Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jazz Masters 2012 - the 30th and final class (updated)

Call it overdue honors for Vonski and more

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the recipients of the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Award — the nation’s highest honor in jazz. The five recipients are drummer-keyboardist Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Von Freeman, bassist and composer Charlie Haden, singer Sheila Jordan and trumpeter Jimmy Owens (pictured). As a longtime educator, the latter will receive the 2012 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.

Each will receive a one-time award of $25,000 and be honored at the annual awards ceremony and concert, produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center at its home, Frederick P. Rose Hall in Manhattan next January.

With this class, the NEA is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the NEA Jazz Masters Awards, which recognize outstanding musicians for their lifetime achievements and significant contributions to the development and performance of jazz. Ironically, the NEA Jazz Masters program is going away... making this its final class of recipients. The agency has proposed one program to honor artists in all disciplines. It's called the NEA American Artists of the Year awards.

This condensation means jazz artists will still have an opportunity to receive lifetime achievement recognition from the NEA, although their nominations will have to compete with other varieties of artists. We'll have to wait and see how that works out, just as the jury is still out over the Grammys consolidation hornet's nest this spring.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Exploring mass appeal

Trombonist, bandleader and culture columnist Eric Felten had a terrific essay in today's Wall Street Journal exploring the popular and cynical sides of popular music... and what makes certain musicians really catch on with the fan base. Even when some of us could, would and do consider the product to be junk. Give a read to the article, appropriately titled: "Is There a Scientific Explanation for Justin Bieber? There is much food for thought. And I'm rather certain you'll get a chuckle out of the Eminem quote.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Must Read

John Swenson, my music writing collaborator for many years at UPI, is out with a gem. “New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans” (Oxford University Press) captures the determination of New Orleans’ stylistically varied music makers to survive after Hurricane Katrina and to help keep the city’s soul alive.

John has been writing almost exclusively about New Orleans and its musicians since the late 1990s, principally for Offbeat magazine, and has come to understand his adopted city well. (He splits his time between New York and the Crescent City.) As you dig into this book, you’ll fast appreciate the depth of his keen understanding of the city’s contemporary music scene (jazz, R&B, brass band, rock, and hip hop), as well as the music’s deep roots.

The city’s problems are far from solved post-Katrina (or as John repeatedly calls it, “the federal flood”) in August 2005. But through John’s insightful perspective and to-the-point writing, we get an appreciation of just how important music and its makers are to its continued rebirth.

There is more than just a cultural phenomenon at play here, in a city where music is so much more than mere entertainment. As John reflected in an interview with The Beachcomber: “New Orleans musicians treat music like a sacred trust, handed down from their ancestors. It’s different from the commercial pop world.”

It is so very different, and the United States, and indeed, the world, are so much richer because of it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2011 JJA Awards were Sonny side up

Saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins either won or figured prominently in four categories at this year's JJA Awards event in New York. Kudos for that , and to all of the musician, journalist and photography winners at yesterday's Jazz Journalists Association event at City Winery in Manhattan.

Sadly, this was another year when my schedule did not permit a trip to the Big Apple for this tremendous jazz industry event.

Rollins won Musician of the Year and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year. Producer/director Bret Primack won Best Short Form Video of the Year for "Sonny Rollins: Getting It Back Together" and photographer John Abbott won Photo of the Year honors for yet another of his masterful images of Rollins.

An extra shout out to Jimmy Heath. The saxophonist was voted this year's winner of JJA's Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Award. And "I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath" by Jimmy Heath and Joseph McLaren (Temple University Press) was voted Best Book About Jazz.

Here's a link to all of this year's winners.