Jazz Award Winners Bypass City

Jazz Award Winners Bypass City

by Kevin Lynch

copyright © 2003 Kevin Lynch

Wisconsin State Journal
Thursday, July 10, 2003

I read the winners of the 2003 Jazz Journalists Associations Seventh Annual Jazz Awards and felt mixed emotions. It was great to have these worthy people honored.

Wayne Shorter was The Man, winning musician of the year, tenor saxophonist of the year and top combo and best album awards for "Footprints Live!" (not to mention his incandescent performance at the Chicago Jazz Festival last summer).

Shorter played Madison in 1997, in duo with Herbie Hancock. But only a small handful of the winners have performed here in recent years. The best of jazz ought to be heard live. Living in hip Madison, I was saddened by the irony.

Why do so many touring musicians take the A-train right on past this city? We have a fair amount of local clubs and quality local musicians and, I think, a pretty fair jazz audience. This remains a medium-sized city with big-city cultural aspirations, but jazz still lacks the proactive financial base that most other arts enjoy here (except perhaps dance).

The only showcase club of note is Luther's Blues, which does occasional crossover (David Sanborn) or organ jazz (Joey DeFrancesco). News of a plan to book national jazz acts at the Orpheum have been ill-founded.

Of the association's 27 winning groups and artists, the only whom we've seen in the last year were jazz diva Cassandra Wilson at the Orpheum and skyrocketing vibist Stefon Harris, at the Civic Center. (Last year's Isthmus Jazz Festival headliner DeeDee Bridgewater was a JJA nominee.)

Winning trumpeter Dave Douglas played here in 1998 as a sideman with pianist Myra Melford at the Civic Center's now-defunct Starlight Room. That lamented venue also provided us with 2003 JJA male vocalist of the year Andy Bey in 2001, the same year that winning violinist Regina Carter played at the Union Theater.

So it troubles me that Madison has seen so few of these world-class performers. Appleton, with its strong music program at Lawrence University, now seems to attract top-flight jazz performers better than any Wisconsin city. Here's hoping the Overture Center will spur opportunities for jazz and other arts that thrive in the best venues other than big concert halls.

One winner has a distant connection to Madison, which is a commentary in itself. The association's Lifetime Achievement Award winner was Cecil Taylor, whom longtime Madisonians will recall for his short and controversial tenure as the resident jazz faculty artist at the UW-Madison in the early 1970s. Taylor, an uncompromising cutting-edge pianist, notoriously flunked almost all of his jazz ensemble students one year, then left Madison shortly afterward. Taylor, a man of intense and voracious intellect, has mellowed somewhat as a person over the years but his music -- still fiery, original and astonishingly powerful -- has grown profoundly, a well deserved honor.

Of course, these awards are only one way of measuring the art form's highest stratosphere, but they're a darn good one. The association is a sort of public brain trust of the jazz world. The membership of 400 writers, broadcasters, photographers and new media professionals seems to represent high standards of wisdom and integrity, presided over by award-winning jazz scribe and author Howard Mandel.

"This year the JJA broke new ground by hosting simultaneous awards programs in Israel and across the U.S., something no other genre-based music awards has done," Mandel said in a statement. Among the most interesting and noteworthy of the "Discretionary Awards" for humanitarian contributions to jazz went to:

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., for his work in Congress to support jazz.

Saxophonist Arnie Lawrence, who founded the International Center for Creative Music in Jerusalem where he teaches music and life skills to young Israelis and Palestinians.

Dr. David Morwood, from Monterey, Calif., a volunteer surgeon who operates on children with cleft lips and palates in South America. He's a jazz drummer, and sales of his CDs go toward medical missions.

Inevitably you can detect politics amid the kudos. Retro-mainstream icon Wynton Marsalis was nominated only as a jazz producer, and won nothing. Wynton's critical compatriot Stanley Crouch recently created a firestorm by accusing white critics of championing white musicians. That's not evident in these awards, although Douglas is more of a great jazz Renaissance man than the best jazz trumpeter. Recently stripped of his compellingly cranky column at Jazz Times, Crouch showed up at the awards at B.B. King's Club and Grill in New York to play a drum solo (Milwaukee-born pianist and former Jazz at Five performer David Hazeltine played at the event).

Other 2003 JJA winners of note include:
Jason Moran -- Up and Comer of the Year.
Andrew Hill -- Composer of the Year.
Maria Schneider -- Arranger of the Year.
Dave Holland Big Band -- Big Band of the Year.
Greg Osby -- Alto Saxophonist of the Year.
Kenny Barron -- Pianist of the Year.
Dave Holland -- Bassist of the Year.
Matt Wilson -- Drummer of the Year.
"A Love Supreme," John Coltrane -- Reissue of the Year.
The complete list of JJA winners is available at www.jazzjournalistsawards.com.

Kevin Lynch published this article also in The Capital Times; he can be contacted at klynch@madison.com.

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