Jazz Now

By Howard Mandel

Duke Ellington's centennial was celebrated throughout the world, led by Wynton Marsalis. Elvin Jones played magnificent duets with Cecil Taylor. Chick Corea was reborn with his chamber jazz sextet, called Origin. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation granted $6.7 million to assist jazz artists.

In jazz, 1999 was the Year of Duke Ellington: the centennial celebration of the birth of a man whose 20th-century American lifework is an enormous body of popular and ambitious scores, including innovative "jungle" sketches, unforgettable songs, an ever-changing dance book for his loyal touring band, "Sacred Concerts," portraits, tone poems, and suites created with, for, and about special people, places, and occasions.

In the 12 months before and after April 29, Ellington's birthday, cadences of his creation tolled in the halls of prestigious music institutions and academies worldwide, and rang over the luxurious fields of summertime festivals.

Consider just the year's schedule of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, directed by America's #1 Ellingtonian, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis-arguably the dominant force on commercial and not-for-profit jazz over the past 15 years. Marsalis's LCJO toured the United States through spring and fall playing classic Ellington repertory. They also sold out concerts with world-class ensembles such as Kurt Masur's New York Philharmonic and Seiji Ozawa's Boston Symphony, juxtaposing ultra-sleek Ellington-Billy Strayhorn big-band versions of Peer Gynt next to Grieg's orchestral original. Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marsalis's multi-dimensional program, produced by Rob Gibson and a crack staff, expanded its national Ellington high school jazz-band performance competition, and organized lectures, panels, film, and solo piano series around Ellingtonian topics.

Not that the Ellington parade was only a J@LC affair. Individuals as rampantly self-possessed as saxophonists Steve Lacy, David Murray, and David Sanborn, flutist James Newton, clarinetist Don Byron, pianists Ellis Marsalis, Marcus Roberts, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Chucho Valdés, ensembles from Washington, D.C., to Cleveland to Chicago to Monterey and the Bay Area, rejoiced in his themes. All the record companies with whom the Duke had sagaciously worked over four decades mined their resources. His collected works were everywhere. All hail the great American composer and orchestra leader Edward Kennedy Ellington, 1899-1974!

Jazz after Ellington

But don't you wonder: Who and what's happened in the 25 years since his death? To be Only Ellington is no better than being Myopically Mozart. Jazz in '99 returned to its glorious past, but also skipped toward the millennium.

1999 was a banner year for others besides Ellington. Wynton Marsalis starred on eight CDs in a series called "Swinging into the 21st" and a seven-CD set recorded live at the Village Vanguard by Columbia Jazz, the imprint directed by his brother Branford; he also premiered his first extended composition for "conventional" rather than "jazz" orchestra.

On other fronts: Trumpeter Dave Douglas swept the 1999 Jazz Awards presented by New York-based Knit Media, in cooperation with the Jazz Journalists Association, sponsored by Bell Atlantic, and attended by a true if inescapably New York-centric cross section of the greater jazz community. High-energy saxophonist Ken Vandermark was the surprise recipient of a coveted John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship. Several veteran master drummers deserved praise, including Elvin Jones (not only for three nights of magnificent duets with pianist Cecil Taylor at New York's Blue Note), Roy Haynes (driving the hippest ensembles), Jack DeJohnette (who, with pianists Geri Allen and Billy Taylor, has adopted the late Betty Carter's "Jazz Ahead!" initiative for emerging players), and Andrew Cyrille, newly named a Guggenheim fellow. It was a year in which pianist-composer Andrew Hill enjoyed an especially creative if little-heralded phase, while vocalists Andy Bey, Laverne Butler, Etta Jones, Diana Krall, Dianne Reeves, Teri Thornton, and Cassandra Wilson reached new peaks of popularity.

