2000 Year in Review: The Year That Was

JazzTimes editors present the highlights (and lowlights) of the year in jazz

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Alan Greenspan
By Courtesy of Eugene Schwartz
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From the movie For Love or Country: The Story of Arturo Sandoval
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John Coltrane and Yanni
By Jack Hornaday
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By Jack Hornaday
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Uri Caine
By Caroline Mardok
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Bobby Hutcherson
By Frank Stewart
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By Jack Hornaday

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Coolest Format
DVD

Jazz lovers have a love/hate thing with new formats for music. We love when the new format gives us better sound, portability, durability, selection of material or whatever else might actually benefit us as serious listeners. We hate when the new format is used to sell us the same thing for the third or fourth time. The DVD is such a format. You might get great sound and video in a portable format, and in some cases, bonus material heretofore unavailable. Or you might just get the same thing you bought on videotape 10 years ago. Prime example of the former: Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Of the latter: Jazz Casual shows. (Although, with the DVD, you can zoom directly into Count Basie’s ever-active sweat pores.)

Snit of the Year
Pat Metheny and Kenny G

In response to an e-mail to his Web site, Pat Metheny launched into a vicious attack on Kenny G, ostensibly for his desecration of Louis Armstrong by his virtual duet with Satchmo on “What a Wonderful World.” Pat’s nasty remarks led to various other parties, mostly anti-G forces, chiming in online and off. There was no response from the G-man, who has been enduring these onslaughts for as long as he’s gone without a complete last name. Although we are always eager to pile on when it comes to making fun of Kenny G (he is, after all, such an easy target), we should all remember that during his lifetime Armstrong was a popular artist who was not opposed to performing with all kinds of artists in all sorts of settings. Of course, he never called himself Louie A, did he?

Nonliving Artist of the Year
Louis Armstrong

Could there be any doubt in this year of Satchmo’s celebrated (if inaccurate) 100th birthday? Besides a bevy of reissues, Armstrong was the subject of a stirring 13-part radio series on NPR and images and mentions of him seemed to be everywhere. And if Ken Burns’ Jazz series had aired as originally scheduled this past fall, Armstrong would have been even more ubiquitous during 2000. As the implicit star of that 10-part series, Armstrong will get nearly as much attention in 2001—fine by us.

Best Use of Jazz in a Feature Movie
The Tic Code

You would think that the year in which Woody Allen released a jazz movie—well, on video, it was in theaters last fall—would result in a clean sweep for the world’s most famous nebbish jazz fan. You would think wrong. Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown told the story of a journeyman swing guitarist (played convincingly by Sean Penn) with, shall we say, character issues. Told in an uneasy mixture of mock documentary (with faux talking heads Nat Hentoff, Ben Duncan and Daniel Okrent) and straight fiction, this cinematic clinker managed to be neither particularly dramatic nor funny and in the end pleased neither diehard Allen fans nor jazz fans, leaving a few critics left to marvel at the Woodster’s latest stumble. But for our money (not that we paid to see anything, of course), The Tic Code—a sleeper (sorry, Woody) about a 12-year-old boy with Tourette’s syndrome and a gift for playing jazz—impressed us with its simple emotional story and beautiful use of music in background and foreground. Clips of Monk were skillfully and seamlessly woven into the story line of a boy struggling with issues of his own. Congrats to husband and wife team Michael Wolff and Polly Draper for finally getting this film into theaters in 2000.

Best Use of Jazz on Television
Winner: BET on Jazz
Loser: BET on Jazz

Viacom’s latest prize, BET on Jazz, gets every prize in this category. See, they’re the only ones with the cojones, as Dennis Miller would say, to feature jazz on a regular basis, much less round the clock. And although not many people noticed, they also televised a jazz awards show in conjunction with Billboard. With rights to vintage music programs such as Night Music, The Nat King Cole Show and The Frank Sinatra Collection, and movies such as Lady Day, But Then She’s Betty Carter and Johnny Griffin: A Jazz Life, plus an enormous library of live performances, they deserve the right to call themselves the best. Of course, with some of their original programs coming across like cheesy infomercials, they can also call themselves the worst.

Oddest Jazz Appearance on Television:
The ever-funky Victor Wooten on the always-icky Donny & Marie.

