The International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) put on their annual convention this year in New York City. The world’s
greatest jazz schmoozeathon, the IAJE convention is the only jazz festival that I know of where jazz is often very much in the
background in favor of passionate 30-second conversations. Whether it be reuniting with old friends, hobnobbing with famous and
accessible musicians (“look, there’s Billy Taylor!”), trying to pick up important information in seminars and panel discussions, going
out of one’s way to snag free sampler CDs or begging for work, many of the 7,000 attendees at the IAJE have their own strategy.
It is always a bit entertaining visiting New York City, particularly when one is a foreigner from Los Angeles. While New Yorkers seem
to speak a similar language, there are differences in the cultures. They actually think that when it is 50 degrees in January, it is a heat
wave; we in L.A. know that when it is under 70, it is freezing. New Yorkers were bragging about their summer weather when by a
fluke it was actually two degrees warmer one day than in Southern California. But when I woke up my first morning and noticed these
white things dropping from the sky that someone called snow, I laughed for five minutes.
Unlike in L.A., New Yorkers do not jump in their cars every time they have to travel more than a block. Cabs, buses and trains
actually have riders and are not just props for the movies. Driving in NYC would be suicidal and a bit fruitless anyway since there are
no parking spaces, buses go faster than cars, cabs go faster than buses and jaywalkers completely rule the city. It is easy to separate
the tourists from the natives. When the traffic light turns red, only the tourists hesitate about crossing the street, knowing that if they
jaywalked in Los Angeles, they would be run over with the blessings of the police.
Also different about NYC is that restaurants have places to check one’s coat, many people wear hats, scarves and gloves, the food
tastes better in NYC, hotels and restaurants have their heat on so high that one completely thaws out from freezing weather within
three seconds, and the entire population of Glendale can fit into one of the 80-story buildings. Also unusual is that jazz clubs tend to
be filled on most nights, and that listed in the local jazz paper Hot House are 176 establishments in NYC (147 in Manhattan) that
feature jazz on a regular basis. 176!
The night before the convention began, I saw the Mingus Big Band during their regular Tuesday night engagement at the Iridium.
With altoist Vincent Herring acting as a witty emcee, the band romped on such numbers as “Gun Slinging Bird,” the obscure and
dramatic “Pinky,” “Passions Of A Woman Loved,” “Sweet Sucker Dance” and “Song With Orange.” The personnel for this version of
the big band included such notables as baritonist Ronnie Cuber, altoist Dave Binney, pianist Orrin Evans, tenors Craig Handy and
Wayne Escoffery and trombonist Conrad Herwig, with Ralph Bowen sitting in on tenor during “Song With Orange.” Seeing the
Mingus Big Band digging into such complex and colorful material (with 11 horns often playing different parts) makes most other jazz
orchestras sound straight-laced in comparison.
The IAJE Convention included such notable events as performances by One For All (with Eric Alexander), Double Image, Ingrid
Jensen, the Charles Tolliver Big Band, a highly rated set by singer Anne Ducros, Peter Apfelbaum, Dave Liebman, singer Julia
Dollison, the Anita Brown Orchestra and debuts of new commissioned pieces. There were also extensive radio seminars, a panel
discussion on jazz on TV, a talk on Jazz and Politics with Dave Douglas, Charlie Haden and Loren Schoenberg, a discussion of
producing Miles Davis albums (with George Avakian, Bob Belden, Teo Macero, George Duke and Marcus Miller), a talk by this year’s
NEA Jazz Masters, a discussion of the Monterey Jazz Festival, an interview on stage of Ornette Coleman by Greg Osby, Nat Hentoff
reminiscing with Phil Woods, and a Downbeat Blindfold test of Ron Carter. Despite my best efforts, I missed all of these along with
dozens of other potentially worthy events. One just cannot be in eight places at once and still visit the extensive Exposition Hall, not
to mention engaging in a countless number of conversations.
