Minutes of JJA Meeting

Minutes of JJA Meeting
New Orleans, January 15, 2000

By Bill Minor
copyright © 2000 Bill Minor

Our leader, President Howard Mandel, sat perched on a chair in a most ingenious manner or position: a sort of half-assed half lotus that seemed to defy the laws of gravity. Willard Jenkins, Vice President, sat to Howard's right, and the constituency, a motley crew of editors, journalists, photographers, broadcasters, singers, etc. sat facing these two in rows. Howard asked if we would prefer "a more democratic configuration," but the august body held its lines; nobody moved.

Twenty-one people were present: Howard, Willard, Diane Hubka (JJA NYC, vocalist, Best Recording Debut nominee 1999 Jazz Awards), Ken Dryden (JJA Nashville); myself (Bill Minor, JJA Monterey Peninsula), Scott Yanow (JJA LA), Michelle Mercer (JJA Brooklyn), Michael Point (JJA Austin), Glenn Astrarita (new JJA member, NYC), Mitchell Seidel (JJA Newark), Michael Ricci (All About Jazz website), Susan Rosmarin (JJA Atlanta), Rusty Hassan (JJA D.C.), Philip Booth (JJA Tampa), Don Palmer (JJA Brooklyn), Larry Blumenfeld (JJA Brooklyn), John Litweiler (JJA Chicago), Paul de Barros (JJA Seattle), Neil Tesser (JJA Chicago), Stuart Brinin (JJA Bay Area); and recent re-inductee, returning member Alan Chase, who writes and works for the University of New Hampshire.

Scott Yanow asked why the meeting had not been announced or listed in the Jazz Educators Journal program, saying he'd just found out about it "an hour ago." I'm not sure he received a satisfactory answer (implying, perhaps, that it was his own damn fault for not inquiring sooner), but Howard did welcome those members present to "this official 2K event," adding that it was "really great having everybody around" and that he would send a letter to the IAJE thanking them for hosting us. He then asked that members present introduce themselves individually, which they did, affixing -- with territorial pride -- a local habitation to their names ("Washington, DC!" "Chicago, Illinois!" "Oakland, California!" "Atlanta, Georgia!" etc.) in the manner encouraged by overzealous night club performers ("Call out your state!"); some JJA members actually contributing hobbies and preferences and obsessions of nearly every ilk, encouraging one wag (Howard, I believe) to comment that this vital information would "go up on the dating game section" of the Jazzhouse website.

Our President reported that the JJA can now boast of approximately 300 members, that Paul Blair had now assumed duties as secretary for new membership, and that he (Howard) forsees an era of unincumbered "ease of communication" on the horizon: a much smoother process of dissemination than has heretofore been possible -- effected, fortunately, without "any increase in dues" (because expenses are pretty much limited to production of the newsletter, Jazz Notes). Attention was then shifted to the issue of the day or hour (or, more accurately, the next two hours): the Jazz Jaournalists Association "presence" (my word) at award ceremonies.

Because I did not attend the Friday "The Jazz Awards Show and Other Dreams of an Expanded Audience for Jazz" panel session (which featured "movers and shakers in the jazz industry" Neil Tesser, Paxton Baker [Bet On Jazz VP], Howard Mandel, and Tom Carter [Monk Institute]; Howard Appelbaum of Billboard magazine also joining the panel from the audience), I do not have a full context for some of the statements now made, but comments such as "large mouth" and Neil Tesser's "You're in up to the hip" lead me to believe that our customarily shy, soft-spoken, hesitant, understating, nuance-inclined leader voiced opinions at that session that provoked the sort of heated debate that would ensue at our own meeting.

Howard broached the subject of JJA's history of "working with Knit Media" on an awards show, and the key issue of remaining "ethical" ("still come out looking like responsible critics") in a presentation this year that would incorporate "everybody's awards," including our own. According to Howard, an awards show had evidently been planned, without JJA consultation, but with at least implicit Knit Media's endorsement and their retention of cybercast rights. The presentation will take place on June 9 in Washington D.C., as the climax of a jazz convention being established by Billboard magazine and BET.

