The Jazz Journalists Association presented its annual awards Monday (6/14) in New York City and recognized the contributions of a number of wonderful musicians, journalists and other friends of jazz. The awards were streamed live over the Internet and there were satellite parties in cities across the country, so hopefully there was more exposure than ever before. (A video of the event is viewable at the JJA site … click the above link and scroll down a bit).
Awards are always kind of tricky. Who’s to say who is ‘the best” this and the “best that,” and yet awards for movies, TV, plays, music, etc. etc. have been around forever. Art is so subjective that it sometimes seems silly to try and sort these things out. In jazz especially, each artist is trying to bring truth and beauty to the surface in their own way. The results are broad in taste, but all valid when they are done with honesty and integrity. The tapestry of jazz around the world is so much more than any awards format could ever address.
[PHOTOS: Top: Dr. Lonnie Smith accepts award for best organist; Anat Cohen takes top clarinetist award; Bottom: Tia Fuller addresses the crowd; Kurt Elling thanks the group.]
I attended the JAA dinner on behalf of the All About Jazz website and was honored to accept the award for Website of the Year. All About Jazz is, hands down, the best site on the web. It provides so much information, so many features, so many things, for fans but also musicians and people in the industry. Special salute to publisher/found Mike Ricci. And as I mentioned on stage, I also personally salute John Kelman, a tireless editor and organizer of material for AAJ. And a damn fine writer who knows his shit inside and out. They are the nuts and bolts of AAJ, to me. And they’re both a pleasure as people.
As much as there were great musicians who won awards, there were far many more great one that got no acknowledgement. Such is the way with awards. But sticking to the results, it was a great pleasure to see Roberta Gambarini win Female Vocalist of the Year. Her reputation has been growing, but formal awards have eluded her. Her albums have been Grammy worthy -- It’s coming one day. Her range and vocal instrument, with her depth of feeling, make her a sublime listen every time. Nice to see her earn the trophy. Kurt Elling’s presence at the top of the male vocalist list should be a given. He is tops in talent and he is always seeking creative ways to utilize his superb skills.
Roberta let it be known on facebook that she wanted to attend the event, but was struggling with the effects of food poisoning. She said she would have dedicated the award to one of her great friends and mentors, the late, great Hank Jones. Ironically, another of her great friends and mentors, James Moody, won the Lifetime Achievement Award. Moody couldn't make it due to recent surgery, but people reported that he's doing well and will be back on the scene. Congrats to Moody!
Joe Lovano has become one of the finest saxophonists of his generation, always creative, always passionate. He plays with heart. All the time. So his hat trick of saxophonist, small group and record of the year was deserved. Maria Schneider, one of the nicest people in jazz, is also one of its master composer/arrangers. Nice to see her take home two awards. Anat Cohen as clarinet player of the year was another noteworthy one. She has fast established herself as a great player on the instrument with bright, fresh ideas. But don’t go to sleep on her tenor sax playing. She an bring it! A great young player. (I never did find the food either, Anat…oh well).
Great to see George Wein going strong at almost 85. I’m particularly pleased to see him get Events Producer of the Year over younger, talented, producers of important events. The reason he should still be awarded after all these years is the way he breathed life back into the Newport Jazz Festival, now sponsored by CareFusion. The citadel of jazz festivals fell after he left the guardhouse, but he brought it back to great heights last year. And he’s revived his New York City festival too, which is great. His energy is boundless… and he’s still playing piano gigs with bands he puts together!
Too many winners to comment on. But the nicest thing for me is to see all these people in the room, talking, laughing, hugging. The musicians are on tour a lot, of course, so “hang” time as a group is rare. So is rubbing elbows with so many writers. Great to see all the industry people and so many excellent writers for whom jazz music is a passion. There’s always a fine spirit in the room. One of community and passion and joy. That’s the best part.
Some exceptional music was performed too, by pianist Ayako Shirasaki, guitarist Rale Micic's Trio, pianist Marc Cary's Focus Trio, saxophonist Tia Fuller's Quartet and Bobby Sanabria's Big Band. Fuller’s alto sax was scorching. Cary’s too brief appearance was intense, the group hard-driving and the pianist nimble and hot. Micic is someone to keep an eye on and Sanabria’s Latin group moved the feet and heart. Sweet stuff. Shirasaki played while people came in and greeted one another; a tough gig, but she played with great touch and swing. Nice stuff.
One bone to pick: There’s got to be a way musicians can come up for their awards and not be dragged off stage because of time restraints. They should have a few moments to make their comments and get some of the love.
Other than that, I’ve got to find a way to get Brother Thelonious beer in upstate New York!