Jazz as a national treasure


1987 will go down in music annals as the year jazz became a national treasure, and lost a few of its own treasures.

On Sept. 23, the House unanimously passed a resolution designating jazz as an American treasure. The congressional action was prodded by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who said, 'For the first time in the history of jazz, we have the government acknowledging this art form.'


What this endorsement will mean in terms of encouraging and preserving the music is anybody's guess. It comes at a time when jazz is riding high in commercial appeal, reaching a mass audience unheard of since the big band era of the 1940s.

The surge in compact discs sales this year introduced a new, younger generation of listeners to the best in jazz. It allowed them to hear -- often for the first time -- beautifully remastered original versions of important early works by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian and others.


The finest of these reissues have come from the Columbia Jazz Masterpieces series, CD versions of Fantasy's Original Jazz Classics, and the reactivated MCA-Impulse! label.

This also was a year that jazz lost several dozen of its own musical treasures, including super-drummer Buddy Rich and big bandleader Woody Herman.

Herman's failing health and Oct. 29 death in Los Angeles at age 74, spotlighted a national tragedy.

The father of myriad hard-swinging Thundering Herds was bedridden and broke following a 20-year tax battle with the Internal Revenue Service.

Herman was dogged by a bill for $1.6 million in taxes and penalties the IRS claimed he owed from the mid-1960s. The tax debt stemmed from personal income tax returns not filed for three years by Herman's ex-manager who gambled away the money.

Herman and his lawyers argued the government wrongly based its tax bill on his band's gross during its peak earning years in the 1940s when his Herd rode high on the popular music scene.

The IRS seized his record royalties and, in 1985, auctioned his Hollywood Hills home for $99,800. Given southern California's high real estate prices and the home's heritage -- Herman bought it in 1946 from Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall -- the auction price was ridicuously low.


The financial battle was one the three-time Grammy winner suffered without attention and without complaint for nearly 20 years, even though it ultimately wore him down.

Herman's band, which continues to tour under the direction of saxophonist Frank Tiberi, has more than 2,000 alumni.

The jazz recording scene blossomed with innovative albums from younger players advancing the music's boundaries with instrumental and rhythmic experimentation. Saxophonists Michael Brecker and Henry Threadgill, drummer Bill Bruford and young trumpet master Wynton Marsalis had the most notable impact.

Readers of down beat elected bandleader Lionel Hampton to the music magazine's Hall of Fame. Its 1987 Readers' Poll picked saxophonist Ornette Coleman as musician of the year, and Brecker's new album, 'Michael Brecker,' as album of the year. Pop album honors went to Paul Simon's 'Graceland.'

Singer Ella Fitzgerald, 69, bounced back with a trimmed-down concert schedule after heart bypass surgery that sidelined her for nine months. Her sold-out Avery Fisher Hall concert in June highlighted the 1987 JVC Jazz Festival in New York.

She was sidelined again in the fall with a diabetes-related foot infection. By year's end, she was rehearsing and planning for a limited 1988 concert tour. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's 'glasnost' policy opened up the Soviet Union to American jazz artists. Pathbreaking visitors included Pat Metheny, Grover Washington Jr., Dave Brubeck and Paul Winter.


But the situation was not as rosy in another Soviet bloc nation. Five members of Czechoslovakia's banned jazz section were convicted of the 'economic crime' of running the organization which had 5,500 members and claimed a following in the thousands in spite of the 1984 ban.

Final Beats, 1987: Other losses in the jazz world included Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete; rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, the heart and soul of the Basie band's rhythm section; Preservation Hall Jazz Band founder and tuba player Alan Jaffe; PHJB trumpeter Kid Thomas Valentine; singers Marion Hutton and Maxine Sullivan; Blue Note records founder Alfred Lion; bop saxophonist Jimmy Mosher; bass player Slam Stewart; bandleaders Sammy Kaye and Turk Murphy; producer and recording executive John Hammond, the man who guided the career of Benny Goodman and discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen; stride pianist Dick Wellstood; bebop trumpeter Howard McGhee; jazz photographer Bob Parent; and bass player Jaco Pastorius, dead at 35 from injuries he suffered when he was beaten in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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