JJA Awards for Journalism and Media Announced

A long list of talented jazz journalists picked up Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) Awards in ceremonies held today at the Blue Note in NYC.

I couldn’t get there, but, hey, I was there in spirit!

“Professional Journalist Members of the JJA made open nominations in a first selection round; those who received the most nominations advanced to the final ballot,” as outlined by the JJA (I’m a member).

Kudos to the following:

+ Lifetime achievement in jazz journalism: Ted Panken

+ Jazz periodical: DownBeat

+ Jazz blog: Ethan Iverson‘s “Do the Math”

+ Jazz book: “Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth,” by John Szwed

+ Robert Palmer-Helen Oakley Dance Award for Excellence in Writing in 2015: Nate Chinen

+ Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting in 2015: Linda Yohn, WEMU

+ Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography in 2015: Ken Franckling

+ Jazz Photo of the Year: Patrick Marek

+ Jazz Album Art of the Year: Mike Park, for Kamasi Washington, “The Epic”

For more details, visit the JJA online

What the Critics Are Saying About Acme Jazz Garage

Acme Jazz Garage (Solar Grooves SG-001) is available here.

“Without a doubt, Acme Jazz Garage is the Tampa Bay area’s most adventurous jazz band. Its debut recording project finds the 5-year-old quartet in a jam-band groove, dipping its collective toes into straight-ahead jazz, Latin-tinged funk, R&B and a more modern jazz/fusion sound.

Bassist Philip Booth, drummer Tim Diehl, keyboard ace Bryan Lewis and guitarist Matt Swenson comprise the core band on this eponymous session, with a little help on various tracks from a variety of musical friends with whom the players have worked over the years. Lewis’s keyboard work, particularly on Hammond B-3, and Swenson’s melodic, often searing, guitar, dominate the group sound, layered over an infectious groove set by Booth and Diehl.

And who, you ask, stopped by to have a bit of fun on this session? Singer Whitney James is featured on Booth’s Manhattan romance- and-bebop-inspired “Last Call.” Veteran Al Di Meola percussionist Gumbi Ortiz spices up “Mongo Strut” and “Mongo Jam.” Jeremy Powell, now making his mark on the New York jazz scene in a variety of top-flight bands, is featured on soprano sax on “Sandprints,” a clever 5/4 piece inspired by Wayne Shorter’s best-known jazz classic “Footprints.”

Saxophonists Rick Runion and Austin Vickrey, vibes player Sam Koppelman and trumpeter Ron Wilder also bulk up the band on a variety of tracks, most notably “Zag,” “”Rubberman” and “Mr. G.P.,” the latter a N’awlins groove tribute to The Meters’ bassist George Porter Jr.

From start to finish, Acme Jazz Garage and friends make it clear that the Tampa area is blessed with great jazz talent.

–KEN FRANCKLING, author/photographer, “Jazz in the Key of Light”; Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes; contributor, JazzTimes, Hot House, allaboutjazz.com

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“Have you ever had a CD get stuck in your player? Not physically, but because it is so darn good you need to hear it over and over again?

That’s what happened when I popped the new recording from Acme Jazz Garage into the player. I’ve seen these guys in different settings, from purely straight ahead to all-out funk, but I simply wasn’t prepared for a disc this superb, start to finish.

They come out swinging straight out of the starting gate with “Mongo Strut,” a reworking of a tune by bassist Philip Booth. This jazz/funk outing features guest percussionist Gumbo Ortiz, long a Tampa Bay area star and Al Di Meola bandmate. Bryan Lewis gives his clavinet a workout, and Ortiz and drummer Tim Diehl are in perfect sync, powered by Booth’s electric bass.

The next track, “Resonance,” still blows me away, and that’s after more than a dozen times through the disc. Composer Lewis opens with electric piano, and then Matt Swenson gets to work. His playing throughout is nothing short of spectacular. This tune goes through a variety of changes, and he nails every one. Booth and Diehl are a monster rhythm section. Lewis takes a great solo as well.

“Sandprints” is Booth’s homage to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” magnificently rendered with Jeremy Powell on soprano saxophone. Powell is another Tampa Bay area jewel who moved to New York. (Jeremy and NYC trumpeter brother Jonathan played with Booth in Ghetto Love Sugar). Rick Runion, a fine tenor player from Lakeland, plays harmony with Jeremy here. The track begins with Booth’s beautiful double bass tones, then Jeremy and the band join in.

Booth adds a vocal tune to the mix with “Last Call,” his impressions of New York City during his time there and historically as well. Whitney James is the singer here, and her voice perfectly accents Booth’s lyrics. The tune also features vibraphonist Sam Koppelman, a truly impressive player whose contributions here and on “Zag” are first-rate. Ron Wilder plays trumpet… and he was Booth’s jazz instructor back in the day!

