In JazzTimes’ first issue of every new year, dated March (January/February doesn’t count because we actually finish producing that issue in December), it’s become our custom to reserve a large amount of feature space for tributes to those in the jazz community who passed away in the previous year. Necessarily, and sadly, this issue’s collection of farewells is only an abridged list of the individuals we lost in 2018. Two more, Jerry González and Roy Hargrove, are remembered in separate sections of the magazine. Another three receive brief notices in our news section, along with two charter members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians who shuffled off this mortal coil early in 2019, Alvin Fielder and Joseph Jarman. See our next issue for more on Jarman and the groundbreaking ensemble that survives him.
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Putting the tribute feature together can be a moving experience. I was particularly touched by Oliver Lake’s poem for his World Saxophone Quartet comrade Hamiet Bluiett; Marcin Wasilewski’s memories of his “musical father” Tomasz Stanko; Ethan Iverson’s tender essay on a tough broad, the Village Vanguard’s Lorraine Gordon; and the frankly beautiful way in which René Marie describes the inspiration Aretha Franklin’s music provided at a critical moment for her family. But I’ve got to be honest: Day after day of going over these words, and rounding up the pictures to accompany them, can take on a certain morbid “I see dead people” aspect as well.
Luckily, there were plenty of positive developments to counteract the sadness. The second annual Jazz Congress, co-produced by this magazine and Jazz at Lincoln Center on Jan. 7 and 8 at JALC’s New York headquarters, was an unqualified success. Attendance was way up over last year (the line at the registration desk on the first morning was something to behold), the conference schedule was full of entertaining and informative panel discussions and workshops, and there was much mixing and mingling across all sectors of the jazz biz. As always, whatever the nominal topic, the hang was the main event.
Similarly, the Winter Jazzfest in NYC, celebrating its 15th anniversary and stretching over nine January nights, offered plenty of reason to be excited about this music’s future. The kaleidoscopic arrangements of Brian Krock’s Big Heart Machine at the Sheen Center, the quietly intense interplay of María Grand and Fay Victor at Zinc Bar, the brainy grooves of Makaya McCraven at the Bowery Ballroom, the gutsy brilliance of Miles Okazaki’s solo-guitar Monk deconstructions at the Soho Playhouse—these and many more sets continually showed off the mutability, the potency, and the essential vitality of this thing called jazz.
You’ll be reading more about both Jazz Congress and Winter Jazzfest in upcoming issues of JT, but the big lesson they teach us can be phrased simply right here and now: Jazz has survived the passing of many elders, and it can survive many more. We who remain are the ones who keep the music alive. And we will, as long as we stick together.