Jazz Community Gathers in Birdland for Fifth Annual Awards Show

The Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards 2001:

Jazz Community Gathers in Birdland, NYC for Fifth Annual Awards Show with Heart

by Val Vaccaro
copyright © 2001 Val Vaccaro

Many awards shows could be viewed as pretentious popularity contests. The Jazz Awards 2001, the fifth annual presentation of the Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards, held on June 14th at the plush NYC jazz club Birdland, was different. About 250 jazz journalists, musicians and industry guests attended the event. The Jazz Journalist Association (JJA) represents 350 writers, broadcasters, photographers and new media professionals throughout the world. (A complete history of the Jazz Awards can be viewed in articles in the Library of the JJA website, www.Jazzhouse.org.)

With JJA President Howard Mandel's friendly, dedicated, down-to-earth demeanor as host, the awards show had more of a hometown, community feel. In total, there were 29 artist award categories and 9 jazz journalism categories. Each category had between five (two categories had fewer) and eight nominees.

Community was an underlying theme reflected in the show's management. The show was sponsored by an important NYC community retailer, J & R Music/Computer World. Other supporters for the event included Birdland itself, the midtown Manhattan jazz club managed by Andy Kauffman, The Jazz Store (www.thejazzstore.com, for framed prints of the Congressional declaration of jazz as a national art form, presented as discretionary honors). Further assistance came from www.jazzcorner.com, Media Solution Services, Sue Hynes, Bill Wurtzel, DL Media, Arnold Jay Smith, www.Promoworks.com, and MusicMagnet. A silent auction for some of top jazz photographer Bill Gottlieb's photos of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and 52nd Street, was also held, raising some $2500 for the Jazz Foundation of America.

Prior to the actual ceremonies, Brazilian jazz music was provided by guitarist Richard Boukas (a jazz faculty member at the NYC-based New School University and Maladro Recording artist) with pianist/flautist Jovino Santos Neto from the legendary Hermeto Pascoal Group (Neto is a Liquid City Recording Artist and editor of the book Tudo e Som). Invitations were given to the audience to attend post-awards events such as the Boukas-Neto Brazilian Jazz duo's CD release party at Tishman Auditorium in NYC (previewing their new Malandro CD Balaio) and a pre-opening viewing of select jazz photographs by JJA "Excellence in Photography" award nominees Enid Farber and Lauren Deutsch, at the LaChapelle Gallery on 49th St. between 9th and 10th Ave (a show which will officially open in late June, and hang through mid August).

Community was also a common thread connecting of the presenters and award recipients throughout the show. Actor Keith David, who was the voice of Ken Burns' Jazz documentary series that aired earlier this year, introduced the first award category. The category was that of "Discretionary Recognitions" conferred by the JJA Awards Committee to three recipients: Dr. Billy Taylor (co-founder of the Jazz Foundation of America, pianist, composer, educator, jazz advocate), Herbert Storfer (impetus and co- founder of the Jazz Foundation of America) and Dr. Frank Forte (Englewood Hospital & Medical Center, Board Member of the Jazz Foundation of America).

Before Dizzy Gillespie died, he asked if an organization could help to save the lives of jazz musicians in need. In 1989, Herb Storfer, established the not-for-profit Jazz Foundation of America (JFA). The JFA (which has the advertising theme, "Lots of people save jazz albums, but how often do you have the chance to save a jazz musician?") provides medical care, financial support, social services, counseling and career assistance for jazz musicians, on a confidential basis. For the first ten years, Storfer said that he ran the JFA with the blessing of his wife, in their apartment. Storfer accepted the award with appreciation, noting that this was "the first public recognition" for the JFA's efforts. Storfer thanked his dear wife Muriel for being supportive of his endeavor, JFA's "beautiful and compassionate" executive director Wendy Oxenhorn, and accepted the award "for our dear musicians."

Dr. Frank Forte is more than an oncologist at Englewood Hospital where medical services worth over $200,000 have been provided at no charge to jazz musicians with health problems. Forte has also played jazz guitar and written about it in jazz guitar magazines; he said "I always loved and respected the musicians who sacrificed their lives" to their craft. In a stirring plea, he suggest, "If you try to do good things in your life -- and I think we all do -- when meet someone in need, prove you have faith in humanity, and do one more good thing."

In a beautiful baritone voice actor and singer Keith David, accompanied by pianist Michael Rey, followed with a moving song which he identified as being from the Joe Williams' songbook, "A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry." Howard Mandel lightened things up with a joke about how the song was appropriate for all of the nominees who didn't win any awards.

