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JJA Jazz Awards 2010 Go Digital, Local, Global, Viral

Jun 15th, 2010 | By

[Photo: Vijay Iyer accepting award. © Enid Farber 2010]

This is the year the Jazz Journalists Association’s Jazz Awards went digital, increasingly global and emphatically more local, all at once.

Using streaming online video and social media plus the energies of JJA members to organize distant “satellite parties,” the JJA Jazz Awards June 14 celebrated excellence with a gala at City Winery in NYC — a hub of activity connecting jazz communities in Albuquerque, Berkeley, Chicago, Phoenix/Scottsdale and Seattle and far beyond. The JJA also tapped the potentials of Facebook and Twitter, UStream, flickr, Acteva, YouTube and Google Docs to organize our event and disseminate our news.

As it has done at the Jazz Standard, B.B. King’s and Birdland over the past decade, the JJA threw a lively, talky, musical and jazz-spanning throw-down, but most of our initiatives employing free or low cost Internet-based software and services were new, and at least for us, experimental.

Fortunately we had a good venue to use as a lab: the Winery is a restaurant/performance space in west Soho run by Michael Dorf, who was a co-founder of the Jazz Awards in 1997, and he welcomed us with a rosé from the Winery’s own barrels (this set up can be toured). A spacious, gracious room with street-level windows lighting the woodsy barroom and tables radiating from a raised stage, with additional seating a few steps up to a side, the Winery easily accommodated some jazz-universe 300 luminaries, among them —

  • musicians: Muhal Richard Abrams, Darcy James Argue, Jamie Baum, Cyro Baptista, Roy Campbell, Anat Cohen, Daniel Carter, Claire Daly, Ray Drummond,  E.J. Decker, Liberty Ellman, Kurt Elling, Donal Fox, Giacomo Gates, Tim Hagans, Joel Harrison, Stefon Harris, Jimmy Heath, Vijay Iyer, Sy Johnson, Sheila Jordan, Lee Konitz, Janet Lawson, Steve Lehman, Joe Lovano, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Sabir Mateen, Scott Robinson, Roswell Rudd, Daniel Sadownick, Maria Schneider, Judi Silvano, Daniel Smith, , Gary Smulyan, Tessa Souter, Lew Tabackin, Henry Threadgill, Chris Washburne and Matt Wilson.  . .
  • “industry” movers and shakers: Bruce Lundvall and Ian Ralfini from EMI/Blue Note, Sarah Humphries and Tina Pelikan from ECM, Jana Herzen of Motema, Jeff Levenson from Half Note, both Seth Rosner and Yulin Wang of Award-winning label of the year Pi, Francois Zalacain of Sunnyside, Mike Wilpezeski of Telarc/Heads Up, Matt Merewitz representing Plus Loin, Bay Area publicist Terri Hinte and New York pr people Jason Harmon Byrne, Kim Smith, Jana La Sorte, Don Lucoff with his team Jordy Freed and Steph Brown of DLMedia, Leah Grammatica, and Mary Fiance Fuss from Jazz at Lincoln Center, with Bridget Wilson and others from their public relations division; festival, concert and community organizers George Wein, Jack Kleinsinger, Brice Rosenbloom, Simon Renter, Todd Barkan, Lynn Mueller and Fred Taylor (one of our Jazz Heroes).
  • journalists from AllAboutJazz.com, All About Jazz – New York, the Amsterdam News, Associated Press, ArtsJournal.com, Down Beat, Hot House, Jazz Times, JazzCorner.com, JazzWax.com, Jazziz, JazzFM.91, MOJA Radio, SignalToNoise, Stereophile, the New York Times, National Public Radio, TimeOut New York, Village Voice, the Wall Street Journal and WBGO/Newark (thanks to Thurston Briscoe) were in attendance;
  • so were educators from Columbia University, the New School Jazz and Contemporary Music Program, New York University, the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University and SUNY-Purchase.
  • Terrance McKnight, evening music host of WQXR, served as master of ceremonies; awards were presented by Jazz Journalists Association members, including visitors from Chicago, Seattle, Chattanooga, Washington DC and Moscow, Russia.

Highest honors went to saxophonist and flutist James Moody, for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz (Todd Coolman accepted that on behalf of the man who had his own mood for love), and to veteran music journalist Don Heckman, whose 50 year career has straddled both coasts, for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism (as mentioned by presenter Rafi Zabor, standing in for our fallen comrade Mike Zwerin, who won that accolade last year).

Pianist-composer Vijay Iyer was named Musician of the Year (he seemed genuinely suprised, saying he had been prepared to “lose big”). Multiple Awards were received by Joe Lovano (Record of the Year for Folk Art, Small Group of the Year for the band Us Five, and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year in a strong field), Maria Schneider (Composer of the Year, Arranger of the Year) and Darcy James Argue, as Up and Coming Artist of the Year and for the Large Ensemble of the Year, with his big band Secret Society. As our sponsor BMI had requested, I raised a toast to the entire body of nominees in their behalf (and gave a shout out to Randy Klein, their representative — who also received the Award and large canvas photo print of Tom Harrell, dwarfed before a wave of curtains, that won Photo of the Year — by Russian photographer Lena Adasheva).

At that point, we were drinking bubbly.