Best Use of Jazz on a TV Commercial:
Acura

Based solely on the number of calls we received at our office (“Where can I find that song ‘Key Largo’?”), Acura’s use of Sarah Vaughan to sell us on the sophistication of their new luxury model was the people’s choice in this category. Vaughan’s crystalline voice sounded as smooth and beautiful as, well, an expensive new luxury car. The critical favorite, though, was a Volkswagen ad using Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song.” For the record, Mingus owned and drove an assortment of cars, including Ford Coupe, Cadillac, Chevy station wagon, Corvette and Bronco, but, as far as we know, never a VW. So much for truth in advertising.

Major Label Bloodless Coup of the Year:
Columbia Jazz department

There were certainly plenty of coups to choose from. The bulk of the RCA Victor jazz people were eradicated as if by a neutron bomb as part of a big corporate layoff by BMG. And under (way under) media czar Edgar Bronfman, Verve continued its consolidation of the Verve, GRP and Impulse! labels, leaving many major artists and executives looking for new homes. But for our money (make that Sony stockholders’ money), we like the nearly Shakespearean tragedy at Columbia Jazz. You have two brothers—one the prolific artist, the other the A&R consultant with a musical career of his own. The latter is assisted by industry execs who, as one of their business decisions, have to drop the brothers’ father from the label. Then one by one the execs are picked off, leaving only a few pop record people left to handle the jazz department. Oops, did I say bloodless? My bad.

Already a Major Motion Picture:
For Love or Country: The Story of Arturo Sandoval

The film aired on HBO in November and told the story of the journey of the Cuban trumpeter who fled his country and heritage for the land of the free and brave. Although not as dramatic as the Elian Gonzales saga, Sandoval’s tale has plenty of turmoil and triumph over adversity.

Oddest Reference to Jazz in a Book:
Greenspan: The Man Behind the Money

Alan Greenspan’s biography included a chapter on his brief career as a jazz sideman (as Dave Barry would say, we are not making this up). The press release stated, “He was paid only $62 a week and had to wear a glaringly yellow jacket, but he made some great music.” This information stimulates so many good jokes about money, gigs, the Fed and the economy, we decided to simply let you supply them.

Most Intriguing Corporate Maneuver:
The EMI & Time Warner merger/not merger

Most jazz fans might not have considered the ramifications of this proposed merger, but it would have meant that Blue Note and Warner Brothers Records would have the same parent company. And what we have learned from past mergers tells us that when you have two labels under roof, heads will roll, artists will be dropped and brands will be reinvented. The real question is how could anyone even consider touching the Blue Note brand?

Jazz-Related Genre Fad of the Year
Jam bands

Any trend that started with the Grateful Dead has got to cause some head scratching. But the truth is that a new audience is discovering jazz, or some forms of it, in their own fashion, not unlike the way that an earlier generation got into Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis and Les McCann in the ’60s. About all that groups like Deep Banana Blackout, Galactic, Jazz Mandolin Project and the Greyboy Allstars have in common is an affinity for improvisation and the groove. It beats the hemp out of the neoswing movement.

The Yankees Win, thhhaaaaaaa Yankees Win ’Round Midnight

The final play of the 2000 World Series ended when the Mets’ Mike Piazza flied to the Yankees’ Bernie Williams right about midnight, EST. The Shea Stadium organist began playing “’Round Midnight.” There is no truth to the rumor that he later segued into “Who Let the Dogs Out?” at the request of Benny “Oh, we didn’t win?” Agbayani.

Good News, Bad News Department
Rise in recordable CDs

Sales of CD burners and recordable CDs went up, up, up. Execs at record companies, distributors and retailers got very nervous when they got those reports with cool graphs and charts, which basically told them that people would just as soon borrow a friend’s CD and copy it onto a recordable CD (less than $2), rather than buy a new CD ($16 or more). Even though said action would mean forgoing a trip to a store with dopey clerks and forgoing CD cover graphics with the aesthetics and readability of cereal-box contest rules. You figure out which is the good news and which is the bad news.

Reissues of the Year
The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis & John Coltrane (Columbia/Legacy)
Louis Armstrong The Complete Hot Fives & Hot Sevens (Columbia/Legacy)

Even if Columbia cut its current jazz roster down to nothing, its archives were nothing to sneeze at. There was as always plenty of great archival material to go around from a variety of labels’ vaults—Gene Krupa and Harry James; Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams; Django Reinhardt. But the Davis and Coltrane six-CD box set of material from these two trailblazers touched audiences and critics alike with its power and intensity. And the Armstrong, well, you know about the Armstrong.

