SAN DIEGO — Some straight-ahead jazz players are none too happy about one of the honors given at last week's San Diego Music Awards program.
The naming of singer-pianist A.J. Croce as the "best mainstream or progressive jazz" player in ceremonies at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay raised some eyebrows since most folks, including Croce himself, don't consider him a jazz musician.
Croce won out over nominees Mike Wofford, Chuck McPherson and the Modern Jazz Disciples, Daniel Jackson and the Real Jazz Band and Peter Sprague--all first-rate jazz players deserving of attention.
"Why did A. J. win mainstream jazz?" drummer McPherson asked. "That's the equivalent of me accepting for best country drummer. He's not mainstream. Why was he even nominated? I'm not saying he's not a good musician. He's a fine musician, but he should have won for best boogie-woogie or shuffle boogie."
Added saxophonist Jackson: "In the mainstream jazz category, there were a number of musicians who are well-known jazz artists. So it was a little surprising that a person would win who was not a jazz artist.
"I think maybe what that says is, people in San Diego don't know what jazz is, and they apparently are not that interested in finding out."
Croce's style may not be pure straight-ahead jazz in the tradition of Miles Davis or John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. But his sets include jazz, which clouds the issue.
"A lot of jazz musicians consider my music blues, and the blues musicians consider it jazz," Croce said. "So I dedicated my award to Daniel Jackson and the \o7 Real \f7 Jazz Band. That was the one award I felt I didn't deserve.
"I play traditional American music, and jazz is part of that. Most of the music I play that is not my own comes from the '20s and '30s." Croce's sets include songs by Fats Waller, the influential early jazz pianist, and tunes like "Sheik of Araby" that were popular with big bands.
Also, Croce's group includes trumpeter Mitch Manker, guitarist Bob Boss and bassist David Curtis--all seasoned jazz players.
But McPherson was adamant--and rightly so--that a different Music Awards jazz honoree would have made a lot more sense.
"First of all, it's disrespectful to mainstream jazz, to the art form," he said. "Second of all, it's disrespectful to the practitioners, myself, Daniel Jackson, Peter Sprague. Third, it's disrespectful to people. If they don't know what mainstream jazz is and blindly vote for guys who don't play the music, what does that mean?"
Award winners are nominated by about 40 San Diego County music industry insiders, and selected by public vote. This year, more than 15,000 ballots came in, according to Kevin Hellman, the event's organizer.
Asked if he thought Croce's mainstream award was fair, Hellman said, "Of course. I really do. I don't have any preference on who wins or loses. It just thrills me that we had such quality people. I questioned (Croce's nomination) when the nominations came in, but in talking with people, we felt that's where he belonged."
McPherson suggested that Croce should have handed his award to Jackson. Instead, at Jackson's regular Thursday night gig at Croce's last week, McPherson presented Jackson with a special award. He handed the saxophonist a certificate that read: Award of Merit for Excellence in Jazz Performance and Composition.
North County jazz lover Jim Miller hopes to start a new tradition at San Luis Rey Downs Resort in Bonsall. On Sunday afternoon, beginning at 3, the country club will host its first "Through the Years Jazz Festival."
Miller expects the event will be true to its title, with the Chicago Six tackling music from the 1930s and 1940s, saxman Rod Cradit and his band stressing the 1950s through 1970s, DeeDee McNeil singing a cross section of jazz and blues and Hollis Gentry's Neon representing a current incarnation of jazz.
The festival will be held outdoors, next to the resort's tennis courts. The golf cart barn will be turned into a dancing and food pavilion, and festival goers will be sheltered by a giant tent.
Miller anticipates a crowd of close to 300. Music will last until at least 8 p.m. Tickets are $10, available at the door. Call 758-3762 for information.
RIFFS: San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Tom Blair is scheduled as guest vocalist for Carlsbad's summer "Jazz In The Parks" series conclusion Friday at 6 p.m. at Calavera Hills Park in a concert featuring Ira Liss and the Big Band Jazz Machine. Those who feel an urge to swing will find a portable dance floor ready and waiting.
Attendance at the 12-concert jazz series swelled by 50% this year, with more than 1,000 folks jamming city parks to hear artists including Tobacco Road, Hollis Gentry, and Earl Thomas and the Blues Ambassadors. The city's arts office is ecstatic about the turnout, but is looking for ways to alleviate parking crunches next year. . . .