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Jazz Awards Postgame: Must We Always Be Conflicted?

Jun 17th, 2010 | By

The JJA Jazz Awards were held on the same day and time as ASCAP’s 2010 Jazz Wall of Fame event. Whose announcement came first is of little significance. What matters is that jazz is too small a market for this to continue to happen. The Jazz Awards is a great hang; we get to greet people we haven’t seen in a while. We get to applaud winners and lament the not-so-fortunate. Comments filter through me from traditionalists. “Who is that person?” “What are you journalists trying to do, pick the newest fruit so you don’t miss out?” My answers are simple: pay more attention to what’s ahead, and, yes, sometimes we do want to give a shout out to the new kid. It was heartening to see Mitchell Seidel finally win something (the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography); god knows he’s been out here long enough. However, his photography announcement was among the missing. He sent an email to JJA President Howard Mandel that he was sending a sub as he was called away on business. Why no announcement? Guess he was too used to not winning.

Herewith a couple to ornery thorns. We need to retire a couple of awards. George Wein consistently wins as the preeminent Presenter, and deservedly so, but perhaps we might honor him by renaming this “The George Wein Award For Presenter of the Year,” or something. Hey, how about asking him and/or his financial supporters to sponsor the thing?

The jazz periodical award, enough already! JazzTimes is the best out there — we know that. Retire their award and give someone else a chance. Better yet, drop the category all together. But that’s uncool, isn’t it? After all, it is the Jazz Journalists Association, isn’t it? And they do hire (some of) us, don’t they?

As for the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame, they seem to be having trouble finding ASCAPers to award. They are paying a price for their snobbery in the 1940s, when they wouldn’t grant membership to jazz and R&B. BMI stepped in to fill an important void. This year some BMI artists were honored, Dinah Washington and Phil Woods among them. No problems there. Tony Winner Lillias White channeled Dinah on “What A Difference…” — she starred in Dinah Was — and Woods blew the roof off the joint on “All The Things You Are,” both by ASCAP composers. Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen was given a living award alongside Phil. Even he said that “some purists would boycott this,” meaning his “jazz” award. While he was wrong — the room was overflowing — he composed and performed a piece for the occasion, which was far from his cocky rock stuff. Well done. Who’s next: Chicago? Blood, Sweat & Tears? Got no qualms there.

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About arnold jay smith

Arnold Jay Smith is an adjunct professor of jazz history at New Jersey City University. He is formerly writer of the OctoJAZZarians column for Jazz.com and former treasurer of the JJA.

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