Jazz at the Grammys; and props to Lifetime Achievement winner Clark Terry

The Grammy Awards — particularly as demonstrated by its biggest categories — remains the music industry’s overblown high-school prom, a chance for the year’s most popular and/or most attractive rock, dance, hip-hop and country artists to toast each other’s success on the charts and in the media spotlight.

Last night’s ceremony, in that respect, was mostly the same: Does anyone believe that, 20 years from now, anyone will be singing the songs of, or caring much about the likes of Lady Gaga, who opened with a two-piano extravaganza with Sir Elton John (his earliest songs have become classics), or Pink, who did a skin-baring Cirque du Soleil-style act?

Jazz, as usual, got short shrift (yes, there was Herbie Hancock’s big win last year, but that was a fluke).

Lifetime achievement winner Clark Terry (right), the great and gracious trumpeter, and good-humored “mumble”/scat singer, got onstage recognition from director Quentin Tarantino (huh?) and the camera caught Terry, 89, in the audience. Then it was on to a really annoying, profanity-laced performance by Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Drake and drummer Travis  Barker. No, thanks.

Best musical moment: Jeff Beck‘s performance of “How High the Moon,” with singer Imelda May, in a too-short salute to Les Paul, introduced by actor Jeff Bridges (huh?) Beck played a sunburst Les Paul guitar for the occasion.

This year’s jazz nominees, for the most part, were musically solid. Several of the recordings that appeared on my Top 10 list — discs by singer Roberta Gambarini, pianist Allen Toussaint, and bassist John Patitucci — grabbed nominations, but not wins.

Nice to see New Orleans artists take home trophies in two categories — trumpeter Terence Blanchard for best improvised jazz solo, and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield‘s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for best large jazz ensemble album — although it’s a bit of a shock that the latter category didn’t include nominations for first-rate recordings by Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge, and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

The Jazz Surge’s CD, The Comet’s Tail: Performing the Compositions of Michael Brecker, did get attention in the category of best instrumental arrangement. Talented veteran arranger Bill Cunliffe won, for “West Side Story Medley” from the Resonance Big Band’s tribute to Oscar Peterson. Note: Mendoza was nominated twice in this category, so that may have hurt his chances for a win.

And it ought to be noted that neither acclaimed pianist Vijay Iyer, nor his trio’s Historicity, which topped this year’s Village Voice Jazz Critic Poll (I voted), were to be found among the nominees. UPDATE: Vijay let me know that Historicity “was released two weeks too late to qualify for the awards.” Here’s hoping that NARAS will honor the CD next year.

Kurt Elling won in the jazz vocal category for another impressive recording, but I wonder if the superb discs by Robert Gambarini (my pick for ’09’s best jazz vocal CD) and Tierney Sutton resulted in a vote split leading to the Elling win.

It was satisfying to see several veterans pick up wins, including late Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul, for the final CD from his Zawinul Syndicate band, and pianist Chick Corea and guitarist John McLaughlin, for a live recording from their Five Peace Band.

Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark, picked up another Album Notes Grammy, his eighth, for his contributions to The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946).

Finally, how many father-and-son recordings have won Grammy awards? In the Latin jazz category, the great Cuban-born pianist Bebo Valdes and his son, pianist Chucho Valdes, won for Juntos Para Siempre.

The jazz winners and nominees….

Best Contemporary Jazz Album

*Winner: 75 Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate

[Heads Up International]

Urbanus Stefon Harris & Blackout [Concord Jazz]

Sounding Point Julian Lage [Emarcy/Decca]

At World’s Edge Philippe Saisse [E1 Music]

Big Neighborhood Mike Stern [Heads Up International]

———-

Best Jazz Vocal Album

*Winner: Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane And Hartman Kurt Elling [Concord Jazz]

No Regrets Randy Crawford (& Joe Sample) [PRA Records]

So In Love Roberta Gambarini [Groovin’ High/Emarcy]

Tide Luciana Souza [Verve]

Desire Tierney Sutton (Band) [Telarc Jazz]

———-

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

*Winner: Dancin’ 4 Chicken Terence Blanchard, soloist Track from: Watts (Jeff “Tain” Watts) [Dark Key Music]

All Of You Gerald Clayton, soloist Track from: Two-Shade [ArtistShare]

Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey Roy Hargrove, soloist Track from: Emergence [Groovin’ High/Emarcy]

On Green Dolphin Street Martial Solal, soloist Track from: Live At The Village Vanguard [CamJazz]

Villa Palmeras Miguel Zenón, soloist Track from: Esta Plena [Marsalis Music]

———-

Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group

*Winner: Five Peace Band – Live Chick Corea & John McLaughlin Five Peace Band [Concord Records]

Quartet Live Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow & Antonio Sanchez [Concord Jazz]

Brother To Brother Clayton Brothers [ArtistShare]

Remembrance John Patitucci Trio [Concord Jazz]

The Bright Mississippi Allen Toussaint [Nonesuch]

———-

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

*Winner: Book One New Orleans Jazz Orchestra [World Village]