Among the many people who I enjoyed talking to and seeing along the way were the legendary singer Carol Leigh, Brooke Vigoda,
Madeline Eastman, Corina Bartra, Janet Lawson (a major vocalist who is making a comeback after a serious bout with bad health that
temporarily took away her voice), Barbara Paris, Ken Dryden, Jim Snowden, Joan Bender, Al Julian, Herb Wong, Frank Tiberi, Mike
Brignola, Jane Burnett, Larry Cramer, Alexis Cole, Rick Stone, Tim Jackson, Kendra Shank, Kellye Gray, Ellen Johnson and Ali
Ryerson plus quite a few others.
I did catch quite a few events. Bassist Wayne Roberts led a sextet that paid tribute to the John Kirby Sextet of 1939-43, with
arrangements transcribed directly from records and solos that were based on but not exact duplicates of the original statements of
trumpeter Charlie Shavers, altoist Russell Procope and clarinetist Buster Bailey. The band (which included clarinetist Dan Blcok,
altoist Andy Farber and trumpeter Charlie Caranicas) really knows the music as they showed on “The Peanut Vendor” and Chopin’s
“Polynaise.” Bassist John Patitucci led a fairly quiet trio that featured guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Antonio Sanchez while
trumpeter Sean Jones played some heated hard bop with his quintet (featuring altoist Brian Hogans) that kept the audience awake at
At the Jazz Standard one night, singer Nancy King was in superb form. Joined by pianist Geoff Keezer, bassist Reuben Rogers and
drummer John Wikan, Ms. King was boppish, consistently inventive and witty. Sometimes her lowest notes sounded a bit like Bob
Dorough and she sang with the freedom of Mark Murphy but with her own approach. Fred Hersch sat in during a heartfelt “I Fall In
Love Too Easily” and a rare vocal version of “St. Thomas,” proving once again that he is one of the masters.
Sheila Jordan gave a very entertaining and informative talk one morning about “Singing From Your Soul.” Joined by pianist Steve
Kuhn, she stressed the importance of dedication and not giving up, and she humbly admitted, “I never expected to get this far. I’m
shocked that I’m up here talking to you.” At one point she asked “Am I rambling?” and then scatted Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’.”
Jordan and Kuhn agreed that there was a scat virus infecting the jazz world which the pianist called “Scatitis.” As if to show the value
of lyrics, Jordan sang a slow version of “Look For the Silver Lining” that was full of feeling.
After seeing a humorous, episodic and somewhat nutty original band called the Industrial Jazz Group, I pretended I was at the
Monterey Jazz Festival and caught three groups in an hour. Miles Griffith displayed his highly original and eccentric scatting style.
Pianist Taylor Eigsti collaborated with guitarist Julian Lage in a quartet that created an explosive version of “Caravan.” And the
Miami Saxophone Quartet (with Gary Keller on soprano, altoist Gary Lindsay, tenor-saxophonist Ed Calle and baritonist Mike
Brignola) performed the three movements of “The Iberia Suite” plus other rhythmic originals, both with and without a rhythm
section. Later that day altoist Jerry Dodgion led a five-sax octet that included Bill Easley, Jay Branford and, during its second half,
Frank Wess playing in his prime. Singer Rhiannon proved to be a colorful improviser but one I will have to see again to truly figure
out. A few of her high notes were a little reminiscent of Janis Joplin, some of her singing bordered on performance art, she displayed
a very expressive and strong voice and was quite witty on “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.”