Electric guitarists Bill Frisell, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Vernon Reid, and Marc Ribot were all heard loud and clear this year. Latin jazz kept spreading from the provocative examples of Manny Oquenda's Libré, Eddie Palmieri, Chico O'Farrill, Tito Puente, and Celia Cruz (though it was overshadowed by Latin pop in the persons of Mark Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, et al.). The posthumous Mingus Big Band and Count Basie Orchestra, the Asian American Orchestra led by San Francisco percussionist Anthony Brown and saxophonist Francis Wong, and bassist William Parker's virtually underground Little Huey Orchestra of NYC were among the thrilling large corps of the year. George Russell, eminence of modal jazz, went to great lengths to tour his rarely heard electro-acoustic orchestra in the United States, to underwhelming notice.

In 1999, Parisian expatriate Steve Lacy toured the States with partners who included his protégé pianist Danilo Perez and his old pal trombonist Roswell Rudd. Pianist Chick Corea was reborn with his cool chamber jazz sextet, called Origin, saxophonist-composer Sam Rivers rip-roared with his Florida horns and rhythm, and jitterbug-friendly neo-swing 'n' rockabilly combos captured the 20-somethings' spirit, playing for their parties.

Cuban octogenarians expert in Havana salon styles of the '50s and early '60s flooded our shores in the wake of Ry Cooder's revival of the Buena Vista Social Club. Many of our own esteemed elders-including but not limited to the aforementioned Messrs. Haynes, Jones, Rivers, and Russell, Fred Anderson, Alvin Batiste, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Ray Brown, Dave Brubeck, Benny Carter, Ornette Coleman, Lionel Hampton, Herbie Hancock, the Heath Brothers (Jimmy, Percy, and Tootie), Lena Horne, J. J. Johnson, Elvin's older brother Hank Jones, John Lewis, Jackie McLean, Marian McPartland, Jay McShann, Oscar Peterson, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Clark Terry, Claude "Fiddler" Williams, Joe Zawinul-were pretty much as busy as they cared to be.

Tempus Fugit

In '99, jazz mourned Harry "Sweets" Edison, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, Mel Tormé, and Joe Williams. We also recognized that a vast midlife musical cohort, including Joey Baron, Kenny Barron, Terence Blanchard, Jane Ira Bloom, Hamiet Bluiett, Jane Bunnett, Steve Coleman, Billy Hart, Tom Harrell, Donald Harrison, Vincent Herring, Joe Lovano, Bobby McFerrin, Myra Melford, Butch Morris, Lewis Nash, Greg Osby, Wallace Roney, Judi Silvano, Henry Threadgill, Steve Turré, and John Zorn, is in its prime. This was the recording-debut year for the charismatic bassist-singer from Cameroon, Richard Bona, for vibraphonist Stefon Harris, for aging young lion drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, for drummer Susie Ibarra, and jazz-beat bands from Chicago like Isotope 217. The aesthetic nadir of the year was Harry Connick crooning "Danny Boy" on his album Come To Me and Kenny G trilling "Summertime" in front of the Capitol dome on national television news after July 4 fireworks.

With commercial jazz's heroes that dull, is it any surprise that jazz record sales once again last year accounted for an infinitesimal percentage of gross record sales in the United States? Or that the most feted jazz album of 1999 was Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, recorded by Columbia precisely 40 years ago? The jazz recording business, though always marginal, has been chaotic following media mega-mergers: The labels Verve, Impulse!, Decca, and GRP are all owned now under Universal Music Group, which also agreed to distribute German ECM Records. Columbia, Warner Brothers, Fantasy, and Atlantic issued a handful of new albums among a flood of reissues from their catalogs. Blue Note Records, a division of worldwide Capitol EMI, is the most sizable firm producing present-day jazz, and jazz alone.