At this point Willard Jenkins clarified that cable net BET is not one of the participants, but rather its smaller offshoot, a sub-station "Bet On Jazz," a 24-hour jazz channel. Neil Tesser added that this is a "completely separate broadcast service," but one that happens to be owned by BET.

Willard said its jazz programming drew a "broader audience" than BET's regular programming. At this point, Howard was asked, "How did they get the award show?"

Willard: I was talking with Billboard and the idea was hatched. The conference would culminate with an awards show. Somehow, Michael Dorf of Knit Media came "under their tent."

Neil: Has this always been Michael Dorf's award show? [This will be the third year of JJA awards activities.]

Howard: No. In the past, Dorf attempted to convince a "large group of industry representatives" that he could stage the show, and I think he did so, at Alice Tully Hall of Lincoln Center in June, 98, and last year at South Street Seaport. Dorf produced the event; we designed the actual ballots and voting processes, and also made up the biggest segment of the electorate. The presentations both years occured the day after the Knitting Factory-produced Texaco or Bell Atlantic jazz festivals, and the day before George Wein's JVC New York Jazz Festival begins. Dorf has in the two years we've worked with him mounted a full evening of entertainment with jazz musicians as celebrities, made a video of it, assumed cyber rights, and also did the "major amount of promotion." Although we (JJA) "designed the ballots," Knit Media did the actual mailings (assuming costs thereof), created the physical awards, and last year tabulated them (Howard directed that effort in '98). Howard added that the feeling among advisors of Knit Media and other likely participants was that the JJA had "too many awards" to be given on television and that negotiation on essentials would be necessary -- which brought up a major concern at our meeting in New Orleans.

The JJA was not invited to the initial Billboard/Bet On Jazz meetings. We heard about it all "third hand." (Howard approached Bet On Jazz through an introduction by Willard; Howard met with Howard Appelbaum through BoJ connection, and says he expressed reservations about the voting procedures at that time.) Yet we make up "the bulk of the electorate" (ballots would be sent to us and "colleagues who are not members"). This voting would provide five nominees from which the winners would be selected, BUT . . .

And this is where -- as the old Irish joke about the doctor telling Pat to "pee in the bottle" (Pat replying "S--- in your hat!") goes -- "the fight started." Billboard's winner would be based on Sound Scan reports (I had attended an "Expanding the Jazz Share of the Sales Pie" panel that morning, at which Jon Vanhala [National Director of Sales, Verve Music Group] not only asserted that, according to Sound Scan stats, jazz records sales may be under the often quoted 2.8% figure, but that "jazz journalism has a long way to go to being helpful in supporting the art form at all"[!]).

The jazz awards given in 2000 will award "Best Record of the Year" based on "presumably unquestionable" Sound Scan data regarding jazz record sales. Same in other categories: for instance, singer of the year male, female, etc. At our meeting, JJA member reactions to this premise would grow as vocally virulent as, apparently, Howard had become at the "Jazz Awards" panel session the previous day.

Explanations of the nature of initial JJA involvement in the forthcoming awards ceremony followed: A phone call placed from Paxton Baker's office to introduce Howard Mandel to Howard Appelbaum consisted of mostly "cute banter" (he is Billboard's point man on the conference and awards, but downplays any personal knowledge of jazz). In a subsequent meeting, Appelbaum suggested the BoJ/Bbd awards would be open to negotiation (diverse JJA members wondered whether we "can offer any kind of awards we want and they'll take it"). Money was discussed.

John L: "We can be bought."

Howard: "Now we're just haggling over the price." But as an option, we as an organization might be able to design jazz awards commensurate with, or that correspond to, the award for the album that sells best.

Question (and I can't remember who raised it, but it would become the key issue in all this): "But aren't we endorsing their selection?"

Willard (asked if he was at "the meeting"): Whatever went down, we decided to come under their "big tent," that it would be "more astute to hook up with them, than to let them just do their own thing;" it would be "politically astute to say, 'We'll come in with you guys.'" At first, the JJA was "discounted ... cut out of the picture."