Trombonist Conrad Herwig and trumpeter Brian Lynch joined with baritonist Mario Rivera and pianist Edsel Gomez in a septet to
present “The Latin Side Of Miles Davis.” Their set, which included Latinized versions of “Seven Steps To Heaven,” and “Solar,” was
highlighted by a 25-minute “Sketches Of Spain Suite” that was brilliant played and constructed. Randy Brecker and saxophonist Bill
Evans combined to co-lead the Soulbop Band, playing creative funk/jazz while pianist Joanne Brackeen’s quartet with an
unidentified Coltrane-inspired tenor-saxophonist performed high-quality post bop. Trumpeter Marvin Stamm in a quartet with
pianist Bill Mays performed advanced hard bop, an explorative version of “Alone Together” and a very slow “The Shadow Of Your
Smile.” Impressive sets were put on by Sara Gazarek (who said “My brother’s a poet, I’m a jazz singer and my mother is worried”), the
Jeff Gardner Trio (performing exquisite music with plenty of sensitive ballads), and an all-star group with altoists George Robert and
Phil Woods plus Bob Mintzer on tenor. Woods’ showcase on “You Must Believe In Spring” was a highlight. An advanced student jam
gave one the opportunity to hear the young and brilliant tenor-saxophonist Meilana Gillard tearing into “Equinox.” She is a name to
remember for the future.
A panel on trad jazz featured Leslie Johnson (editor of the Mississippi Rag), John Shoup of the Dukes of Dixieland, cornetist Jim
Cullum, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and Matt Domber from Arbors Records. Unfortunately their talking about the business was so
downbeat that it lacked the joy of the music they work with. Cheer up guys and put on a hot CD; the music is very much alive!
Kate McGarry, who lived for years in the Los Angeles area before moving to NY, has really grown as a singer. Before an overflowing
crowd one afternoon, she was both charming and very musical during a memorable set with guitarist Keith Ganz (her husband), Gary
Versace (who switched between accordion, piano and organ), bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson. Whether it was
a sly “Nobody Else But Me,” a duet with Versace on “Heather On The Hill,” a witty and Anita O’Day-inspired “Do Something” or her
original “The Target” (which had the many singers in the audience joining in), this was one of the musical highpoints of the
convention. Kate McGarry is really developing into a major voice.
The NEA Jazz Master Awards concert had awards given to Toshiko Akiyoshi, Curtis Fuller, Ramsey Lewis, Dan Morgenstern, Jimmy
Scott, Frank Wess and Phil Woods. Each honoree was presented the award by a notable, there was a five-minute film of their life and
they had an opportunity to give a speech. While Curtis Fuller and Jimmy Scott were touching and emotional, Phil Woods was
hilarious, telling jokes including several about Al Cohn. Once Woods asked Cohn what the score of a baseball game was. “Nine to
one,” he replied. Woods asked, “Who’s winning?” Cohn responded, “Nine.”
Music for this marathon evening was provided in two mini sets apiece by the Clayton Brothers (trumpeter Terrell Stafford was in top
form) and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band directed by Slide Hampton. The latter ensemble, in addition to featuring such soloists
as trumpeter Roy Hargrove and both James Moody and Jimmy Heath on tenors, had a pair of vocals by Nancy Wilson and two by
Roberta Gambarini (a beautiful rendition of “Stardust” and some heated scatting with Moody on “Blue ‘N Boogie”).
The final night’s big concert at IAJE mostly featured jazz from France. Michel Legrand played a few songs with an orchestra, violinist
Didier Lockwood ranged from swing to Latin jazz during a dazzling set and Richard Gaillano’s accordion playing both in an
unaccompanied solo piece and in a trio was remarkable. Before the evening’s closing performance by Charlie Haden’s Liberation
Music Orchestra, it was announced that both Michael Brecker and Alice Coltrane had passed away. Haden, who was close friends
with both, looked as if he were in shock and was quite emotional in paying tribute to them before his ensemble played “Goin’ Home”
and Carla Bley’s “This Is Not America.”
Even though the convention was over and the Hilton Hotel seemed like a ghost town by Sunday afternoon, jazz still lives on in New
York. I had the opportunity to see trumpeter Nicholas Payton and his quartet with guitarist Mike Moreno at the Iridium that night.
Payton played one standard after another virtually nonstop, separated by unaccompanied trumpet passages. Among the tunes were
Lee Morgan’s “Ceora,” “Straight No Chaser,” “Days Of Wine And Roses” and “But Not For Me.”
It made me want to stay in New York, but instead I vowed to return again soon. In the meantime, next year’s IAJE (2008) will take
place in Toronto, where no one will be bragging about their summer weather in January!