Winning the Lottery

On the up-side (we think): The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation initiated its projected five-year plan for jazz in 1999, granting $6.7 million "to assist jazz artists with the creation and public performance of their work and to use popular media, including television, radio, and the Internet to bring jazz to new audiences." Following up approximately $24 million of financial support donated over nine years to jazz non-profits by the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest fund (which ended as intended), the Duke foundation apportioned $3 million to establish a national "JazzNet" of regional presenters, $2.2 million to National Public Radio for online programs and to endow ongoing jazz radio production, $1 million to Ken Burns's 10-part video documentary for post-production costs, including copyright acquisitions, and $250,000 to a Washington, D.C.-based coalition for the development of two hour-long, youth-oriented "Performance Portraits" and related public-service announcements promoting the accessibility of the arts (jazz included).

Another Duke grant of $250,000 is directed to a pilot program instituted by Chamber Music America (New York City), to result in the redistribution of the money as 10 to 15 commissions for jazz artists and/or ensembles to be named before 1999 ends. If you're still doing the math, that's $10,000 to $15,000 per project; for ensembles, perhaps $3,000 per musician through project completion.

That kind of paycheck is something to a jazz musician, not nothing. Yet it doesn't go far enough toward covering the costs musicians today bear to mount their own projects, independent of guaranteed gig and concert fees, record-company backing, booking agents, and other sources of support. Take note that the large philanthropies do not fund health care for jazz musicians, provide instruments and hands-on training to school kids, or come to grips with the cost-efficient, bottom-line basis of most jazz activities. They never have.

"We're a multi-pronged program," explains Cheryl Ikemiya, a program officer on the Duke Charitable Foundation's jazz initiative working with Olga Garay, Duke's director of arts programming. "We want to set up a network among our grantees, so that they will convene as presenters, feed information back and forth, and, we hope, profit from the shared knowledge, the connections. And then do more programming."

Lila Wallace Foundation grants previously lent structure to the fractious and diffuse circuit of jazz presenters through its 20-member National Jazz Network. Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmans Guild, D.C.'s District Curators, Minneapolis's Walker Arts Center, the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the Outpost in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Earshot Jazz in Seattle, and the Jazz Institute of Chicago were among its constituents and are probable applicants to "Doris." Says Ikemiya, "We're hoping that our approach, helping each organization create an endowment for future programming, will help strengthen them. In the midst of this, we hope to revitalize artists."

Different Strokes for Different Folks

"We're trying to be broad based and respond to different organizations' different needs," continues Duke's Ikemiya. "That's why we're providing programming monies and endowment matching funds to large jazz organizations, on the scale of Lincoln Center or the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and mid-range organizations with annual budgets around $500,000." The lucky dozen will be selected through a peer review process, with attention to the quality of each applicant's past programming, commissioning, community, new audience, and media outreach.

"We're interested in really being in touch," Ms. Ikemiya em- phasizes. "Since we are a new organization, we'd like to make a difference, doing something new and innovative with our resources. We don't want to just be digging a groove, doing what's been done before."

Randall Kline, director of the San Francisco Jazz Festival, is one potential constituent encouraged by the formation of Duke's "JazzNet"

"Our entire business is so divided, we need something," he submits. "If the record companies could organize to fight the trend of shrinking market share, that would be good-or the concert presenters, the festivals, the educators, the foundations, whoever. There's a lot going on in jazz, though it's a drag no one finds out about it all. If you do take a look, everywhere there are little pockets of optimism, bursts of activity," he says, "but there are also little pockets of pessimism, and vast stretches where there's no jazz at all.

"What would be most useful is a lobbying group, like what we used to have, at least in name: a National Jazz Service Organization. I loved the idea of that: a national jazz service organization, one that really works to support the entire community, across the boards. It's a small world, really, but we've got to consult about jazz's problems, because unless we-this small community of jazz presenters-form ourselves as a body of people to put our minds together, jazz will go down. We can't just blindly hope it will mend itself."

A Voice in the Wilderness

Certain critical forces agree-but they think that rather than improving the jazz business we've got, we should kill what there is of it, or at least help it die. Not the music, or the musicians, but the jazz business sub-structure. Because, these critics say, it is senselessly churning in the groove, deepening the rut, ineffectively funding the same old thing, preserving the status quo.