Coolest Sideman on a Jazz Recording
Ray Charles

The genius of blues and soul made a surprising and inspiring guest appearance as pianist on Steve Turre’s In the Spur of the Moment (Telarc). Charles also appeared with Diane Schuur on her latest for Concord, although in a more conventional vocal duet. Here’s hoping that Charles will follow through on that oft-mentioned jazz record of his own and dedicate it to his close friend, the late Milt Jackson. Memo to Quincy Jones: Q, make it happen!

Oddest Tribute
Keith Jarrett

Usually you have to die to get a tribute album, but RCA Victor jumped the gun with an eclectic salute to the music of the brooding genius of jazz piano. Among the saluting musicians were Chucho Valdes, Don Byron, D.D. Jackson, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and, well, Bruce Hornsby. We said odd. We didn’t say bad.

Inspired Pairing(s) of the Year
The entire Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Duets on the Hudson concert series

Paul Bley and Charlie Haden; Kenny Barron and Gary Bartz; Andrew Hill and Bobby Hutcherson; Sam Rivers and Anthony Cole; Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink; Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron; Jim Hall and Scott Colley; Joe Lovano and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Phew! Nuf said. Honorable mentions: Roswell Rudd and Steve Lacy; D’Angelo and Roy Hargrove; Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough; Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel (“Hey, they are on different labels, but they tour and play together, what a great story” said the publicity machine’s overactive imagination).

At Least They Got a Good Look at Jennifer Lopez
The Grammies

Although jazz took its usual back seat for the televised portion of the big music awards show, Diana Krall, David Sanborn, Gary Burton, Bob Florence, Tito Puente, Michel Camilo, Wayne Shorter and even our own Bob Blumenthal (Mr. Blue Menthol to his pal, popster Monica) took home little statues of an old record player. Well, actually they mail them to you later, but you get the point.

Imagined Pairing of Next Year
Yanni & John Coltrane

Although a few people in our office put money down on a Jim Brickman tribute to Monk, we’re betting on a more spiritual pairing of past creative and present commercial artists. Admit it, you can see Yanni tossing his hair about with his eyes closed playing “A Love Supreme,” can’t you? Just the ticket for the next PBS fundraiser!

Jazz Artist Most Saluted by Tribute Albums
Duke Ellington

Miles may be cool and Satchmo may be hot, but the Duke still reigns supreme in the land of jazz tribute albums. There were so many Duke tributes, we lost count. No artist was too big or small to pay homage to Ellington. Is this any way to treat a master?

Best Product Tie-in
Bob Dorough's Too Much Coffee Man

The groovy hipster found the perfect artist—cartoonist Shannon Wheeler—to illustrate his unique blend of clever lyrics and tricky tunes. And, best of all, it’s not even directly tied to Starbucks or any other chain—at least not yet.

The Jazz Central Station Award for Rise and Fall of a Web Site
SonicNet.com

The monolithic Viacom launched an impressive Web site devoted to virtually every genre of contemporary music. Hyped by a multimillion-dollar ad campaign using pop stars (even Pat Metheny did one), SonicNet assembled some of the best music writers associated with one site. But as is often the case with big corporate efforts, the plug was pulled halfway out of the socket with a major downsizing that cut back the editorial and freelance staff, leaving the site with some juice but no spark.

Other Awards & Honors of Note:

Chris Potter gets JazzPar prize
JJ Johnson gets Bird prize
Chip Stern gets ASCAP-Deems Taylor award for music journalism
Dave Holland swept Jazz Awards in NYC and took home prizes for the year’s best musician, album, live performance and bassist.
Pedro Martinez won the Thelonious Monk International Afro-Latin Jazz Hand Deum Competition
Myra Melford won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in India
Joshua Redman named artistic director of SFJAZZ.

Three Strikes or a Spare?
Joel Dorn launched Label M, his third label in the last 10 years.