Howard: "I approached them." It's expensive to stage an event like this, and this BoJ/Bbd coalition will "pay for it and televise it."

Mitchell: Why don't we just have the jazz awards show of our dreams at the Knitting Factory -- even though it "would not be filmed?"

Paul: "Historically, there have been two sets of awards."

Howard: "That only happened once, in '98. I may have overreacted yesterday" (returning to whatever happened at the IAJE "Awards Show" panel).

Neil: I don't think the damage is "irreparable," although things did get very "personal." Neil offers to attempt a "reconciliation."

At this point the "meeting" began to toy with some meaningful (and some not so meaningful) options:

(General attribution) "Their Best Album is Best Selling, right?" Why not just call it that, to assuage JJA fears?

"Why not draw up a list of what we can live with, what we feel comfortable with?"

Howard: "Good idea, and we should be done by the end of this meeting."

Larry: Without pointing a finger at anyone's involvement so far, "they" didn't talk to us. We're just starting to get a grasp of all this. So a reasonable goal is to determine what our options are and to discuss a structure for dealing with them: setting up a small committee or task force.

Neil: Most of us had heard nothing about this until dinner the other night.

Howard: No, I've informed people about this. I'm sure we've communicated some of the information. If we didn't communicate more widely, it's because "we hadn't had the calls yet." But I'll be happy "to expose the options" now.

Neil: I'm not "finding fault," but this points out the need for a full President's report on the website.

Larry: We need some semblance of organized structure as to how to go about this now . . .

Paul: There should be two things on our agenda: options and process.

Howard: "Let me give you the options, okay?"

OPTION ONE: We announce our own winners the day before the BoJ/BBd "show." OPTION TWO (as stated by Willard): We endeavor in some way to be involved in the "show's" (my word) process, but since their approach is "sales based determination" for male and female artist of the year, we need "in a serious way," to determine our own awards for individual arists, groups, instruments (our vote would determine "Best Bassist of the Year," etc.).

Again, the main issue emerged: Neil said we're giving a "Best Bassist" award while they're giving Bests "based on sales," and, to the public, the two will seem "analogous."

Howard: "Their terms are 'quantitative' and 'qualitative.'"

OPTION THREE: "Presentation" by Martin Muller, director of the New School (formerly, of Social Research) Jazz program, which, at a concert fundraiser for the school's scholarships, has presented Beacon Awards to "beacons of jazz" for the past several years. Howard McGhee and Buck Clayton were the first winners; others have been Ella, Joe Williams, Cab Calloway. "There may be a partnership here, if we can work it out financially so that everyone gains." Mr. Muller had mentioned to Howard earlier the possibility of creating a scholarship for jazz journalism.

Larry: Since our own JJA awards already exist, and we are "already way behind schedule," we should structure the award "process" so that (1) we talk about issues focused on Boj/Bbd (what we are willing to be a part of, what not) and (2) if we don't want to participate with Billboard/Bet On Jazz, we then consider the other options.

Howard: No! We can't discuss just this one option in depth until we know something about the others. I want to talk about the value of doing this thing at all . . .

From this point on chaos pretty much prevailed, subsided, and prevailed again, although the story does have a happy ending (following a full fledged catharsis, we did manage a denouement, some measure of resolution, a plan of "action," within two hours. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't Aristotelian -- as Ken Burns would say -- but it happened. Here's how:

Neil: Let's talk about all the options.

Paul (concern over time factor): In the process that follows, we can't come up with one, two, three, four possibilities, negotiate what's possible, and vote on it today.

Howard: We have, as Willard says, a serious deadline problem. If I have to wait another month, based on a decision from the membership . . .

Don: But we have to get into the issue of the mechanics of how this should be done. We're non-profit, right?

Willard: No, we have no 501 status.

Don: So, next question: What are the benefits to being involved in this award ceremony?

Someone else's question (couldn't identify by name): There's going to be a Best Selling Album AND Best Album selected?

Howard: Appelbaum said we should look at the Billboard American Music Awards show for an indication of the production values they will employ. . .

Neil: But this is not "valuable." It's a matter of what "we can dictate as conditions for being involved." If "they" won't agree with them, we shouldn't do it.

