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8th Annual Jazz Journalist's Association Jazz Awards

Jazz does not have Academy Awards. There is no global telecast of glamorous stars in chic gowns and tuxedos beaming brightly while clips of their latest productions play for international audiences to admire. Jazz has the Danish Jazzpar Award, going to one great artist each year, and magazine polls like Down Beat's and Swing Journal's that anoint top musicians for their achievements, as determined by a vote of their contributors. Jazz also has the Jazz Journalists Association's Jazz Awards.

As president for the past ten years of the Jazz Journalists Association, a not-for-profit group of some 450 writers, photographers, broadcasters and internet professionals mostly in the U.S. and Canada but also from every continent except Antarctica, I am proud to have founded the JJA Jazz Awards, which celebrated excellence in music and journalism for the eighth time on June 15 at B. B. King's Blues Club and Grill on 42nd Street in New York City. In what has become a huge cocktail-and-supper party for the entire jazz community and industry, the Jazz Awards cite winners in 40 categories such as Lifetime Achievement in Jazz, Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism, Musician of the Year, Best Record of the Year, Best Book, Best Photographer and Best Broadcaster.

More than 500 people jammed into the elegant main room of B.B. King's to drink, eat, gossip, and listen to bands including Dewey Redman's fiery quartet and solo guitarist Doug Wamble, who performed between the announcement of Awards winners, who are chosen by JJA members. The crowd was noisy, but fell silent at special moments, as when Joe Lovano played a deeply touching soprano sax solo version of Monk's "Reflections" in tribute to the newly deceased soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. Keiko Jones, presenting the Drummer of the Year Award to Roy Haynes, spoke about how her husband Elvin, who died last month, is still so alive that she makes him breakfast and lunch every day.

Multi-reeds player Sam Rivers, up from Florida to receive the award for Best Single CD Reissue of the Year, explained how his Blue Note Records debut Fuchsia Swing Song wasn't the album he intended to make, but the last-minute substitution of songs he'd been playing since the 40s for some new compositions producer Alfred Lion didn't like. Accepting the award for Album of the Year for Alegría by Wayne Shorter, who was on the West Coast that night performing with Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland and Brian Blade, Rivers also mentioned that Miles had traded him to Art Blakey for Wayne in 1964, but no one had told Rivers where to go to join the Messengers, so it never happened. Several Awards winners and presenters said a few words about Ray Charles, who crossed jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues and rock musics to come up with the sound of soul.

Satirist and political activist Dick Gregory was the guest host, cracking jokes and making serious points about the social and spiritual attributes of jazz. The JJA demonstrated just how socially and spiritually responsible jazz people are by turning the event into a benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America's Musicians Emergency Fund.

Unlike civilized societies, the United States does not take care of its artists, or recognize health insurance as a necessity for its citizens. So the Jazz Foundation has been established to assist musicians who have fallen on hard times with medical help, housing costs and sometimes career advise. You'd be surprised how even well known artists find themselves in economic hardship—in 2003 trumpeter Freddie Hubbard announced that the Jazz Foundation had helped him make mortgage payments when emergency medical procedures wiped out his savings.

The Jazz Awards don't directly raise much money for the Jazz Foundation, perhaps $5000. But they do focus attention on the Jazz Foundation's good works, as well as on the positive effects of jazz journalists, who are often scorned by musicians for being critical, and by other journalists or scholars for being too soft, promoting every musician rather than scrutinizing them.

Jazz journalists actually spread news, help explain what music means, how it functions, and whet the appetites of listeners everywhere. The Jazz Journalists Association also tries to connect the players of jazz to the benefactors of the music by giving awards to an "A-Team"—the first rate advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors who may not be jazz musicians, but who affect jazz just as powerfully.

This year's A-Team Awards presenters were themselves extraordinary: Bebop saxophonist Jimmy Heath, bluesy cornetist Olu Dara, high note trumpeter Jon Faddis, beyond-fusion guitarist Pat Martino, millionaire jazz producer Creed Taylor and Dorthann Kirk, widow of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and a gadfly at local radio station WBGO-FM. They went onstage with honorees Arthur H. Barnes, a senior vice-president of the insurance company HIP Health Plan of New York, who announced he'd kicked off the WBGO 25th anniversary fundraising campaign with a $100,000 contribution; Jarrett Lilien, corporate president of E-Trade.com, who announced that he and his wife had decided to launch the Jazz Foundation of America's campaign to build a New York residence for elderly and indigent jazz musicians with a $100,000 donation; Bethany Bultman, who founded the first free clinic for jazz musicians in the U.S. in New Orleans; Sandy Jackson, widow of vibist Milt Jackson, who has organized benefits for drug rehabilitation institutes serving "Friends of Charlie Parker"; incomparable recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who has worked on all Blue Note Records sessions since 1953 while also recording jazz for Prestige, CTI, Impulse! and many other labels; and Les Paul, who at age 89 has been knee-deep in all of American music since the height of the Jazz Age, as a guitarist, radio star, inventor of the electric guitar, developer of multi-tracking, overdubbing, and many other studio innovations. Paul performs every Monday night, still, at the Iridium Jazz Club in midtown, and he's a funny man, looking ahead.

Segments of the Jazz Awards, which lasted three hours, were videotaped by BETJazz, the cable television station. More information and photographs of the event are available via the links below. I don't mean to blow my own horn, until I put my flute to my lips, but it was a sweet pleasure to look out into the tables and see pianist Cecil Taylor dining with reedsman Frank Wess, singer Cassandra Wilson hobnobbing with bassist Ron Carter, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco meeting Sue Mingus, Chicago percussionist Kahil El' Zabar with Puerto Rican-born saxophonist Miguel Zenon, clarinetist Perry Robinson hugging trombonist Roswell Rudd, saxophonists Bobby Watson, Ronnie Cuber, Lew Tabackin and Gary Smulyan, among many others. Last year the JJA hosted Jazz Awards parties beyond New York in Washington D.C., Chicago, Monterey, California, and Jerusalem; this year there was a second event, honoring composer-pianist Horace Silver and two doctors who treated drummer Billy Higgins for liver cancer, in Los Angeles. The Jazz Awards is not the Academy Awards, but it's getting close.