Like his earlier Night Records offering, Dorn’s latest featured live recordings from classic jazz artists, except Label M will also include new releases and reissues from the usual Dorn suspects: Hank Crawford, Les McCann, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, et al. With the incredible success of 32 Jazz, even if this one fails, he’ll still be batting .333, which would have put him in the Top 10 in the National League this year and earned him the cleanup spot in the Phillies’ lineup. Then again, anyone could have hit cleanup for the Phils this year.

Classical Gas Award for Best Jazz by a Classical Artist
Simon Rattle

An assortment of maestros and virtuosos—Daniel Barenboim, John Barry, Rattle—tried their hand at jazz material in 2000 with decidedly mixed results. It was often hard to tell whether each project was a matter of creative exploration or commercial expediency. Didn’t anyone tell them that the jazz audience is not only just as small as the classical one, but just as discerning?

Best Franchise Effort
Knitting Factory comes to L.A.; North Sea goes to South Africa; Blue Note opens in Las Vegas

That’s right, it’s a 3-way tie. Can downtown go cross-country? Can the Dutch sponsor a festival in South Africa? Can good music occur in Las Vegas? Is the Pope Jewish? Er, wait a second.

Nice Work If You Can Get It Department

When it comes to a good gig, nothing beats the first-class travel and accouterments of a tour with pop stars. Just ask Chris Potter, who was adopted by Steely Dan. Or Michael Davis, who got a rear view of Mick and Keith every night. Or Brian Blade, who managed to play with both Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. As one musician friend said of the first Sting tour, “It’s like summer camp for a poor inner-city kid: it can be tough coming back home.”

Philanthropist of the Year
Herbie Mann; Runners-up: Max Roach; Billy Taylor

Too often, jazz musicians think of philanthropy as raising money to do their own gigs or recordings, with an occasional clinic to elementary school kids thrown in. It’s rare these days that an artist actually takes a stand on an issue outside the jazz world. Flutist Herbie Mann, a cancer survivor, took on prostate cancer in a big way this year, reminding us all that jazz doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Max Roach also deserves mention for his support year after year for Veritas, a substance abuse program. And finally there’s Billy Taylor, who could run for office based on his record of community service.

Maybe WRVR Is Next

At the time of its demise in 1993, KJAZ in San Francisco was the only commercial radio station that played jazz round the clock. The call letters and format were reincarnated in Los Angeles under the direction of Laurence Tanter. Although its AM frequency makes the sound fidelity less than optimal, KJAZ has been broadcasting mainstream jazz at all hours in one of the biggest radio markets in the country. Oddly, Pat Henry, the original founder of KJAZ, died in 2000. Coincidence? Or creepy?

Comeback of the Year
Andrew Hill

True, it’s not as if he actually disappeared or went underground, but that’s not his fault. Hill, who had been teaching at various schools the last 10 years or so, resurfaced as a major presence on the jazz scene as a guest on Greg Osby’s latest, The Invisible Hand (Blue Note), and then as a leader on his own acclaimed recording, Point of Departure (Palmetto). Some things are worth waiting for.

Groundbreaker Award for the Best New Digs
Jazz at Lincoln Center

It may seem unfair that this organization, which has already received so much financial support and so much media coverage, would get a beautiful new facility, but haven’t they earned our respect by this point? Critics of the program are quick to point to Wynton Marsalis as its Napoleonic figure, but the truth is that the institution has presented a remarkable array of jazz artists and programs, spreading the gospel of jazz to a whole other, albeit affluent, audience. And its programs for young audiences are unmatched by any other performing arts institution. The new home for Jazz at Lincoln Center promises to be nothing short of spectacular and is scheduled to open in 2003.

The Ike Quebec Award or Who Put the Artists in Jazz Artists & Repertoire?
John Medeski (Ropeadope)

There was no shortage of artists consulting with record labels. We saw Branford Marsalis (Columbia), Matthew Shipp (Thirsty Ear), Mike Nock (Naxos) and Herbie Hancock (Transparent) try their hand, plus a boatload of artist-owned labels. But we chose Medeski not for what he has done but for what he may do. Thanks to his wide-open musical aesthetic, the sky is the limit for the modernist keyboardist who may show the most artistic vision of them all. Then again, the label may fold, as they often do.

Best Birthday Party
James Moody’s 75th

Moody was feted at Avery Fisher Hall with an intimate gathering of a few hundred friends, including Bill Cosby (natch) and Wynton Marsalis. See if they do this kind of thing for Puff Daddy when he hits his golden years.