Scott: "The best option is not to be involved at all. We have our own show. Billboard is always poison. We already know who's going to win."

Neil: We need to bring "validity to the process."

At this point, Howard asked the scribe for a restatement of the options suggested so far. I took one look at my multitudinous, infinitesimal and as-of-then not fully digested notes and said, "In the beginning was the word," which I'll confess didn't help the proceedings along much. But Neil Tesser did offer a concise summary:

OPTION ONE: We work with Michael Dorf, but "retain control."

OPTION TWO: We work with the New School.

OPTION THREE: We announce awards on our own, but "without a show."

It was suggested that Option One include the stipulation that "We find a way that we can work with them (BoJ/Bbd)"

Larry suggested that we go around the room and sample each person's opinion. We did so.

Scott repeated his concern that we would merely be "swallowed up." My turn, I thought of D.H. Lawrence's statement, "One must not sacrifice the greater for the lesser," but caught up in my Bartleby the Scrivener chores, couldn't think fast enough to say it, so I just sort of stumbled around with "not liking the smell of it all" (I was concerned, and still am, that the audience would not be capable of making a distinction between our "qualitative" selection and the "quantitaive" one, and that we might end up looking like fools, compromised).

Diane Hubka said she appreciated how well the awards ran last year, and had confidence we could work out a way to continue to honor musicians. Susan Rosmarin felt we should "have our own awards and seek our own sponsor." She even has her "ears on one," but she didn't mention who. Neil felt "they" are going to announce awards for critics "whether we are involved or not," and that by not being involved "we are giving up any control."

Howard: They never said they would be giving critics' awards. They have said they are organizing a voting "Academy," and they will have access to Knit Media's data base from last year's awards, which includes the JJA membership list. Of course, we can ask our members not to participate, if we so decide. As far as their 'Academy' goes, "I have my doubts they'll be able to get this thing off the ground."

Neil: "But if it's going to happen, what do we want to do about it?"

Neil was criticized for jumping in out of line (we were still going around the room, each person offering his or her opinion), but he'd started a trend, for from that point on, lots of people started jumping in out of line. It was pointed out that we had a visitor (the gentleman from the New School) who was an "organized person," and that perhaps we could comport ourselves with a little less emotion and a little more dignity. But this directive was not acknowledged over much throughout the discussion that followed.

Willard did remind us that through working with BoJ/Bbd we "have a shot at national TV exposure," that "rampant misconceptions" abound as to what jazz journalists are and what we do [a la John Vanhala of Verve], that even our qualifications have been called into question; and that the program under discussion could "raise our profile and give us a stronger platform." He is not in favor of keeping the JJA a "mole organization" (underground) that gets together once a year at the IAJE convention, but would like to see us become an organization that "has some sway."

Someone (sorry, I couldn't identify just who) said, "Yes, if we can find common ground; if we can gain exposure without giving up integrity."

John Litweiler said, "As presented so far, I just wouldn't want to have anything to do with this."

At this point, Larry commenced an extended oration (worthy of the four hour speeches Fidel Castro used to deliver), an elocutionary event in and of itself that would eventually require that I (as notetaker) be sent to hospital for carpel tunnel syndrome surgery; but the "gist" of it (if an interminably Baroque or Inflated Style of address -- preceeded by the words "I will try to keep this as brief as possible" of course -- can be said to contain a gist) was: We shouldn't have to operate the way Willard is suggesting. We are an organization and we should determine awards that we alone construct and that we control. This is the one thing the JJA can do that will be of value: to establish what we want our awards to be and go to the public saying, "These are our awards; we have our act together and these are our awards"

[Humble Aside: I once had a nun as a teacher who said, "Repetition is the mother of all learning," but she was wrong. Points were frequently reiterated throughout the meeting, but having a chance to witness my colleagues firsthand (that is, off the page), I was impressed by the fervor wedded to conviction. More than a little grandstanding? Well, sure, but me too (I didn't have time to show it, so I stuck it in the minutes). The Mannerist school of painting -- which employed a highly subjective viewpoint 'comped by an affected pose; an upward-striving slightly icy, uneasy line and formal, stark underpinnings laced with anti-classical emotionalism (suggesting the troubled nature of the times in which the style flourished) also relished grandstanding and repetition; no comparison intended; I was just suddenly reminded of this.]

