It's all well and good, and certainly necessary, to end this numerically momentous year with millennial overviews. But what about the more immediate situation--the old day-in, day-out struggle for survival in the arts? In other words, to be specific, what kind of year was 1999 for jazz? And what can we expect, millennium aside, from 2000?
Like so many other periods in jazz, this year was a period of ups and downs, of remarkable accomplishments and unrewarded expectations. Was the glass half full or half empty? It depends upon one's point of view.
The Half-Full Glass:
The Ellington year. The 100th anniversary of the birth of Edward Kennedy Ellington received the celebration it deserved. There was a wave of collected reissues, spearheaded by RCA's massive 24-CD "Centennial Edition." There were concerts around the world, including a major year-round Ellington series at Lincoln Center. And there was a marvelous four-day event at UCLA commemorating a hitherto unpublicized appearance at Royce Hall on Jan. 21, 1937--one of the first concert-hall performances by a jazz orchestra, preceding Benny Goodman's famous Carnegie Hall program by a year. Most important of all, the net result of all this activity was a much-needed, widespread acknowledgment of Ellington as one of the primal creative artists of the 20th century.
Jazz education. Twenty years ago, it took some effort to find a high school or college jazz program. By 1999, however, the music had become firmly established in curricula around the world--its impact underscored by the 8,000-plus attendees at last January's International Assn. of Jazz Educators annual conference in Anaheim. In addition to the work of academic institutions, educational outreach programs were conducted by the Playboy and San Francisco jazz festivals, by Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Henry Mancini Institute, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and the Los Angeles Jazz Society, to name only a few.
Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl. The Los Angeles Philharmonic's commitment to eight jazz programs in the Bowl season was an impressive statement regarding the music's importance to cultural life in the city. And the appointment of bassist-composer-bandleader John Clayton as creative director of the initiative placed the concerts in the hands of a knowledgeable and highly regarded artist.
New horizons. 1999 saw a sea change in the stylistic qualities of the new jazz arriving on the scene. After nearly a decade in which the so-called Young Lions focused on a vigorous examination and reexamination of music from the period between the mid-'40s and the early '60s, alternative voices finally began to surface above the waves of sameness. Part of the shift was associated with a Latin jazz breakthrough, a corollary to the overall emergence of Latin musical influences. Performers such as Jesus "Chucho" Valdes, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, David Sanchez, Paquito D'Rivera, among numerous others, delivered infectious amalgams of Latin music and jazz. Others, including bassist Richard Bona and keyboardist Joe Zawinul, found inspiration in the combination of jazz with the sounds and rhythms of other cultures.
Jazz L.A. The announcement that the quirky New York jazz/alternative club the Knitting Factory had optioned space in the Galaxy Theater building on Hollywood Boulevard for an opening in 2000 was good news--a Los Angeles access point for some of the adventurous, edgy music that has had difficulty surfacing in the Southland. For more traditionally oriented ears, Catalina Bar & Grill, the Jazz Bakery and Steamers continued to offer full menus of music from world-class artists, and smaller venues such as Rocco Ristorante, the Club Brasserie, La Ve Lee and the two Baked Potatoes displayed the remarkably high quality of jazz being played by Los Angeles-based musicians.
The Half-Empty Glass:
Overlooked. In the rush to honor Ellington, a few other anniversaries were largely overlooked, among them what would have been the 90th birthday of Art Tatum and the centennial of Hoagy Carmichael's birth.
Over-recorded and under-managed. It's hard to argue with musicians' desire to have their work chronicled on CD. But the continuing glut of product pouring out of record companies--large and small--is badly clouding the picture for most jazz fans, who can neither keep up with the latest releases by established artists or discover talented new arrivals. The situation is not helped by the relatively small number of jazz artists who receive significant career support and management. Nor did it make much sense for Columbia, a major label, to release 15 CDs in 1999 by a single artist--Wynton Marsalis. One can only wonder how much could have been done to record and promote other artists with even a portion of the budget for those albums.