2003: The year in jazz

KEN FRANCKLING, United Press International

For the jazz world, 2003 will be remembered as a year to celebrate the past, help those in need, mourn indelible losses, welcome back a long-lost soul -- and build for the future.

In a year of continuing record industry instability and jazz division shakeups, and the continuing search for more artists who might catch the public's crossover fancy, as multi-Grammy winning singer Norah Jones has done with Blue Note, most of the interesting moments and trends didn't involve recordings.


The jazz community staged a top-draw concert at Toronto's Massey Hall on May 15. It was 50 years to the night since a legendary quintet -- saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Bud Powell, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach -- performed at Massey Hall in what became the most storied all-star concert in the young history of bebop. It also resulted in a self-financed essential recording called "The Quintet."

Roach, the sole survivor of that 1953 all-star grouping, returned despite poor health for a "Mr. Hi-Hat" cameo solo prior to a flawless performance by five modern day all-stars: pianist Herbie Hancock, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Dave Holland.


Jon Faddis led a choir of trumpeters heralding the Oct. 15 museum opening at the simple New York home where Louis Armstrong lived from 1943 until his death in 1971. The Louis Armstrong House and Archives in the Corona neighborhood in Queens was named a national historic landmark by 1977. It recently completed a $1.6 million renovation. Its memorabilia includes Armstrong's trumpets, his personal scrapbooks and rare audiotapes and photographs.

Multi-instrumentalist and composer Benny Carter, percussionist Mongo Santamaria, cornetist Ruby Braff, singer-pianists Hadda Brooks and Nina Simone, saxophonist Teddy Edwards, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, pianist Mal Waldron, clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, flutist Herbie Mann and singer Celia Cruz were among the many jazz artists who died during 2003. (See sidebar for a thorough listing.)

The great surprise was the re-emergence of Henry Grimes, a bass player who vanished from the scene in the late 1960s -- after working with leaders including Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis, Albert Ayler, Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins. He was reported to have died in 1984. But last fall, Marshall Marrotte, a jazz fan and social worker from Georgia, found Grimes living in a single-room occupancy hotel in downtown Los Angeles. He'd been living there for some 20 years, doing odd jobs and surviving on Social Security. He'd sold his bass years ago to make ends meet.


When word got out that he was indeed alive and wanted to get back into music, New York avant-garde bassist William Parker had one of his own basses repaired and shipped to Grimes, who resumed practicing and soon began performing in the Los Angeles area. As a support network developed, Grimes returned to the New York jazz scene May 26 with a special appearance at the Vision Festival. He's been performing with increased frequency.

Awards were plentiful this year.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation honored pianist-singer Patricia Barber, composer Alvin Singleton, Henry Threadgill and Martin Bresnick, Anthony Brown of the Asian-American Orchestra and pianist Fred Hersch.

Saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter won an astonishing six top award categories in DownBeat magazine's 51st annual critics poll. He was inducted into its hall of fame and honored as for jazz artist, acoustic jazz group, soprano saxophonist and composer of the year.

Andre Hayward won the 2003 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trombone Competition in April, collecting a $20,000 scholarship. He is a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Trombonist Ilja Reijngoud of the Netherlands won the 2003 Monk International Jazz Composers Competition for his work, "No Substitute."


Jazz support took many forms.

Jazz at Lincoln Center held its star-studded spring concert and gala at Harlem's Apollo Theater on June 2, with "Blowin' the Blues Away" performances by Wynton Marsalis, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Lou Donaldson, B.B. King, Audra McDonald, Willie Nelson and Carrie Smith. The benefit raised more than $1 million to help support its educational programs. J@LC's new $128 million home, Frederick P. Rose Hall, is slated to open on New York's Columbus Circle in October 2004.

The jazz community returned to the Apollo in mid-October for a gala benefiting the Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund, which assists elderly musicians in need with housing, medical care and other support services. The evening raised $400,0000 for the fund. ETrade Financial Services also announced a funding pledge to build the first in a series of musicians' residences -- complete with modest rehearsal/performance space.

In other significant developments:

-- Since they're intertwined branches from the same American musical tree, jazz was an essential part of producer Martin Scorsese's seven-part series, "The Blues," on PBS this fall. With seven different directors, it explored how the blues evolved over the past century from parochial folk tunes to a universal musical language.


-- Pianist Marian McPartland's long-running "Piano Jazz" performance and interview show on National Public Radio marked her 85th birthday year in its new season. A two-hour birthday celebration at New York's Birdland Jazz Club featured McPartland, Norah Jones, Jason Moran, Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Billy Taylor, Tony Bennett, Barbara Carroll and many others.

-- Pianist Dave Brubeck received the Library of Congress's "Living Legend" award on Sept. 30 when his quartet opened the library's 20003-2004 concert series in Washington.

-- Actor Joe Pesce, performing as his vocal alter ego Joe Doggs, turned in one of the year's most surprising -- and charming -- recorded performances on organist Joey DeFrancesco's CD "Falling in Love Again," released by Concord Jazz.

-- George Wein, the premier producer of jazz festivals all over the world since developing the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, published his long-awaited autobiography. "Myself Among Others: A Life in Music" recounts many interesting moments, lessons learned and Wein's friendships with jazz musicians from many festivals and overseas concert tours.

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