Monday, June 14 marked the annual Jazz Journalists Association Jazz (JJA) Awards event. The venue City Winery proved to be quite the ambient locale for what has become a jazz community tradition. As the tribes gathered to schmooze, catch-up on news, hugs and air kisses, and just generally revel in the greatness of jazz music (and the auspicious list of jazz greats on hand), I was reminded not so much of the actual birth of the JJA as it’s conception.
JJA was actually conceived at A Jazz Media Symposium, May 20-22 at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The symposium was produced by Arts Midwest, co-sponsored by DownBeat magazine, and at the time I was Jazz Program Coordinator at that Arts Midwest, a regional arts rganization (a relationship I’ve happily renewed more recently with my work as coordinator of the NEA Jazz Masters Live project for Arts Midwest via the National Endowment for the Arts). As Wayne Self, a fellow writer who at the time was also on staff at Arts Midwest, and I hammered out the details for the symposium our primary goal was the development of a jazz writer’s association and a concurrent jazz radio programmers association; the former proved much more successful (i.e. the JJA), while the latter remains in the we’ll-see category. There have been various collectives of jazz radio stations and programmers, but nothing approaching the success or longevity of the JJA; and for that the primary thanks goes to the JJA’s tireless and longtime Pres. Howard Mandel.
Our symposium featured general sessions on "Record Companies & the Media"; "The Future of Jazz: Hope or Hype?"; and jazz writer-specific sessions on "Plugging into Outlets: Jazz Writing Opportunities Today & Tomorrow"; "Jazz Journalism: Responsibility & Function;" and a Day 1 closing general session on "Musicians & the Jazz Media: A Dialogue" between writers, programmers and musicians. Our closing general sessions on Sunday included separate feasibility studies on "Establishing an American jazz radio network and a jazz writer’s guild" — thus the eventual birth of the Jazz Journalists Association, whose first president was writer Art Lange, who at the time was concluding a stint as editor of DB.
On the writer side the panelists for those sessions included Mandel and Lange, Paul Baker, Leslie Gourse, the late Gene Lees, Bill Millkowski, Don Palmer, Neil Tesser (who wore both his writer and radio hats for the occasion), and Kevin Whitehead (Stanley Crouch, scheduled to appear, stiffed — another story/another time). Other symposium participants included musicians Bunky Green, Ernie Krivda, Ben Sidran (also wearing his radio syndication hat), Bill Smith (ditto his Coda magazine hat), and Douglas Ewart. Radio folks included the late Oscar Treadwell ("An Oscar for Treadwell"), Bob Porter (also wearing his writer hat), Sandy Ratley (NPR at the time), and Linda Yohn. The record industry was repped by such panelists as Terri Hinte, Don Lucoff (pre-DL Media), and Ricky Schultz. The evening hits were provided by the annual UIC Jazz Festival, including Dizzy Gillespie, and the Count Basie Orchestra, and of course the ever-lively Chicago jazz scene.
And a productive time was had by all, particularly the assembled journalists. So there you have the conception of the JJA. For membership, complete details on this year’s Jazz Awards, and other timely & useful jazz news & views, be sure to visit (and bookmark) WWW.JAZZHOUSE.ORG.
— Willard Jenkins, Founding Member, Jazz Journalists Association