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Picking the Year's Best

December 27, 1987|LEONARD FEATHER

Jazz has been through some apocalyptic developments during the past two decades. It has found new courses to chart, given rise to new related idioms such as fusion and New Age and grown immensely in the number of men and women studying it at colleges and performing it at concert halls and festivals worldwide.

A glance at the first "Golden Feather Awards" column, which appeared in these pages Jan. 2, 1966, points up some of these changes. Four of the recipients have left us: Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Earl Hines. Others such as Oscar Peterson and Paul Horn (honored for their 1965 compositions), Joe Williams and pianist-psychiatrist Dr. Denny Zeitlin, are still here and active; Stan Getz is sidelined by illness but will probably be in harness again soon.

For the 23rd annual awards, given the degree to which the field has expanded, it seemed appropriate to call on a few colleagues, all respected jazz experts and fellow writers for the Los Angeles Times, to add the names of those musicians they believe are deserving of kudos.

Musician of the Year: My choice is a jazzman who lived for 34 years and has been dead almost that long: Charlie Parker. Odd though it may seem to select a long-gone artist for this honor, the shadow of Bird loomed larger than ever this year over much of the jazz world. His innovations are still reflected in the work of young musicians; a splendid hourlong documentary devoted to him was just released (and reviewed here last week); "Bird," a major motion picture produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, is nearing completion at Warner Bros. with Forest Whitaker in the title role.

Los Angeles Times Sunday January 10, 1988 Home Edition Calendar Page 51 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 15 words Type of Material: Correction
In my Dec. 27 column, Buddy Rich's name was inadvertently omitted from a list of musicians who died in 1987.

Coincidentally, Don Heckman, who writes for the Times and Jazz Times, also selected a departed pioneer: Woody Herman ("Very simply, in tribute for everything he gave us").

A. James Liska, whose byline is seen in The Times and Down Beat, selected the recently revitalized saxophonist Frank Morgan: "His story of survival is as impressive and inspiring as the jazz he creates."

Zan Stewart, of The Times and L.A. Weekly, choose Johnny Griffin: "the expatriate tenor man's ability to deliver mercurial mainstream messages is waxing rather than waning."

Don Snowden, who contributes to The Times and Musician, picked Ornette Coleman: "For singularity of vision and for releasing a double album, with one record each by his reunited original quartet and his current Prime Time ensemble, playing seven common compositions to emphasize the continuum of his music--this paid rich dividends."

Album of the Year: Choosing a single album, it seemed to me, was an impossible choice, given the hundreds of new releases and almost as many reissues, most of them on CD. I passed, as did Liska. Snowden opted for the above-cited Ornette Coleman 2-LP set ("In All Languages," on the Caravan of Dreams label). Stewart chose "What If?" by pianist Kenny Barron on Enja: "Arguably the finest jazz pianist, presenting a beautiful blowing date, with underrated ace hornmen Wallace Roney on trumpet and John Stubblefield on tenor sax."

Don Heckman had a split vote: "The Complete Blue Note Recording of Herbie Nichols," a five-record set on Mosaic; and "The Private Collection," a set of five CDs of previously unissued Duke Ellington items on LMR Records.

Band or Group of the Year: The American Jazz Orchestra. Unfortunately, this repertory group is confined to New York. Its library of masterworks by many of jazz history's great composer/arrangers was presented on a limited but impressive basis in a retrospective held during the New York Jazz Festival last June. The group has made only one album, "Central City Sketches" (Music Masters), with Benny Carter playing his own compositions, not well recorded but first-rate in content.

Stewart admired the Phil Woods Quintet: "The alto man and his chief foil, trumpeter Tom Harrell, play post-bebop just about to perfection, and with soul too." Liska offered two choices: "The groups led by Branford Marsalis, who I think will prove to be an enduring artist, and Michael Brecker, who continues to show himself to be one."

The George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet was Snowden's selection: "For nine years of inventively blending respect for the jazz tradition (particularly the blues-gospel side), innovations that are logical extensions of that tradition, and a commitment to swinging hard and fast." Heckman was impressed by Chick Corea's Elektric Band: "Collectively and individually, a group that never fails to surprise me."

Singer of the Year: Shirley Horn. In another egregious example of being in the wrong place for a long time, the Washington-based Horn was ignored by the record industry moguls until a visit to Los Angeles enabled her to tape a superb live album at the Vine St. Bar & Grill. She is not only a singer of charm and conviction but also an exceptional pianist.

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