My favorite artist's speech was by "Mallets Player of the Year" Stefon Harris (vibes, marimba), who reflected the community theme in a strong way. Harris said, straight-from-the-heart, "I've learned a lot of lessons from being in music. We're all part of a community. I've met some of the most interesting, loving and giving people here. I'm really grateful. Thank you so much. Also, I'd like to thank my teacher - Joe Locke." (If you've seen Locke play, you know he's a dynamically impressive vibes player." Locke, standing at the Birdland bar, waved to his student. He was a nominees in the same category, along with the legendary Gary Burton and veteran Bobby Hutcherson. Meanwhile Lionel Hampton, the man who invented the vibes for jazz in the1930s and is virtually the only surviving star of the Swing Era, still active in his 90s, watched the proceedings from a nearby table.

Composer and big band leader Maria Schneider's Orchestra was named "Large Ensemble of the Year." She said simply, "This is so nice -- something to bring back to thank my band. I love my band. I would also like to thank the clubs that give us a place to play like Birdland and the Jazz Standard."

"Drummer of the Year" was given to the late Billy Higgins. Higgins' companion Glo Harris, in barely a whisper, said in testimony to his humility: "Billy was a very humble and non-judgmental person. He used to say 'I'm just a regular bebop drummer.'" New York impressario and former radio broadcaster James Brown, who presented the award, responded by saying "There was nothing regular -- if that means, 'common,' -- about Billy Higgins."

Legendary pianist Kenny Barron said of his award, "It has to be shared with everyone I've ever played with and for all of the young guys I'm going to be playing with -- watch out -- because I'll be stealing [musical ideas]!"

"Soprano Saxophonist of the Year" Jane Ira Bloom said: "Thank you very much, to the jazz journalists and record company, and all of the musicians I play with. Also, a special thanks to my teacher, Joe Viola, who passed away in April."

Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias won "Brazilian Jazz Album of the Year" for Everything I Love (Blue Note). Elias, (always glamourly dressed -- for this event, in an elegant, black gown) was presented with the award jointly by Suzan Jenkins (vice president of the Recordings Industry Association of America and wife of JJA vice president Willard Jenkins) and nine-year-old Rose Mandel, JJA president Mandel's). Elias said she was very flattered and happy to win the award, thanked her manager, the label and everyone who has been supportive of her career. Notable jazz journalist Bill Milkowski, author of the recently released "Swing It! An Annotated History of Jive" (Billboard Books) presented Bill Frisell's "Guitarist of the Year" award, partly due to his experience interviewing guitarists for the past 30 years. Milkowski explained that he'd taken guitar lessons from Tiny Grimes, but he'd never really learned to understand the instrument well because Grimes had "special" nicknames for all of the guitar chords -- insteading of calling for a G7th, maybe calling for the "nutball" chord. When Dr. Billy Taylor accepted the award on behalf of Frisell, the eminent, 80 year old pianist said, 'I wished I could play guitar. This guitarist does something very soulful. In fact, when I heard Bill Frisell play guitar, that's why I stopped playing guitar."

Bob Blumenthal received the award for "Excellence in Newspaper, Magazine or Online Feature or Review Writing" Award, aka the Helen Oakley Dance-Robert Palmer Award. Mrs. Dance -- married to the late Stanley Dance, also a major jazz writer, was, according to Mandel, "one of the seminal writers in jazz journalism." Their son Fran Dance, presented the award, and announced: "My mom just passed away two weeks ago at 88 years old, with her family around her, having lived a great life. When she first learned about it, a couple of years ago, she was very pleased about the honor of having the award named after her."

Dan Morgenstern was voted the "Jazz Journalism Lifetime Achievement Award," presented to him from past honoree Nat Hentoff. Morgenstern recalled how he got started in the profession of jazz journalism: "When I got out of the army, I went to Brandeis University. We -- some jazz fans -- were listening then to a Boston radio station correspondent and Down Beat journalist, who we invited to come to campus to meet with us. The journalist's name was Nat Hentoff. He encouraged me to become a writer. To get this kind of award from your peers means a great deal to me."

Michael Bourne, of WBGO-FM and www.wbgo.org won the "Excellence in Jazz Broadcasting/Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award." Bourne shared his everyday experience of sometimes feeling like he wants to "go postal" in his commute to the station in Newark, New Jersey. The punchline is that he says "When I get into the radio station, get a smile from my cohost [and fellow nominee] Rhonda Hamilton, and put on a Dexter Gordon record, all is well in my world." Bourne's comments probably reflect what the music as a genre does to transcend everyday existence and bring some joy into the life of a typical jazz fan.

