow) and Strings Player (Regina Parker).

Larry Blumenfeld, nominated for the Dance-Palmer Award, gave Candido his percussionist award, and Randy Klein, CEO of Jazzheads, accepted the award for Bobby Sanabria’s Latin Jazz Album of the Year, Big Band Urban Folktales. Dan Morgenstern presented the events producer award to Vision Festival producer Patricia Nicholson-Parker, and the reissue/historical recording awards. Frank J. Oteri, ditor of the American Music Center’s website, presented a single, somewhat larger obelesk (the JJA Awards are engraved with the winners’ names and the JJA’s musician-in-a-pen-nib logo) to commemorate all four awards to orchestra leader, arranger-composer and album creator Maria Schneider. Then Laurence Donohue-Greene, editor of AllAboutJazz-New York, gave the Drummer of the Year Award to Roy Haynes (who also won for Historical Recording Boxed Set) and pianist of the year to Hank Jones, dapper and sprightly.

Hank and Joe’s duets were the epitome of playful interactivity. George Avakian came onstage to speak of Marian McPartland, Lifetime Achievement in Jazz winner (Becca Pulliam of WBGO accepted the award), talking about her late husband, trumpeter Jimmy McPartland, being on the first record he (Avakian) had ever produced. George Wein, in turn, spoke of Marian’s “Piano Jazz” radio program, which has run more than 25 years, exposing more Americans to the beauties of piano jazz than any other happening in any medium. He also toasted NEA Chairman Gioia, who sat at a table in the Standard with deputy chair Wayne Brown and Laura Johnson from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Gary Giddins spoke about what the A-Team is and does, and introduced Dr. Valerie Capers; I announced the A-Team inductees who couldn’t be present (George Russell, Lauren Deutsch, Dick Want, Dr. Herb Wong, Phil Nimmons and Susan Muscarella), then surprised Jazz Foundation of America exec director Wendy Oxenhorn with her A-Team appointment, and finally had Chairman Gioia speak. He told me afterwards that the NEA applauds the JJA for taking the initiative in presenting Jazz Awards, as no other jazz group or association has stepped forth to do it.

Vita Muir, director of the Litchfield Jazz Festival, spoke about how jazz people can help themselves and each other by simple cooperation, and she hailed the 2008 NEA Jazz Masters, who have recently been announced. Actor Paul Butler, star of the “Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here” theater piece being staged at the Apollo Theater to benefit the Jazz Museum in Harlem and showcase Zenph Re-Performance’s musicological feat regarding Tatum’s pianism, spoke of being awed to be in a crowd with Frank Wess, Roy Haynes, Hank Jones, et al. — then we listened to a cut from the Zenph album, which quieted the murmurs of guests as Tatum did indeed seem to be present in the room.

Finally, the Jazz Journalism awards were presented. Michael Jackson (Chicago writer-photographer) gave the Award for Best Periodical Covering Jazz to JazzTimes associate editor Jeff Tamarkin, and the Best Website Concentrating on Jazz Award to (Laurence Donohue-Greene accepted for Michael Ricci). Tim Wilkins, working with, presented the Dance-Palmer Award to Nate Chinen, who beamed his pleasure at being in such good company of nominees — “These are people who are very good at what they do.” Sy Johnson presented Laurence with his Award for Jazz Photo of the Year (Laurence presented a large print of “Time Stood Still for Andrew Hill” to Andrew’s wife Joanne Robinson Hill, attending with a highly supportive contingent from sponsor Boosey and Hawkes), the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Excellence in Photography to the late Milt Hinton (accepted by David G. Berger, Hinton’s photographic and literary executor), and the Best Book About Jazz Award also to Berger, for the Hinton photo and text book Playing the Changes (beating out Andy Hamilton’s biography of Lee Konitz, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff, in attendance and also a nominee for the Dance-Palmer Award, and me, for my book Miles Ornette Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz — which Sy neglected to mention as a nominee! I corrected him quickly).

Doug Ramsey, this year’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism recipient, was announced by Francis Davis, last year’s winner, who commented that he enjoyed the 2008 Jazz Awards more than in years previous because he wasn’t nominated for anything. Dan Morgenstern received the award on Doug’s behalf (we’ll get Doug to New York from the great state of Washington to present next year). For a few minutes the aseembled multitude milled about, schmoozing while Tatum played via re-performance tech. I talked briefly to singer Giacomo Gates, pianist Donal Fox, multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich, Ken Cicerale from ASCAP, Claire Daly, who videotaped much of the event, Enid Farber, taking still photos, filmmaker Rob Levi, who captured the Jones-Lovano performance, Cem Kurosman and Michael Cuscuna from Blue Note Records, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Scott Thompson, record producers Jeff Levenson (HalfNote) and Joe Fields (High Note/Savant), author Ashley Kahn and Time Out New York columnist Hank Shteamer, Washington DC-based writer/blogger Mike West, publicists Dawn Sighn and Don Lucoff, JJA member Ron Scott of the Amsterdam News, John Gilbreath from Seattle’s Earshot Jazz, and many others. Trumpeter Igmar Johnson & the Cypher, a sextet featuring MC Raydar Ellis as well as tenor saxophonist James Casey, keyboardist Yuki Hirano, electric bassist Nate Jones and drummer Nikki Glaspie, brought to the awards by the production company Revive Da Live, demonstrated a genuinely hip jazz-hip-hop connection.

Of course the JJA had a large cast of splendid volunteers working to set this event up. Besides Yvonne Ervin and JJA treasurer Arnold Jay Smith, we are grateful to Elise Axelrad (whose birthday it was) working as stage manager; Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services handling nominee liaisons; Lois Gilbert of JazzCorner covering hospitality and tickets; Lois Mirviss directing volunteers, Joseph Petruceilli coordinating awards manufacturing; Jeremy Pfau and Ichi Vasquez handing the awards to presenters, DL Media for public relations regarding the awards, Meghan Stabile of Revive Da Live, Ken Dryden for chairing the ballot committee, Whit Blauvelt and James Hale for postings about the awards on Jazzhouse, Andrey Henkin for designing the program book, Angelike Beener and Thurston Briscoe for radio station support (‘BGO announced the awards’ winners as they were announced off the stage), Joan Watson Jones, Judy Balos, Nancy Barrell and Carolyn McClair working with attendees upon their arrival. The food — pulled pork, salmon, Caesar salad, creamed spinach, macaroni and cheese, key lime pie and chocolate cupcakes — all got eaten, and a lot of the liquids (thanks to Doug Moody of North Coast Brewing Company and Chet Zeiger of Iceberg Vodka) was merrily consumed. George Dassinger, who brought Zenph Re-Performance to the JJA, was well-met.

Mention was made of JJA members who have transcended this mortal coil — photographers Gene Martin and William Gottlieb, writers Leslie Gourse, Tom Terrell, Phil Elwood and Whitney Balliet came to mind. In the perspective of a full career, such as those people had, Jazz Awards are but an instant of grateful recognition — their works, like the works of all those Awarded, are enduring, which is the main thing. But Jazz Awards give us a chance to remember what our colleagues and ourselves have accomplished, so as to spread some cheers. The applause is always well deserved. That’s why the JJA presents Jazz Awards.

— Howard Mandel

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