Legendary Bob Florence Limited Edition [MAMA Records]

Eternal Interlude John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble [Sunnyside]

Fun Time Sammy Nestico And The SWR Big Band [Hänssler Classic]

Lab 2009 University Of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band [North Texas Jazz]

———-

Best Latin Jazz Album

*Winner: Juntos Para Siempre Bebo Valdés And Chucho Valdés [Sony Music/Calle 54]

Things I Wanted To Do Chembo Corniel [Chemboro Records]

Áurea Geoffrey Keezer [ArtistShare]

Brazilliance X 4 Claudio Roditi [Resonance Records]

Esta Plena Miguel Zenón [Marsalis Music]

Todd Coolman, on Perfect Strangers, and Jazz Education (and Live Tonight on WKCR)

Todd Coolman, the journeyman jazz bassist and director of the jazz program at Purchase College (SUNY) will be heard live tonight at 8 on WKCR, 89.9 FM in New York. todd-coolman1

Show host Sharif Abdus-Salaam will talk with Coolman about his latest CD, last year’s Perfect Strangers. Listeners not in the NYC area can tune in here.

The disc, released on ArtistShare, a label that lets fans fund and directly participate in recording projects, has to count as one of 2008’s most unusual, if not most provocative, releases.

Coolman solicited tunes, online, from composers worldwide. Once he chose the compositions to be included in the project, he took several name musicians into the studio, and together they tweaked arrangements and played the tunes. He referred to his group, with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Jim McNeely and drummer John Riley, as the Learning Community Quintet.

The result is a collection of vigorously played multicolor jazz, from the aptly titled, pleasantly grooving  “Crescent City Ditty” to pretty ballad “Pastorale,” built on a variety of surprisingly potent new voices. Alexander and Lynch work well together as front-line horns, and the saxophonist turns in a series of particularly well-constructed solos.

The music was penned by previously unknown jazz composers, ranging in age from 17 to 67, Coolman told me during a recent interview.

“I think I received somewhere between 15 and 20 compositions altogether,” he said. “This was the first-ever such venture for me. It’s probably unprecedented. And in some respects, it’s experimental. I’m hopeful that other composers would be inspired to participate in something like this in the future, should I do a volume two.”

Coolman, during our conversation, talked at length about the project, and about the path he has taken, from classical music student at Indiana University to orchestral gigs in Mexico to backing the likes of Sonny Stitt and Zoot Sims in Chicago to writing music books to creating Grammy-winning liner notes for the boxed set Miles Davis Quintet: 1965-1968. Much of what he had to say will be included in a  magazine feature slated for publication in March.

We also talked about a common concern of jazz educators: More and more musicians are graduating with jazz degrees, but the opportunities for those students to hone their skills by playing professionally with older mentors are shrinking.

“Not only is that disappointing, but it’s frightening,” he said. “It’s a huge dilemma, I think, especially in the area of a profound absence of both what I call apprenticeship positions and mentorship situations. In (former) days, all of your elders were your mentors. They were the ones that would put their arms around you and help you through and into this music, in all kinds of ways. Some taught by example, some taught orally. Some were mean, some were supportive. It took all kinds.

“There was an opportunity to grow and learn your skills with experts on a daily basis,” Coolman added. “I feel really very badly that young musicians are not being afforded that learning and development tool, and that the industry has been complicit in creating bandleaders and creating ‘geniuses’ and bestowing that (label) on people who haven’t really learned the craft yet.

“Up until recent times, these kinds of mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities had always existed in jazz music, from the beginning,” he said. “Starting in the early ’80s, that began to disappear. Guys in my generation are so lucky to at least have had that experience.”

So with opportunities for mentorships and live performing shrinking, why should a young musician pursue a formal  jazz education?

“We have to quit thinking of college as a vocational school,” Coolman said. “College, to me, is a place where you go to learn something, to develop intellectual and social skills so that you can become a contributing member of society. No one needs to go to college to learn to play jazz, anyway. In the same respect, college doesn’t create a brilliant economist.

“When I interview candidates for our program, I ask them if there’s any single thing in this world besides jazz music that they could conceivably be happy doing. If the answer is yes, then I urge them to pursue that. (I tell them) If you feel like the only way you can be actualized is to pursue a career in jazz performance, then we can help you along the way. But we can’t guarantee anything.”

Coolman’s next gig is this Monday, Jan. 12, at the National Arts Club in New York City, with a quartet led by trumpeter Jon Faddis. The group also includes pianist David Hazeltine and drummer Dion Parson. Seating is limited, and reservations are required. More info.

Later this month, he plays the Playboy Jazz Cruise with Moody, pianist Renee Rosnes and drummer Adam Nussbaum.

For his complete itinerary, click here.

In addition to Perfect Strangers, Coolman is heard on the following recent CDs:

  • James Moody and Hank Jones Quartet, Our Delight (IPO, 2008);
  • Rob Schneiderman, Glass Enclosure (Reservoir, 2008)
  • Pete Malinverni, Joyful! (ArtistShare, 2007)
  • Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Monterey Moods (Mack Avenue, 2007)