"Things have never been worse!" wrote Marty Khan, a longtime artist manager, consultant, and advocate, in consternation at my rosy report about jazz in the 1999 edition of Musical America. "I can't even imagine that you actually believe what you wrote," he went on, aggrieved that I'd suggested that jazz now is more prosperous and plentiful than is generally realized.

I had referred to jazz's pervasiveness in new and traditional media (cyberspace, television, film) and in the general cultural air; its widespread representation at festivals and concert venues, both chic and remote; new underwriting by major funders; enduring musical contributions of certain veterans, and a list of worthy recent albums. Khan argued, "Every person you quoted in the article is on the winning side. . . . A few (mostly undeserving) artists have been selected to be beneficiaries of this 'new prosperity' for cosmetic purposes. . . . Yes, more money is circulating around jazz than ever before, but it's not 'trickling down' to the rank and file. . . . Jazz has been mainstreamed, and now it's subject to the same plunder, greed, and corporate manipulation that permeates every other business."

His list of disastrous jazz developments of '99 includes:

    * "The mid-range gig has nearly disappeared. . . . We used to routinely set up 10- to 30-city tours . . . by securing a strong mid-range gig ($3,500-$6,000) and hanging a tour on it. . . . Lincoln Center's Orchestra played some 50-odd U.S. dates this year for fees of $25-$40,000+ each, replacing five to eight $5,000 gigs. This is instead of, not in addition to."
    * Wynton Marsalis released too many records.
    * Chamber Music America has no experience with jazz: "They have no plan and no clue [about how to redistribute the Duke Foundation's money]."
    * Flat-rate licensing to discounters such as record clubs prevents royalties from accruing to artists' accounts. "And the sales don't count in numbers," writes Khan. "So not only does the artist not see the money but also gets branded as not being able to sell records."
    * "The cost of going to a jazz club has increased by 300-400% (often for only one set) over the past 15 years, while the artist fees increased 50-100%."
    * Jazz clubs and record companies are sold for millions, without any profits getting to the artists who built them.


Khan hardly exaggerates: If only there were less truth in his harangue. He excoriates "fine-arts phonies [who fund] ill-conceived, unfocused initiatives that do nothing for jazz," and scoffs at foundation millions "that have not and will not better the art form, its performers, or its business one iota." He denounces "the Lila Wallace Jazz Notwork" and "Wynton Center."

"The only hope was for the non-profit sector to embrace some programs that would allow for self-empowerment for the artists, especially now that the Internet and other technologies make it viable," Khan said in a post to the "Bird Lives" jazz Web site (which is maintained by a similarly hard-nosed industry insider who calls himself "the Pariah"). As if running for office, Khan proposed comprehensive collaborative plans involving individuals and organizations that address jazz product distribution, business support, corporate development, health and welfare programs, legacy preservation, education, etc.-''all toward empowering the artists."

It sounds Utopian, and the man who dreamed it, a self-described "Khanikazie," sees no option but to devote himself to exposing and destroying jazz hypocrisy rather than continuing to play the game and work from within. So be it, but then he's clearly not the visionary likely to put such plans into effect. Nor is there any one, although ambitious entrepreneurs fill the ranks of jazz presenters, producers, club owners, and the like-whatever their annual budgets.

Yet Marty Khan is right: Jazz is indeed undergoing a sea change, like other American social and cultural manifestations. It's predicated on unforeseen developments of the Cyber Age, urban life, communications, and economics. Jazz will survive because it is great music-a tenacious, adaptive American music-that has produced artists as resilient as Duke Ellington. It's music that makes us want to know: what next? One answer is the centennial of Louis Armstrong's birth, July 4, Y2K.

Howard Mandel is the author of Future Jazz (Oxford University Press, 1999) and producer of the CD Future Jazz (Knitting Factory Records). He contributes to Musical America.com as well as to Down Beat, Jazziz, www.Jazzhouse.org, and The Wire.




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