All these winners, as well as George Wein and A-Team honorees Sue Mingus and James Jordan, spoke up for the essential operations of journalists in support the arts of jazz. So did Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director of the Jazz Foundation of America, who chimed in commending Sweet Home New Orleans’ activist Jordan Hirsch as well as Eric Overmyer (co-creator with David Simon of the HBO series “Treme”) for their efforts sustaining the musical culture of Hurricane Katrina-swept Louisiana.

We made one embarrassing mistake, not announcing the winner of the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography — it’s Mitchell Seidel, and apologies to him as well as fellow nominee Alan Nahigian who was in the room for somehow space out on that important award. Winners in all categories can be seen at www.JJAJazzAwards.org. Photographs of the event and live video streaming from City Winery can also be viewed there; video is also on UStream.com.

Of course, the JJA saluted our “A Team” recipients Jordan (retired New York State Council on the Arts music chairman, producer with Ornette Coleman), Mingus (director of ongoing music activities inspired by her late husband, Charles Mingus), Overmyer (co-creator/producer of the HBO series Treme), and, with a shout out by Nate Chinen captured on the streaming video, jazz heroes elsewhere including Bill Smith (Horby Island, off Vancouver) and the late John Norris — they were partners in Coda magazine and Toronto’s Jazz and Blues Centre — and pioneering jazz publicist Virginia Wicks (age 90, in Los Angeles).

Satellite parties were held to celebrate the JJA’s Jazz Awards at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, where Jazz Hero Khalil Shaheed was guest of honor; the Outpost Performance Center in Albuquerque; the Triple Door in Seattle (sponsored by Earshot Jazz) and the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, where A Team winners Geraldine de Haas and Joe Segal received their statuettes from Neil Tesser (Chicago Jazz Music Examiner) and Art Lange (PointofDeparture.org). Party attendees engaged in some serious twittering about our events, commenting on each winner as they were announced (we had them up as a widget on JJAJazzAwards, but you can also search them using hashtag #jjajazzawards). In Scottsdale, Arizona, 17-year-old alto saxophonist, published writer and JJA member Mikayla Gilbreath and her family threw a satellite party attended by musicians including former Count Basie Orchestra singer Dennis Rowland. Photos from those parties and the New York gala (first slide show up is by Fran Kaufman) are being posted at the  JJA Flickr Page.

Music at the JJA’s City Winery gala was provided by solo pianist Ayako Shirasaki, who played a rigorous version of “Con Alma,” guitarist Rale Micic’s Trio, which has a spare but rhythmically emphatic style, in-the-pocket pianist Marc Cary’s Focus Trio, hot alto saxophonist Tia Fuller’s firing Quartet and Bobby Sanabria’s explosive Big Band. Since Awards presenters and recipients had all found a lot to say from the stage, the performances began under time constraints — but all the bands’ urgency was palpable, infectious and raised the spirits of jazz people who have no other party that’s a cross-section of players on the scene during NYC’s jazz festival season. Most of that music was webcast on the streaming video, too. We are presently extracting the music clips for posting at various free video sharing sites.

There was a large and effective team that worked on the Awards this year, larger than usual and even so, better organized. From the fundraising and governance coordination of Yvonne Ervin, JJA vice president who was simultaneously being married, doing the seating plans and getting ready to be inducted into the A Team herself, to Elise Axelrad who ran the harried backstage action, Colleen Growe who kept presenters cool and ready to go, Awards coordinator Joseph Petrucelli, the jazz email-man Jim Eigo and public relations activist Antje Huebner, director of social media initiatives JA Kawell of Ozmotic Media, the streaming video crew of IB Creative, Inc., the invaluable support of Hot House magazine and art director Karen Pica in working up the program book, DL Media’s press campaign (which resulted in a Wall St. Journal item penned by Will Friedwald), volunteers organized by Lois Mirviss and satellite coordination by Joanne Robinson Hill (plus, in Chicago, Susana Sandoval), and ballot committe Ken Dryden, Neil Tesser and Laurence Donohue-Greene, everyone pulled their weight to get a behemoth project launched. Carolyn McClair pitched in, City Winery’s Marc Colletti had the tech together, Kathryn Thomspon created a game plan and menu that worked out well.

In the room, most of the ticket holders had sat respectfully through the presentation of almost 50 Awards, which lasted over two hours. Once the honors had been bestowed, the crowd started schmoozing furiously, as if they’d been bottled up and all their social impulses were coming to the fore. This fun became palpable. Awards given, the refreshments enjoyed, music heard, JJA experiments in social media well received — tweets from Scotland and Poland, significant viewership of the streaming video (which remains archived), more than 40 new followers signing up during the event, with the new challenge being to keep them engaged and involved in themselves promoting jazz — the JJA scored well at home and stirred things jazz-related surprisingly afar.

Think global and local but act digital — using all the media within reach — that was my takeaway from the 14th annual JJA Jazz Awards. We raised the profile of jazz, of specific jazz practitioners, of the JJA and of the jazz-related business that sponsored us and advertised with us. People got together to hobnob about jazz all over the country and in the ephemeral cloud. We pulled our active committee together more effectively to put on this event, and discussed amongst us how to move forward with momentum on other JJA projects. Info on that will be forthcoming. Meanwhile: What did you get out of the Jazz Awards? Do tell. — Howard Mandel (producer of the Jazz Awards since 1997).

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About Howard Mandel

Howard Mandel is an author, media and events producer, editor, educator, lecturer and president of the Jazz Journalists Association.

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