2012: The Year in Jazz
The world of jazz officially went global in 2012, kicked the Grammy Awards in the shins, dealt with economic issues and Mother Nature, and found new ways to innovate in this social media and Internet-savvy age. There were ups and there were downs for both longstanding clubs and festivals, too.
Here's a look at significant happenings across the jazz world over the past 12 months:
International Jazz Day
Jazz everywhere now has an official day to call its own. In 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization named pianist Herbie Hancock a Goodwill Ambassador. He wasted no time in making an impact in that role, partnering with UNESCO and the Thelonious Monk Institute to present International Jazz Day events in Paris and, on April 30, sunrise and sunset all-star concerts at Congo Square in New Orleans and the United Nations World Headquarters in New York respectively. The three-hour sunset concert featured several dozen all-star musicians from around the globe.
Latin Jazz Grammy Restored
The Recording Academy restored the Latin Jazz category to the Grammy Awards, in a June announcement that was seen as a major victory for Latin jazz musicians and fans. They'd protested vehemently after the Academy's trustees reduced the award categories from 109 to 78 in 2011. Drummer Bobby Sanabria led the drive to get the category restored. A judge dismissed a musicians' lawsuit against the Recording Academy in April, but the trustees relented on Latin jazz and a few other categories two months later.
Jazz at Lincoln Center is in the midst of celebrating its 25th anniversary season as an arts organizationone that has grown quite robust under the leadership of Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis. The organization, which is blessed with a sleek concert hall, influential donors and big bucks in its till, is working to make an impact outside the Big Apple. JALC is also evolving by working to build a global audience for jazz through social media and its website. It now broadcasts concerts over the Internet, and is preparing hundreds of concert recordings so they can be made available online. In October, JALC opened a new venue in Qatar, a small peninsula nation on the Persian Gulf. Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha, a new 4,500 square-foot performance room at the St. Regis Doha hotel, is the first in a series of jazz clubs that St. Regis and JALC plan to create through a global partnership.
Jazz is hardly immune to the ups and downs of the economy. At times, it seems most vulnerable. We saw it this year on the club and festival front, and the impact of Mother Nature. We saw it after Superstorm Sandy in late October. Many musicians weren't able to get into New York City for gigs, or to leave their Big Apple home base for gigs elsewhere across the U.S., eliminating much-needed income in some cases. The storm damage wiped out more than a few home studios and/or instruments.
The Jazz Foundation of America staff worked tirelessly to help New York-area musicians with food, warm clothing, emergency needs and rent subsidies for some who had gigs canceled. Saxophonist Joe Lovano and bassist Mark Egan were among more than a dozen jazz musicians who took part in a Hudson Valley Musicians for Hurricane Sandy Relief benefit concert, which took place at the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center in mid-November. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band partnered with Ropeadope, Okayplayer, the Jazz Foundation of America and the NYC Food Truck Association to form Renew York, with to aid musicians affected by the storm, much as they'd helped with similar post-Katrina efforts in New Orleans.
More than a handful of area jazz clubs were impacted, with weeklong closings in some cases. The Blue Note was shuttered for five nights, the longest closure in its 31-year history. Programming at the Jazz Gallery was suspended even longer. Lacking electricity in Greenwich Village, Small's Jazz featured jam sessions by candlelight and flashlight.
Clubs Come, Go and Come Back
The club scene was in great flux throughout 2012. New York's fabled Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel closed for good in February after a 32-year cabaret run. Feinstein's, the high-end supper club at the Loews Regency Hotel in Manhattan, is closing in January 2013 after 13 years at that site. Singer-pianist Michael Feinstein intends to move the club to a new space. Owner Alvin Reed closed Harlem's Lenox Lounge, a jazz club that opened in 1942, after the landlord doubled his monthly rent. Drummer Cecil Brooks III closed his Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange, N.J. to concentrate on playing music and producing records. Café Paradiso closed in Ottawa, where it had been the center of the jazz scene in Canada's capital city.