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YEAR IN REVIEW / JAZZ

Was the Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Both, Actually

The marketplace was inundated with Ellingtonia, education, Latin jazz and Wynton Marsalis CDs.

December 26, 1999|DON HECKMAN | Don Heckman is The Times' jazz writer

Under-programmed. The Philharmonic's commitment to jazz at the Hollywood Bowl was an important affirmation of the music. But the programs, in retrospect, had the feeling of a trial run. And Clayton's decision to place the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra as the centerpiece of the programs needs careful consideration--especially so in the light of criticism that the series presented too few major headliners.

Underemployed. There's another way to look at the burgeoning activities in jazz education, and it relates directly to the glut of new recordings noted above. The question, simply put, is this: Are these young musicians being educated for a profession with minimal employment opportunities? And the short answer, unfortunately, is "yes." But there's no denying the value in dexterity, musicality and sense of self that comes from the study of music; at the very least, these programs will help build new audiences for jazz. But it's also vital for educators to present their eager and ambitious students with a realistic view of the professional world.

Unheard. Every year sees the loss of legendary jazz figures. But 1999 was particularly hard hit. How else to describe a year that stilled the lyrical trumpets of Art Farmer and Harry "Sweets" Edison; the genre-defining bop vibes of Milt Jackson; the unique piano sounds of Horace Tapscott, Michel Petrucciani and Jaki Byard; the utterly original jazz voices of Mel Torme and Joe Williams; the Brazilian-tinged guitar of Charlie Byrd; and the iconoclastic jazz performance art of Lester Bowie.

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