The Old Weird Harold Award for Best Special Event Emcee
Bill Cosby

When it comes to hosting a jazz-oriented special event, no one does it better than the Cos, who has great wit, timing, delivery and, best of all, a deep appreciation for the music. We can’t wait until we turn 75, so he can do our birthday party at the Blue Note. Of course, he’d be 105, but so what?

Best Jazz Book
Jazz by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns

Biographies dominated the literary landscape this year, with tomes on Clifford Brown, Nat King Cole, Harry James, Mary Lou Williams and Charles Mingus shedding new and detailed light on these important figures. But the biggest book of all was the biggest book of all: the 512-page companion to Ken Burns’ PBS series. This encyclopedic overview of jazz featured essays by Dan Morgenstern, Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, Wynton Marsalis and Gerald Early, among others, plus remarkable archival photography. It’s certain to be one of the best-selling jazz books of all time. Coming soon to a coffee table near you.

Worst Jazz Book
Ellis Marsalis by Antoinette Handy

Although Handy had plenty of competition from Quincy Troupe and Eric Nisenson, her Marsalis biography was particularly notable for its poor syntax and jumbled chronology, notwithstanding lengthy explanations of why and how certain members of the family didn’t cooperate with the author. The quality of the writing seemed in inverse proportion to the quality of the subject’s music.

Writer’s Block Blown to Bits or Prolific Jazz Writer of the Year
Scott Yanow

Fresh on the heels of his massive revision of the All-Music Guide to Jazz, former JT contributor Scott Yanow demonstrated remarkable pluck in releasing Afro-Cuban Jazz, Swing and Bebop all in one year, for a page count of way more than 1,000. He also wins for the most uses of the phrase “highly recommended” ever put to paper. Several prominent jazz writers could take a few lessons from Yanow as far as hitting those pesky deadlines.

Best Jazz Book Still to Come
James Gavin on Chet Baker

Writers can be funny about discussing works in progress. If the project is in early planning stages, they don’t want to jinx it. If the project is in the research stage, they don’t want to give away their slant. And when the book is in its final writing stage, they don’t want to remind the world (or their publisher) how far off they are from finishing. Nonetheless, we all expect great things from Gavin, who is a knowledgeable and skilled writer, blessed with a subject with a Hollywood-like persona, a rags-to riches-to-rags story, historical significance and a mysterious death.

High-Powered Double Bill
Tony Bennett & Diana Krall

Teaming two of the last decade’s most amazing jazz vocal crossover artists was an inspired if strategic move and made for a very special evening dedicated to the American popular song. And, of course, sold-out shows. They left their hearts in San Francisco, New York City and just about every major city in between.

Jazz Goes Classical
Uri Caine

Don Byron did arias. Wayne Shorter and Oscar Peterson composed their own orchestral music. Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin did a classical sampler. But Caine’s personal take on Schumann and The Goldberg Variations wins out for audacity and originality. All in all, we thought jazz musicians had a better time of it doing classical, than classical musicians had doing jazz. Then again, maybe we should ask classical people what they thought. Nah.

The Sugar Daddy Award for the Largest Supporter of Jazz
Doris Duke Foundation

Doling out over $3 million alone on jazz in two years put the Doris Duke Foundation into a category all its own. Not since the Lila Wallace Readers Digest Fund committed money in the early ’90s has a national foundation adopted jazz in such a big way. The effects of the expenditures may seem hard to measure, but organizations big and small such as NPR, Chamber Music America and Earshot Jazz will be glad to explain to you what a difference thousands of dollars can make.

Most Prolific Living Artist of the Year
Dominic Duval

We spared no expense in researching this question. By that we mean that we guessed at it—but it was a well-informed guess, considering we get a CD (or two or three or seven) a week featuring this estimable bassist either as leader or sideman. We know you expected that perennial favorites Wynton Marsalis or David Murray would triumph. But Duval is an artist who knew that the key to successful retail, relatively speaking, is volume, volume, volume. Attention Kmart shoppers.

Best Music on This Planet from Another
Sun Ra

Although he was no longer listed in the Philadelphia phone book (Ra, Sun), the caped one continued to work his interstellar magic on his earthly following with a slew of reissues from Evidence. And for those who had trouble keeping up with Ra’s prodigious output, Robert Campbell and Christopher Kent published The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra (their title, not ours), an 847-page discography. There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who love Sun Ra and those who don’t.