Basically, Larry is in favor of negotiation that can address our needs and will result in a "business deal" with contractual ("on paper") finality -- signed and sealed, as it were.

Howard's response: "I hear a lot of work going on."

Larry: But slowly, over time, we will get the desired exposure. And if we don't want to work with these people (at a certain level of trust), we can still construct awards that we want the way we want them -- "Valuable awards that can be used [acknowledged?] around the country."

Neil (out of turn again): "Sounds like Larry just said something I wanted to say. My suggestion completely . . . eight awards could be taken for the BoJ/Bbd show from twenty that we'd vote on, and announce on our own."

Howard: "We could do that with the New School."

Questions were raised as to the reliability of the people we'd have to deal with in Option One negotiations (raised by people such as Howard who dealt with them "last year": "We didn't get much consideration"). Larry: If the money is coming from the Billboard/Bet On Jazz budget, we sign a paper, and we support the agreement by posting it, full page, in all three major jazz mags.

Howard: But the amount of time it would take to draw up such a contract . . .

Larry: You wouldn't take this on yourself. We could have a task force of two, three, four, five people. I will be one of them. We'll come up with a "reasonably enforceable document."

Two more "anonymous" opinions: "If Best Record poses a threat, someone from JJA needs to be there," counterposed with second member's opinion that "They're going to do whatever they're going to do," regardless.

Stuart Brinin: I don't want the JJA to be an "underground organization. But I'm worried about giving in to them. I want this organization to be taken seriously."

Howard also expressed concern about a "knee jerk reaction."

Stu: Rather than being divisive as we're being here . . . we need to "bring these concerns together," and do something meaningful that will bring us "some income."

Mitchell: Why involve ourselves if they're just going to do whatever they want? Our integrity is at stake. I think we need to keep doing the awards as a group, ourselves.

Glenn: The general "air" (of opinion) is that we want to be involved without sacrificing artistic integrity. We want to work out a win-win situation.

Philip: There is a distinct possibility that we will be "stained." But I agree with Willard that the presentations would elevate our status, would have an impact. The results would be "trumpeted all over Billboard."

Michael (Point): We would gain a higher profile, yes; but if the integrity of the award isn't there -- even if they agree to a 'split' on Best Album -- people won't "make a distinction."

Howard: It will be a "delicate mission to go to them." I can't comfortably feel I can negotiate what you want.

Another unidentifiable person: "Nobody else will get their shit together in time. But we already have such a thing as JJA awards. It's a "seller's market for us, because award shows are catching on." So let's go ahead. We don't have to "cut deals, but we can negotiate." We're more "marketable" now, and we need some form of "action." If necessary, "fine, then let them throw some money at us."

Rusty: You know, with all the contention that's been going on here, we do have some consensus. With Willard's suggestion about an "exposure goal," we can go ahead. We can actually "close the circle."

Don: "If this had come to a vote, I probably wouldn't have voted, because I wouldn't want my name attached to this deal . . . but I agree with Larry. We need to work out categories." Yet we're functioning now as if "this were a shotgun wedding." And we'll continue to be regarded as underground if we rush too much. We've got a "you want me to be at the altar; well, what do you want me to wear?" attitude.

Howard: The issue of our jazz awards has never been in doubt, but we will have to "make some decisions pretty quickly. We need to put together a ballot within ten days." After that, I will get in touch with BoJ/Bbd.

Neil: "Who owns the name 'National Jazz Awards'?"

Willard: We haven't called ours that.

Neil: We need to copyright this; we need a title that we can hold on to.

Larry: Who is in charge of our ballot? (For some reason, the question was left hanging)

Martin Muller (New School): There's obviously a serious issue here. Willard understands the benefits well. And the "key question is: can you maintain your integrity?" These are "very difficult choices." But we at least offer you a possible backup. We can work in a genuine "partnership." The wisest plan is one you will "arrive at as a consensus." Given the time frame, you can't afford to stop.