“Zag” is a gorgeous tune Booth used to play with Trio Vibe. Koppelman is perfect here, and Austin Vickrey and Runion join in on tenors, with a solo from Vickrey. This song swings so hard, driven by Booth on bass. Beautiful acoustic piano from Lewis adds to the sheer delight of this track.

Booth next honors George Porter, Jr., the king of New Orleans bass players and a member of the legendary Meters, with “Mr. G.P.” (a reference to Coltrane’s tune “Mr. P.C.”). If you’re going to do NOLA, you’re gonna need a horn section: Wilder, Runion, and Vickrey (this time on baritone sax). Swenson takes another blistering guitar turn while Booth and Diehl channel that second-line rhythm.

Badass bass launches “Rubberman,” the oldest tune in Acme Jazz Garage’s repertoire. Vickrey plays gorgeous flute here with Runion on tenor. Lewis stands out on Hammond B3 organ, funk dripping from every note. Diehl nails this one, and Swenson delivers a beautiful solo invoking so many great jazz guitarists. Booth gets an extended feature as well.

“Acmefied” opens with a nifty drum roll into the tune, another fine funky jazz piece. Swenson again channels the masters beautifully, and Diehl’s work on the kit is of special note. Lewis comps underneath with great electric piano.

Lewis arranged a very bluesy version of “America the Beautiful” which was released in time for Independence Day. His gospel-tinged Hammond B3 provides a very different reading of this, reminiscent perhaps of Ray Charles.

The disc closes with a percussion workout with Diehl and Ortiz, “Mongo Jam,” a logical extension of the opening tune.

This wonderful recording was enhanced by the remarkable production job done at the Springs Theatre, where local Tampa musicians have been producing music of the highest quality.

–SCOTT HOPKINS, “Colors of Jazz” announcer, WMNF, 88.5 FM; TieYourShoesReviews.com; editor-in-chief, musicfestnews.com

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“The influences felt scattered (which is good), but the song ‘Resonance’ immediately made me think of Steely Dan. That, too, is a good thing. Oh, and (I hear) hints of the Crusaders now and again. The rest felt like its own thing. This is really a hot little combo. Mission accomplished. It’s a damn fine record. Bravo!”

LOUIS MAISTROS, New Orleans singer/songwriter and writer, author of acclaimed novel “The Sound of Building Coffins,” and former jazz record store owner

Music Blogs Sprouting; and Hentoff Exits the Voice

With the widespread elimination of arts-writing positions and numerous layoffs of talented writers from newspapers, it’s probably inevitable: More and more music journalists are running their own blogs.

The upside: Pure freedom to write about anything at all, at any time. No more waiting around for some editor, somewhere, to give approval to a review of any particular CD or concert.

Nobody to stand in the way of publicly asking questions, like:

1)Will Obama actually do anything to help the cause of jazz and jazz education, or is he all talk?

2)If Obama does care about jazz, then why aren’t jazz musicians front and center among Inauguration Day concerts?

3)Related to the above, when will Oprah start featuring jazz and blues musicians on her show?

4)How and why did the IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) collapse? Or, more to the point, how, exactly, did that organization manage to keep its financial woes hidden for so long?

5)When will another national jazz organization come along to replace IAJE, and how long will it take for that organization to put together an annual jazz meeting as impressive and beneficial — in terms of great music, worthwhile clinics and the quality of networking — as those put on by the IAJE?

Nothing like setting one’s own agenda, and on the way helping to shine a light on deserving music and musicians.

The downside to running an independent music blog: Unless one is a celebrity or a quite well-established writer, it’s all but impossible to gain a large following.

Ken Franckling, a longtime jazz writer and photographer, celebrated the end of ’08 and the start of the new year by launching his own blog – Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes.

For his most recent post, he noted what has to count for the most foolhardy newspaper layoff of 2008 — Brilliant jazz and civil rights scribe Nat Hentoff was let go from the Village Voice AFTER 50 YEARS at that publication. The Voice, founded by Norman Mailer, and once regarded as a bastion of blue-chip arts writing, was bought by New Times media in 2005.

As noted in the New York Times story on the layoffs, Hentoff’s column will continue to be carried by the United Media Syndicate, and he will continue to contribute pieces to the Wall Street Journal. Hentoff’s latest book, At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene, is scheduled for publication this year.

Speaking of jazz blogs, here are several others, some of which are already included in my blogroll (all are penned by music journalists, unless otherwise indicated):

New York Times writer Nate Chinen wrote about jazz blogs, and other web outlets for jazz information and music, in a piece published in late 2006.

Do you have any suggestions for jazz blogs that ought to be included in this post? If so, send them my way.