Best Development of a Whole New Audience
John Scofield

Thanks in no small part to his collaborations with members of MMW, Deep Banana Blackout and other jam bands, Scofield got a new fan base without changing his own musical direction, guitar sound, touring band, clothes or even haircut. Sounds like the best kind of makeover.

Best Personnel Decision
Pat Metheny

Metheny toured with a trio for the first time in seven years. The youthful rhythm section of Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart formed a perfect backdrop for Metheny’s unique approach to the guitar. And if that weren’t enough evidence of Metheny’s canniness, a subsequent bunch of dates that included Larry Goldings and Michael Brecker confirmed it.

Best Rockers Gone Jazz
Joni Mitchell; Andy Summers

It’s tough to criticize pop stars who stoop to conquer the jazz idiom. Ah, but then again there is such a tradition of bungled efforts (Barry Manilow, Diana Ross), it’s hard to resist skepticism. Thankfully, Mitchell’s inspired takes on standards as well as a few of her own classic songs backed by a lush orchestra insulted neither her old audience nor the jazz-vocal crowd. Andy Summers deserves an honorable mention for his dogged exploration of composers such as Mingus and Monk. Ex-Fleetwood Mac singer Bob Welch (remember “Sentimental Lady”?) also released a recording of jazz crooning, but it’s doubtful any of you heard it. Come to think of it, we never heard it either.

Sexiest Jazz Performer
Lavay Smith; James Carter

Start with the album covers and publicity photos, which featured Smith and her décolletage from various come-on angles. Continue on to the song titles, including “One Hour Mama” and “Honey Pie.” And end with her stage show—one that could easily be broadcast on E! or even Spice channel. Look out, Lavay, keep up this lascivious stuff and our own Sean Daly may take to stalking. And in the interest of not being sexist, James Carter is a pretty handsome dude.

Cover Version We Hope Never to Hear Again
“Grazin’ in the Grass” by Boney James & Rick Braun

It’s not like they ruined a classic. It’s just that we heard it enough the first time.

Best Political Appointment
Danilo Perez

In a move worthy of emulation by other countries (including our own), Panama appointed Danilo Perez their cultural ambassador. Does this mean we have to call him Sir Perez?

Get It Together
Jazz Alliance International

Although it’s a long way from the Country Music Association, the trade association for jazz took baby steps this year by coming up with a name, advisory board, by-laws and, most importantly, some funds for at least short-term survival.

Jazz for Suicide on a Dark and Rainy Day or the Worst Title for a Thematic Jazz Sampler
Jazz for Grads (Concord)

In the frenzy to avoid being the only record company without a cheesy-titled sampler, labels went a little overboard with their “concept” collections, replete with corny and sexist covers. Even the hip Koch Jazz, which has been reissuing the classic Atlantic jazz material, as well as great stuff from Enja and its own classy in-house brand, joined the fray with a sampler of their artists playing Ellington. Great material. Too bad the CD booklet looked like something from the Tijuana Brass school of cover design. Yup, they got it bad and that ain’t good.

Speaking of Bad Jazz CD Cover Design Award
Too many to mention

Jazz suffers not only from a lack of sales, but a crusty (read: uncool) image that turns off potential younger listeners. We once had a friend who refused to buy a jazz CD, no matter how good the music, because the cover design—a picture of a doughy guy with unkempt hair, rumpled clothes and a gassy look, accompanied by some illegible cursive font—was so awful. Granted, this former pal was as shallow as puddle, but he had a point: When an uneducated buyer is faced with deciding between a beautifully designed Blue Note album from the ’50s and some modern, homemade monstrosity, what do you think he’ll choose?

Best CD Covers
OmniTone; Between the Lines; ECM; hatHUT; Winter & Winter

Yes, all of these labels follow tight formats, but we are big fans of Mondrian and minimalism. OmniTone wins out, though, not just for the crisp, clean design and solid photography, but for the quality artist interviews that start in the booklet and continue, in unabridged form, at www.omnitone.com.

Don’t Cry for Me, Switzerland
The envy of avant-garde labels everywhere, the Swiss label hatHUT lost its funding support from the U.B.S. a.k.a. Swiss Bank Corporation.

