IAJE 2004: A Mammoth Undertaking
“ IAJE is a mammoth undertaking, and the 2004 edition Jan. 21-24 in New York City was the biggest yet... ”
Trying to report on the International Association for Jazz Education's annual convention reminds me of the fable about the three blind men who struggled to describe an elephant after each one felt a different extremity.
Yes, the IAJE is a mammoth undertaking, and the 2004 edition Jan. 21-24 in New York City was the biggest yet: more than 300 events, including concerts all day long and into the wee hours, lectures, panel discussions, clinics, workshops, reunions of alumni from college jazz studies programs around the country, and lots more. Attendance was about 8,000 ... musicians, educators, record makers, promoters, producers, publicists and all manner of other types involved in the music business ... including writers.
My purpose was primarily to hear lots of jazz. How often can you catch Dave Brubeck, Billy Taylor, Michel Camilo, Dave Holland, David Sanchez, the Heath Brothers with Clark Terry, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Paquito D'Rivera, Bobby Watson, Nicholas Payton's Sonic Trance, Phil Woods with Kenny Barron and dozens more in one location?
A highlight was the naming of six jazz masters by the National Endowment for the Arts, an annual ceremony at IAJE. The honorees ... each getting a $25,000 fellowship ... were Herbie Hancock, Chico Hamilton, Jim Hall, Nancy Wilson, composer/arranger Luther Henderson and longtime jazz writer Nat Hentoff. He's the first critic to be recognized by the NEA for helping spread the message about the joy of this music.
The NEA isn't the only distinguished organization helping to promote jazz. The Smithsonian Institution was at IAJE touting its effort to make every April Jazz Appreciation Month. National Public Radio, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center and BET on Jazz were on hand, too, rallying to the cause of preserving and promoting the music and making sure young people are exposed to it so that there will be audiences in the future.
Panel discussions of interest to fans such as myself, as well as to those in the music industry, are an integral part of the conference. I attended two of these back to back one afternoon that were notable for well-qualified speakers, and for the sharp contrast in tone. One discussion brimmed with good feeling, the other bristled with ill will as the topic of racism in jazz was explored.
Jazz festival innovator George Wein led an hour of reminiscences on the history of his Newport Jazz Festival, which reaches the ripe old age of 50 this August. It was a lovefest, as musicians Brubeck, Marian McPartland and Camilo, jazz scholar and writer Dan Morgenstern and Boston club owner Fred Taylor shared recollections and audience members chimed in with their own favorite moments.
Wein said his conviction early on that jazz people constitute one big family, and that a festival would bring them together, got him started. That spirit was evident from the outset, said Morgenstern, recalling the hugs and high-fives backstage at Freebody Park as musicians who were seldom able to catch others' acts took part in the annual "reunions."
Highlights from past Newport Jazz Festivals include:
Paul Gonsalves' 27-chorus solo during the Ellington orchestra's "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," which brought the crowd to near-pandemonium in 1956 and revived Duke's career. You had to earn a standing ovation in those days, Wein said, "unlike today at rock concerts when they stand as though they had buzzers on their seats."
Louis Armstrong playing encore upon encore until finally, wearily, signaling the set's end by playing "The Star Spangled Banner." At which author James Baldwin, a backstage guest, turned to Morgenstern and confided: "It's the first time I've ever liked that song."
Mahalia Jackson's midnight gospel set in 1958. It started raining and the singer expressed amazement when no one in the crowd got up to seek shelter. "You make me feel like a star," she remarked. Then she sang "Lord, Didn't It Rain," and Wein recalled that the rain stopped. But take it from one who was there, sans umbrella: It started up again.
Brubeck had his own backstage moment. During a "piano night" program he was slated to follow Thelonious Monk. "I decided to play the weirdest thing I'd written to date," which was "Theme from Mr. Broadway." Descending from the stage, Monk greeted him, saying, "I liked that."
Newport's less auspicious moments were touched on as well. In 1960, riots forced the town to cancel the festival, even as Charles Mingus, bassist, composer and agent provocateur, set up his own alternative festival in a Newport watering hole. "He was upset," said Wein, "because I'd hired him for several festivals but not this one... you can't bring back the same people every year." Wein said he went to authorities to plead that the rump fest be allowed to go on, and it did.