Golden Ear Awards Presented in Seattle
Awards recognize artistic excellence by local jazz artists during preceding year
Are awards shows a good thing? Earshot Jazz’s Executive Director John Gilbreath thinks so. “What awards can do best is reinforce the individual artists and give recognition to people doing their work. Even if the process is flawed, it’s still vitally important to do it. We all need that encouragement.”
His organization presented its annual Golden Ear Concert and Awards Presentation on Monday, February 15. The awards were emceed by noted jazz radio programmer Jim Wilke, host of Jazz After Hours. Among the half dozen or so winners were: Mark Taylor, Eric Barber and Cocoa Martini. For a complete list of awards, you can visit the Earshot web site.
Earshot Jazz has been doing the Golden Ear awards since 1990. Gilbreath remembers attending the first one even before he was officially involved with the organization. Even from its grassroots beginnings, the awards connected with the local jazz community.
Gilbreath said that the winners are not always the very best artists from that region. “We want to recognize the accomplishments of resident artists during the previous year,” Gilbreath said. “We don’t want to exclude anyone.” It helps that the Seattle jazz and music scene is such a uniquely diverse and fertile scene, known for both its straight-ahead and adventurous elements.
The awards often reflect that diversity. “It ebbs and flows as far as genres,” Gilbreath explained. “Sometimes it’s more traditional and other times less-traditional.” Regardless of the genre-smashing, the end goal seems to be one of celebration of the area’s artists and organizations who are doing good things. “We’re really trying to pat the whole scene on its back for good work," confirmed Gilbreath.
Sometimes awards, particularly ones geared to a specific region, can also produce dissension and friction. Trying to explain that occasional back-biting that results from the awards process, Gilbreath quoted musician and local hero Wayne Horvitz, who said, “Temper run high, when the stakes are low.” However, Gilbreath has a more reasoned explanation. “I have a theory about the divisive aspects of the jazz community. I think it’s because the audience and artists are critical and analytical thinkers.”
Gilbreath added that, “It seems that awards are stupid for everyone who isn’t nominated. But when I see people who’ve not been recognized go up and get an award, it’s always sweet. I have my own measure for when it’s really succeeded: that’s when someone cries. I remember when Don Lanphere won a few awards and he cried a few times. If we can do good work and touch a few souls, then we’ve accomplished our task.”
The process for the awards is pretty simple. Gilbreath sends a notification to a committee of about 40-50 movers and shakers in the local jazz community and asks them to nominate people in the various categories. From those nominations, he comes up with a ballot, with 4-5 nominees per category. Then the public can vote online for the nominees or even write-in someone. Naturally, it can be hard to prevent ballot-stuffing, but Gilbreath said that his organization has gotten very good at weeding out that sort of thing. “It’s important that the organization and awards show integrity and credibility.”
In addition to the various categories reflecting the past year, there are two people inducted in the Earshot Hall of Fame, which recognizes lifelong achievement by artists and entrepreneurs from the local community. Inducted this year were pianist Marc Seales and trombonist Stuart Dempster; both musicians are also noted as jazz educators.
There is, of course, some live music during the presentation. This year’s show featured a performance by Greg Williamson & the A-Y-P Ensemble. The 16-piece group creatively re-imagines music from the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exhibition – Seattle’s first World’s Fair. The ensemble re-interprets pieces performed at and written especially for the exhibition. Williamson’s ensemble also led a jam session at the end of the show.
Reflecting on the awards in the context of recent discussions about jazz or its audience in a state of decline, Gilbreath instead saw much positive this year. “There are so many talented people coming into the art form. Art finds its way.”