Swagists of the Year
Rhino

Frankly, we were a little disappointed this year in the quality and quantity of promotional merchandise. Usually we get more heart-shaped boxes at Valentine’s Day, more candy at Halloween, more matzo at Passover…. Even the coffee mugs, hats and T-shirts have dropped off. Our favorite swag situation was when one item was used with another. Like when the Skyline Chili went bad and we used the Asleep at the Wheel air freshener. Then all was right in our little world.

Best Sense of Humor Displayed by a Jazz Musician
Matt Wilson

Perennial choice Willem Breuker will have to remain seated while we introduce the new kid on the block—a somewhat goofy guy who is as likely to play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as he is to play something from Ornette Coleman. Best of all, his wit belies a serious commitment to creative music. Even his pratfalls are musical!

Worst Sense of Humor Displayed by a Jazz Musician
Keith Jarrett

Perhaps it’s really not fair of us to criticize the lack of warmth and wit from a man who has been dealing with a very serious illness. But Jarrett’s dour and often-negativistic comments on the music of his peers and his overall aura of self-absorption really stand out under any conditions.

Good Guy We’re Gonna Miss

In contrast to Jarrett’s crankiness, consider someone like Al Grey, who suffered from and finally succumbed to a variety of serious ailments, none of which ever diminished his generous spirit and marvelous warmth. (Yeah, so, we know it’s not fair that we’re comparing Jarrett to a recently deceased gentleman.)

Best Selling Jazz Recording of the Year
Diana Krall When I Look Into Your Eyes (Verve)

The success story of 1999 continued into 2000. You’re probably expecting us to say something bad about Krall, but forget it. We’re glad to have a new star in our midst. As a fired-up guest on the Rikki Lake show said five years ago and we aren’t that hip to not say it: “You go, girl!”

Best Reason to Stay Indoors or Best Reason to Get a Life
Bill Evans box sets

We loaded up the CD jukebox with The Complete Riverside Recordings (12 CDs), The Complete Fantasy Recordings (9 CDs), Turn Out the Stars: Final Village Vanguard Recordings (6 CDs), The Complete Bill Evans on Verve (18 CDs) and Last Waltz: The Final Recordings Live (8 CDs). We closed the blinds, readied the truckload of nachos, cheese and Diet Coke (watching our waistlines, you know), sank into the double Lazy Boy and hit play. After 53 CDs and more than 60 hours of uninterrupted listening (bathrooms be damned) we’ve decided, for your edification, that Bill Evans is a marvelous pianist. Now, where’s our AC/DC CDs…

Best Reason for a Jazz Fan to Go Online

Find almost anything you want at crazy-good prices.

Best Reason for a Jazz Fan Not to Go Online

Find almost anything you want at crazy-good prices. Credit card catches fire in pants.

Napster, Downloads and the Web

Sorry, no time to write this tidbit. We’ve got to finish downloading the complete Bitches Brew sessions before the site gets shut down.

Best Place to See a Jazz Festival
Maui, Hawaii

Actually we may need to research this decision further. Honey, pack the bags and put the dog in the kennel. We’re going on a road trip.

Best Jazz Scene Other than New York City
Chicago; San Francisco

The Windy City wins out by a nose hair because there are more affordable clubs there.

Best Jazz Cruise
QEII

Fancy boat, great music, slumber-inducing overeating and drinking. Ahhhhhh! Buuurrrrp.

Best Retired Jazz Cruise
S.S. Norway

While not as fancy as the QEII, the Norway is still among the grand dames of ocean liners and, as many JT readers know, its long-running jazz fests are top-notch. The Norway held its last jazz cruise last fall; the ship is being relocated to waters near Japan. Goodbye, Club Internationale, we hardly knew ye.

Crimes and Misdemeanors
Roy Hargrove’s trumpet went for a stroll last May 19 when an overeager fan swiped it from Scullers in Boston. “Oh wow, look at this!” said the dumb-dumb, picking up Hargrove’s distinctive horn and strolling out of the club with it. A rush of media coverage caused the would-be thief to reconsider. On May 28th, the slightly dinged horn was returned in a plastic bag in the bushes in front of the Double Tree Guest Suites Hotel. Police Chief Wiggum was heard to proclaim of the thief: “He blew it!” We’re not sure if he was talking about the horn or the robbery.

Originally published in January/February 2001

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