Susan: It's amazing that our awards are in their third year, but Dorf has glommed on to us, subsumed us. I say "to hell with 'them.' Let's continue what we have been doing."

Neil: I have a naive question: We were not invited to the initial meetings "because Billboard just thought we were coming along?"

Willard: Michael Dorf never included us in the equation. I called Paxton because Howard came to DC for a book signing. It was a "precipitous time" to get together and talk about this. Paxton looked forward to the meeting."

Neil: Maybe these guys aren't as bad as they appear.

Howard: "If you're going to negotiate with them, keep your eyes open."

Larry: We can arrive at our own awards, awards that we're satisfied with on the basis of integrity; then "license them to them." Or we can sit down with them, and design awards that are satisfying to us . . ."

Neil: We can make our own categories -- "categories that are valid whether we go in with them or not."

Howard: "You may have to eat those categories."

Don: Why not work out one set of categories that are for them, and categories that are for us?

Larry: If you (Howard) draw up the ballot, can Neil and I negotiate after, with Willard's help? Billboard gets theirs; then we get ours. There should be few categories that overlap.

Howard: Let's move along to seeing "just what this ballot would look like."

Michael Point: Larry, what you want is "all well and good, but it's too late!"

Don: Billboard and Bet On Jazz started too late.

Larry: How long will it take to come up with a ballot?

This question again went unanswered.

Howard: Remember, the New School has an already established legitimate award ceremony. I will set up meetings with Paxton and Applebaum, but my experience with them has not been promising.

A Ballot Committee was drawn up. It's members are: Willard, Michelle, Don, Neil, Larry, Michael Point, and Howard (in charge).

Howard's final words: "I think you will need to work on the categories within ten days. Then it will be necessary to set up meetings with Paxton and Appelbaum, so they can see these.

Everyone agreed that the New School alliance sounded "attractive" (my word), and we were left -- well, wherever we were left. The meeting, set down this way, seems more coherent perhaps than it was at the time. There was considerable strong emotion displayed and some deliciously hostile exchanges took place (small personal internecine wars?) I believe I've failed to capture here; elements that -- at times -- reminded me of Humanities Department meetings I was compelled to attend at a state university in Wisconsin during the late '60s (I was on the English faculty), meetings that occasionally led to fist fights: unlike ours, which -- even amidst the heat of battle -- maintained a semblance of civility and decorum, if not always the tone.

The last remaining item was Michael Ricci's request to consider a suitable All About Jazz "Jazz Journalist of the Month."

I humbly submit these minutes -- with all their possible flaws and faults -- relatively free of subjective conclusion because, as an historian, I don't feel it's my place to reach any conclusions on events that have occurred within the last 40 years (does that sound familiar? This was Ken Burns' disclaimer for only devoting, in his upcoming jazz video series, a single hour to activity from 1960 to 2000). So, devoid of passionate opinion as I am, I may have been a suitable choice for this task, which I have executed to the best of my ability. I attempted the same relative objectivity while recording notes on a high school band director's conversation (overheard on the Sheraton to Hyatt shuttle bus) when he complained about the fact that his entire trumpet section was riddled with "attitude," demoralizing the rest of the band, and that his bass player came to school one day and was arrested for carrying "explosive devices." And I attempted to maintain the same rigorous objectivity when a woman at the bar, speaking of the immobility of the old timers in the Preservation Hall band ("paralysis" and "comatose" were other words she used) said, "I move around more than that when I go to the opera."

The group she was talking about was not the New Orleans Jazz Commission All-Stars that kicked the convention off in grand, fitting style. I heard a host of fine musical performances over the four days I was there, and the panels on our host city's history as the incubator of jazz were rewarding. It was impossible, among the proverbial "embarrassment of riches" offered, to attend all that I desired, but I got my share of good stuff and now have lots to write about regarding the 27th Annual IAJE Convention.

C o m m e n t s

minutes 1 of 6
Bill McDonough
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February 07, 00

Very funny! Nice job, Mr. Minor.

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