Sonny Rollins, the ageless genius of the tenor sax, collected three awards – including two of the biggest – on Wednesday night at the 16th annual Jazz Journalism Association (JJA) Awards ceremonies in New York. (For more winners, see below.)
Davis could easily have merited three awards himself – one for his work as a trumpeter, one for his work as an educator, and another for his stewardship of the 55-piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra – but the “Hero” award covers all three of those vocations.
For that matter, Davis also hosts the weekly radio show and podcast “The Real Deal.” But since the JJA annually honors radio work with a separate award, he still has the chance to win that one on its own somewhere down the line.
(Past Chicago “Heroes” have included Joe Segal, proprietor of the Jazz Showcase; Geraldine DeHaas, founder of the Jazz Unites Festival; Jim DeJong, longtime Board member of the Jazz Institute of Chicago; and drummer-composer and events producer Mike Reed.)
Tomorrow’s JJA “satellite party” is one of more than a dozen taking place this month across the nation – and in Canada and New Zealand, of all places – to celebrate local jazz communities. The list of host cities includes Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and, closer to home, Detroit, which will honor club owner Bert Dearing, Jr. on June 28.
The party celebrating Davis’s award starts at 7 at Elastic Sound and Vision Gallery (2830 N. Milwaukee, one floor above Friendship Restaurant), and is free to the public. Following the JJA event, Elastic will present the June concert in its monthly Intersections series, starring Davis as a special guest with an ensemble comprising bassist Tatsu Aoki, drummer Dushun Mosley, and both Hanah Jon Taylor and Jeff Chan on woodwinds ($10 cover).
WEDNESDAY IN NEW YORK, the JJA Awards went to many of the usual suspects, such as Joe Lovano (Small Ensemble of the Year), Maria Schneider (Large Ensemble), Kurt Elling (Male Vocalist), Vijay Iyer (Pianist), Regina Carter (Violinist), and Wycliffe Gordon (Trombonist) -- each of them having won several times previously. A number of these released no recordings during the awards’ eligibility period, but won anyway – despite efforts by the JJA leadership, via a Facebook forum and imprecations to the voters, to focus the awards on current activity.
Click here for a complete listing of all JJA Awards winners. In the spirit of full disclosure, your Chicago Jazz Examiner is a charter member of the JJA and serves on its Awards Committee.
The balloting did contain a few surprises, mostly in the segment of the awards honoring journalists. (The JJA presented 29 awards for music, and 11 for journalism.) Veteran poet and essayist, activist and performer (and sometime jazz critic) Amiri Baraka received the Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award. Josh Jackson of radio station WBGO-FM received the award for broadcasters, and for the first time in half a decade, the New York Times’s fine jazz critic Nate Chinen did not win the award for jazz writing (newspapers, magazines, on-line); it went instead to Larry Blumenfeld, whose work appears prominently in the Wall Street Journal and the Village Voice.
The 81-year-old Rollins, whose demeanor both on and off stage defies his years, won the JJA’s top honor, Musician of the Year; he also won "Record of the Year" honors for “Road Shows, vol. 2,” and the award for Tenor Saxophonist of the Year. His fellow octogenarian, drummer Roy Haynes, won as Drummer of the Year.
The JJA voting always shows a certain New York centeredness, due at least in part to the intense level of jazz activity in the city and the number of nationally known musicians who live there. Chicago connections were slim this year, essentially boiling down to Elling and flutist Nicole Mitchell, neither of whom currently lives in Chicago but both of whom spent their formative years here and remain associated with the city.
On the other hand, Chicagoans will have the chance to see and hear two of the winners – Haynes and Ambrose Akinmusire (Trumpeter of the Year) – at summer’s end, when each appears at the 2012 Chicago Jazz Festival.
The JJA counts more than 300 international members including writers, photographers, radio hosts, and industry professionals, with strong outreach efforts aimed at supporting the music and fostering professional coverage of it. The organization actually has its roots in Chicago; it was created here in 1986 in the aftermath of an arts-advisory conference held in tandem with the Chicago Jazz Festival.
And its leadership has retained Chicago ties: the first president was Chicago critic Art Lange, and the current president, Howard Mandel, grew up in Chicago, wrote for the Chicago Daily News, and produced radio programs for WBEZ before establishing himself in New York in the 1980s. The JJA Awards are now generally regarded as the most prestigious honors within the jazz sphere, particularly among musicians, many of whom appear at the the New York event to mingle with journalists and receive their awards in person.