Monday, June 23, 2008

Jazz Journalists Awards Redux

The results were in last week, and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Jazz Journalism did, in fact, make out to the Left Coast. Actually, the NorthLeft Coast, since the deserved winner was Doug Ramsey, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, but whose reach as a journalist, author and blogger extends far beyond the Olympic rain forests (check out his excellent Rifftides blog at

I did, however, come to one conclusion after seeing the results of the JJA awards -- the thought that maybe it's actually a little too soon for me to be receiving a lifetime award of any sort. The final verse from Carl Sandburg's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" has been quoted far too many times. But it's been running through my mind a lot over the last few days:

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

Carl Sandburg

Monday, June 9, 2008

Jazz Journalists Awards

The nominees for the Jazz Journalists Association's 2008 Jazz Awards have been announced. And I'm both proud and surprised to have been nominated in the Jazz Journalism Lifetime Achievement Award category.

"Proud" because the recognition comes from associates and colleagues who deal with the same problems and fight the same battles that I do in our mutual quest to acknowledge the importance of America's greatest musical contribution to the world. "Surprised" because I've been working on the West coast for the past thirty years (two thirds of that time at the Los Angeles Times), away from the East Coast jazz mainstream. It's true that I was busily active in New York in the '60s and '70s, covering pop music for the New York Times, writing a column for the Village Voice, doing dozens of articles for Down Beat, Metronome, the Jazz Review, etc., and writing liner notes for the likes of Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Andrew Hill. But that was a long time ago.

And the truth is that I'm delighted to be acknowledged with a nomination, especially in a category that also includes Stanley Crouch, Doug Ramsey, Larry Kart and Alyn Shipton. I was talking to Herbie Hancock last week about his reaction when his album, "River: The Joni Letters" was nominated for a Grammy Album of the Year award. And we both agreed that the standard line -- "Oh, I'm just happy to be nominated" -- may sound like emotional boilerplate, but the funny thing is that it's really true.

Of course, Herbie then began to chant three hours a day, and wound winning the award. I don't expect to be doing many "nam myoho renge kyos " over this. And of course I'll be thrilled if the award makes its way out to the Left Coast.

But either way, it's been, as I said, a proud surprise.

Here's the Jazz Journalists Association address for the full list of nominees:

Saturday, June 7, 2008


A month after the collapse of the International Association for Jazz Education (I.A.J.E.), the genre’s prime center for education and advocacy, the repercussions are still being considered around the jazz world. The announcement on April 19 by I.A.J.E. President Chuck Owen that the Association’s Board of Directors had “voted to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Federal Bankruptcy Law” startled the organization’s 8,000 members, as well as jazz fans, many of whom viewed I.A.J.E. as a stabilizing influence, at a time when jazz, like the rest of the music business, is dealing with a changing marketplace, new delivery systems and lowered expectations.

In retrospect, the demise of I.A.J.E. raised two questions. The first was simply, “What went wrong, and was it a manifestation of the state of jazz, or the state of the I.A.J.E?”

Start with a list by Alan Bergman, the organization’s attorney, of a series of problems that impacted the organization financially, some the result of circumstance, some the product of managerial decisions. “The budget,” he said, “got up to around $3.5 million , and that worked pretty well for a while. But we were dealing with three very unreliable sources of income: the annual Conventions, the dues and the ads from the journal.”

In addition to serving as a primary source of revenue, the Conventions offered the most visible I.A.J.E. presence to the jazz community.

“They provided stimulating and inspiring learning experiences for everybody involved,” said guitarist Kenny Burrell, Director of Jazz Studies at U.C.L.A. “a very optimistic attitude about what the future might be for jazz.”

Don Lucoff, whose DL Media company is one of the primary jazz publicity organizations, agreed. "The IAJE convention was basically Mecca. It was ground zero for jazz education. "

But the Conventions began to offer disappointing financial returns in the 2002 event, which was held a few months after 9/11. Succeeding Conventions either produced losses or marginal profits, and the January 2008 Convention, held in Toronto, drew half the attendance that normally shows up when the event is held in New York City or other domestic venues. Faced with liabilities in the $1 million range, the I.A.J.E. made a plea to its membership for support. The request, according to the Bergman, “asked for a contribution of $25. It produced a 4% return – around $12,000.”

He also insisted that there had been no evidence of malfeasance on the part of any of the I.A.J.E. officers or Board of Directors, adding that “The Board acted upon the basis of the information given to them. It was accurate information, but it may not necessarily have been in the form which the Board could really use to make an informed judgment about the seriousness of the financial condition of this organization.”

So the short answer to the first question would appear to be that the I.A.J.E. downfall had far less to do with the 21st century condition of jazz than it did with the internal financial machinations of the organization itself.

Which leads to the second, broader question: Can jazz flourish and remain relevant – with or without I.A.J.E. – in today’s rapidly shifting creative and economic climate?

Although it hasn’t always been visible on the wider view screen, jazz has nonetheless been demonstrating surprising vitality in many areas recently.

A few weeks ago, for example, saw the announcement of the First International Jazz Award program, scheduled to be televised globally from the Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 29. The show, says creator and executive producer Kitty Sears, “…salutes jazz in its many forms, its influence on all types of artists” with awards in 24 categories. Tribute segments will honor the jazz contributions of Lena Horne, Count Basie, Clint Eastwood, George and Ira Gershwin and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

At the 2008 Grammy Awards, Herbie Hancock’s “River: The Joni Letters” received the Album of the Year award, the first, and the only other, jazz album to do so since 1964’s “Getz/Gilberto.” And, even though overall jazz record sales are down, some individual artists – singers Diana Krall and Michael Buble, trumpeter Chris Botti, to name a few – are consistently producing albums with sales reaching toward, and even beyond, the million mark.

Botti’s success, like that of Krall and Buble, reflects a reviving connection with one of jazz’s primal elements. “Chris,” says his producer, Bobby Colomby, “works to capture the romantic elements of jazz; he tries to play to his listeners, not at them.”

Boutique jazz record labels such as Mack Avenue Jazz, MaxJazz, Cryptogramophone,((cq)) Anzic((cq)) Records, Double Dave Music and the Artistry Music Group – often oriented toward specific styles -- are making it possible for talented artists to have their work released, at a time when limited signings are being made by major jazz labels. “With what’s happening in the record business,” says George Klabin, founder of the recently opened Los Angeles company, Resonance Records, “I believe we’re going to see a landscape of small labels with the capability and the desire to release a more diverse and interesting range of music.”

On the club front, traditionally the night-at-the-office workplace for jazz musicians, the opening in 2007 of two major new venues – Yoshi’s in San Francisco and Anthology in San Diego -- make it more likely that major jazz names such as Pat Metheny, Arturo Sandoval, Ahmad Jamal and others – can make more frequent West Coast tour appearances.

One could also mention the frequent presence of jazz samples and rhythms in rap and hip-hop music reaching back to the work of Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest and US3, as well as its use to establish atmosphere and style in commercials, television series and feature films.

All of which suggests that the answer to the second question is that jazz is indeed finding its own unique way to flourish and remain relevant in the climate of the new century. Which is not surprising when one considers that jazz has been doing precisely that for nearly a century, evolving artistically through the Jazz Age of the ‘20s, the Swing Years of the Depression and World War II, the post-War bebop era, cool jazz, avant-garde, jazz rock, fusion, crossover, smooth jazz and beyond, maintaining its position as America’s prime artistic contribution to the music of the world.