Saxophonist Joe Lovano, in his trademark white hat, proudly accepted two awards for "Musician of the Year" and for "Record of the Year" for 52nd Street Themes (Blue Note). Lovano thanked his label, his associate producer and wife Judi Silvano, and named all of his participating band members, concluding, "I've been in New York for 25 years and I'm just starting to scratch the surface. It's incredible to be part of this community. My dad was a saxophonist in Cleveland. He had a beautiful passion and a great record collection." Pressed into presenting the Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Award," given posthumously to John Lewis, a founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lovano said that all of the nominees deserved it: the other finalists were Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton, Cecil Taylor and Clark Terry (whom trumpeter Jimmy Owens, receiving the Best Tenor Sax award for Sonny Rollins, announced has recently been diagnosed with colon cancer),

The creator of the Newport Jazz Festiveal, and hundreds of other festivals, 75 year-old Festival Productions head George Wein received the "Events Producer of the Year." Wein mentioned that he had just that afternoon attended the St. Peter's Church memorial for a great jazz historian and journalist, "George T. Simon, (who) set a standard for our industry." He continued, "A lot of young people are now producing jazz -- they depend on funds from foundations, sponsorships and the ticket-buying public. Jazz journalists carry the word -- they are public relations for jazz. Congratulations for what they do, always. A lot of people don't know this: but some of my best friends are Jazz Journalists."

The last award presented was an honorary one, an endearing gesture given by Rose Mandel to her father, as the stage changed so the Jazz Awards 2001, the fifth annual JJA presentation of honors for musical and journalistic accomplishment could conclude with music by baritone saxophonist and JJA member Claire Daly's quartet.

Other award presenters included Larry Blumenfeld (Editor-at-Large and contributing writer for Jazziz magazine), Ted Panken (WKCR-FM, NYC and jazz journalist for publications including Down Beat and Jazziz), Martin Mueller (executive director of the Jazz and Contemporary Music program at the New School University), Ira Gitler (veteran jazz journalist and author of the book Masters of Bebop), Lara Pelligrini (jazz journalist and scholar), Will Friedwald, Frank Oteri (editor of www.newmusicbox.org), Ashley Kahn (author of the book Kind of Blue), Lauren Deutsch (executive director of the Jazz Institute of Chicago and a photographer), records producer George Avakian, Rafi Zabor (author of the novel The Bear Comes Home, Dan Kassell (JJA member, clarinetist, publicist), Linda Herring (Tribeca Performing Arts Center producer), Barry McRae (JJA member from London, England), Sharony Andrews Green (author of the biographyof guitarist Grant Green), and Cyril Moshkow, of the Moscow Jazz Journalists Association, a JJA-affiliate).

Some of the other award recipients included Teddy Charles, saxophonist and essayist contributing to the "Best Liner Notes of the Year," with five other writers, published in David X. Young's Jazz Loft (MusicMagnet). The "Best Periodical Covering Jazz" went to JazzTimes magazine, for the second year in a row. "Best Film/Video Regarding Jazz of the the Year" went to the much-publicized, high profile Jazz documentary Ken Burns, and was accepted by his co-producer Lynn Novick

A great many jazz industry and record company executives attended the event, including parties from Universal Music Groups (Verve and ECM, among other divisions), Columbia Legacy (which contributed cds as party favors), Capitol/EMI Blue Note, Arkadia, Concord, Palmetto, OmniTone, Telarc, Allaboutjazz.com, as well as media from Associate Press, CDNow.com, Manhattan Cable Television, and New Haven-based Bourbon Street (Connecticut Public Television).

The Jazz Journalist Association is continuing to collaborate with the Jazz Foundation of America to raise funds for jazz musicians in need at an all-star jazz concert "Great Night in Harlem" which is to be held on September 24, 2001 at the Apollo Theater. Tax-deductible donations can be sent anytime, with your generosity, to the Jazz Foundation of America, 322 West 48th St., NYC 10036.


Val Vaccaro is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association, formerly Associate Editor of the print publication Jazz Now Magazine and a contributing writer for Jazz Now Interactive (www.jazznow.com). Playing piano at five years old, clarinet at nine and saxophones in her 20s, Val considers herself one of a community of great admirers of the legendary figures and unsung heroes who dedicate their lives to jazz.


C o m m e n t s

The Emcee 1 of 1
David Whiteis July 13, 01

Mandel would have made a great emcee -- too bad he sloughed off the job to his "demeanor"!

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