At this year’s IAJE, anything scheduled before 11:00 AM may as well have been in Toronto (scene of next year’s conference), as far as I was concerned, so Fri. started with the panel discussion featuring the 2007 NEA Jazz Masters. A.B. Spellman was a game host, eliciting some great memories from the honored guests. Chairman Gioia smoothly interrupted at one point to present Jimmy Scott with a special commemorative edition of the remarks his Congressional Rep. was entering into the Congressional Record. As usual, the questions from the audience were not questions, but statements in search of validation. When you have Phil Woods available, why not ask him about Charlie Parker? Curtis Fuller holds the distinction of being the only person to record with Bud Powell, John Coltrane, and Jimmy Smith. Maybe people would want to ask him about those experiences? No, people would prefer to gripe about the cost of jazz clubs (which I contend are a bargain compared to say the cost of seeing a Broadway show or the Rolling Stones in concert). While the program listed the panel at two hours, Spellman informed the crowd it was actually only scheduled for 75 minutes. If he called an audible to cut discussion off on his own, I applaud the call.
The representing military big band this year was the United States Air Force Academy Band Falconaires. They performed some spirited originals like “Mark’s Time” composed specifically for the band by Sammy Nestico and “Hey, That’s My Bike,” contributed by Metalwood’s Brad Turner. I mentioned to one of the members of the several exhibiting military bands that I thought America got a bad wrap for not supporting the music, because every branch of service has at least one top flight swing band. He certainly agreed: like yeah—you’re starting to catch on.
The BMI/NY Jazz Orchestra performed some interesting compositions, with the best probably being Asuka Kakitani’s “Dance I.” This group includes Deanna Witkowski on piano, who reports her concert of Marylou Williams’ liturgical music later that same night at St. Peter’s still drew a nice crowd despite the competition from IAJE. There is hope she will be able to present it in other venues, which would be great.
On Thur., photographer David Redfern received the Milt Hinton Award for jazz photography at the opening general session, which hardly anyone goes to. He presented some of his work Fri afternoon, including his iconic photo of Bill Evans at Ronnie Scott’s. Redfern expressed his concerns about the greatly restricted access photographers now face at live events, as well as the impact of digital photography on historical archives.
The most disappointing performance came from the Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ)’s program “Close to Heaven Tribute to Led Zeppelin.” The arrangements seem to fall in the predictable trap of playing real loud, then real soft, then loud again. To be fair, their cover of The Rain Song on the French government sponsored sampler French Quarter, did not display such tendencies, and worker better as a result. Still, they never really exploited the subversive possibilities in covering songs like “Black Dog” and “Dazed and Confused,” the way The Bad Plus does when they turn inside out tunes like “Teen Spirit” and the “Theme from Chariots of Fire.”
Fred Hess and his band, including the vastly underappreciated Ron Miles on cornet represented Denver well. Evidently, they do a regular spoken word with musical accompaniment Jean Shepherd-style bit featuring the Clef family, complete with visual aid. However, instead of trying for whimsy and pathos, they go absolute absurdity, aided by the enthusiasm of the only non-Coloradan Matt Wilson. The complete absurdity of it actually won the audience over as it went on.
IAJE has to start putting Dave Liebman into the Metropolitan or Grand Ballrooms. Every time he has played the conference, it has been packed to the rafters. It was another great show, with a particularly effective arrangement and performance of “On Green Dolphin Street.”
The presentation of the NEA Jazz Masters dominated the evening concert. In between award presentations, the Clayton Brothers Quintet and the Dizzy Gillespie alumni band played some swinging sets. The most moving speech came from Curtis Fuller, who credited a nun from his orphanage for starting his musical career. Phil Woods provided the funniest, and Ramsey Lewis the longest—or maybe it just seemed that way being the last of the night.