Jazz Journalists' Association Prizes, 2009

The Jazz Journalists’ Association held its annual awards bash this week, honoring musicians and their work for the period from March 2008 to March 2009. Here’s who won in each of the major categories, followed by who got my vote and why.

NEW RECORD OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Carla Bley, Appearing Nightly.
My Vote: Bill Frisell & Jim Hall, Hemispheres. This guitar-duet recording is a masterpiece, the best thing either player has made in years, and that’s something. I liked Bley’s album a lot; I’d put it in third place, after the Frisell-Hall and Rudresh Mahanthappa’s head-turning, India-inflected Kinsmen.
HISTORICAL RECORD OR REISSUE OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1.
My Vote: Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol 1. Any critic who voted differently shouldn’t be trusted on anything.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT:
Winner: Lee Konitz.
My Vote: Paul Motian. I’m not complaining; I went back and forth between the two; both have contributed so many innovations over so many decades.
MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Sonny Rollins.
My Vote: Sonny Rollins. No contest.
TENOR SAXOPHONIST OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Sonny Rollins.
My Vote: Sonny Rollins. Who else?
ALTO SAXOPHONIST OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Rudresh Mahanthappa.
My Vote: Ornette Coleman. Listen. Not to be doctrinaire, but any year when Ornette Coleman plays a single concert in public, Ornette Coleman is alto saxophonist of the year.
TRUMPETER OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Terence Blanchard.
My Vote: Dave Douglas. Having just come back from seeing Douglas play with his Brass Ecstasy quintet at the Jazz Standard (more about their new CD later), I am all the more insistent on this matter.
CLARINETIST OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Anat Cohen.
My Vote: Don Byron. As readers of this blog know, I’m a bit smitten with Ms. Cohen, but Byron is the more versatile virtuoso.
PIANIST OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Hank Jones.
My Vote: Jason Moran. Again, no complaints. Jones is 90 years old and still coaxing magic from the keyboard while playing with horn players half his age. But Moran deserved to win, for his variation on Monk’s Town Hall concert alone.
GUITARIST OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Bill Frisell.
My Vote: Bill Frisell. He’s been playing at once looser and tighter than ever.

BASSIST OF THE YEAR:
Winner: William Parker.
My Vote: Charlie Haden. This was another close one in my mind. Parker is an ingenious bassist, but each time I see Haden live, I am all the more impressed by the depth of his imagination and the poetry of his phrasing.
DRUMMER OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Brian Blade.
My Vote: Paul Motian. Blade is terrific; he’s the driving force behind Wayne Shorter’s quartet. But c’mon, Motian’s a magician; at 78, he can play anything, in any time, and somehow make it fit with what his bandmates are doing.
STRING PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Billy Bang.
My Vote: Erik Friedlander. Bang is a real innovator in the Stuff Smith tradition. But listen to Friedlander’s solo album Block Ice & Propane or his Broken Arm Trio, and tell me this award makes sense.
UP AND COMING MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Esperanza Spalding.
My Vote: Noah Preminger. Spalding’s a gorgeous singer-bassist; I wasn’t knocked out by her debut recording on Blue Note. But, if I’d heard her play on Joe Lovano’s Folk Art before casting my vote, I probably would have checked the box for her. She’s defter than she comes off on her own album.

SMALL ENSEMBLE OF THE YEAR:
Winner: S.F. Jazz Ensemble.
My Vote: Jason Moran Trio. This award, I don’t get at all; there are a dozen trios, quartets and quintets I would have picked above this band, including some that these same guys play in
LARGE ENSEMBLE OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra.
My Vote: Charles Tolliver Big Band. As with Anat Cohen, but more so, readers of this blog know that I worship Maria Schneider. But she didn’t put out a new album this year; Tolliver did a stunning job leading his band through a re-creation of Monk’s Town Hall concert; so…
COMPOSER OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Maria Schneider.
My Vote: Carla Bley. Ditto. I hadn’t heard anything new by Schneider this year (the key words in these prizes are “of the year”) so I went with Bley (who did, after all, win Album of the Year—go figure).
ARRANGER OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Maria Schneider.
My Vote: Maria Schneider. I did pick her for this award—because nobody does arrangements like she does—despite my explanations for voting otherwise in the other categories.

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COMMENTS
tom g's picture

Rollins made great recordings from 1949 (with Bud Powell) to the mid 60s. Nowadays he is a monument, but no longer a great musician ... The «Saxophone Colossuses» of today are Joe Lovano, Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Tony Malaby ... More Power to them! When I talk to tenor-players they rave about recordings like «Saxophone Colossus», «Way out West», «A Night at the Vanguard» etc. but nobody ever mentions the new stuff by Mister Rollins. Why's that? Because those recordings are pretty lame ...

Fred Kaplan's picture

I would agree that most of his studio albums of the past few decades are weak, but clearly you've never heard Sonny Rollins live; nor have you heard his recording of live concert sets from the past decade, "Road Shows, Vol. 1."Fred Kaplan

Miles's picture

As for up and coming musician of the year, my vote would have been for trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire or Jason Palmer. Noah's an ok player, but he's fresh out of college lacks experience as a leader and a sideman.

tom g's picture

I've heard him live (in Zürich & Basel, Switzerland) and both concerts were very disappointing: a lot of very simple tunes that were going on forever, not enoug structure in his solos, bad intonation, middle-of-the-road sidemen etc. And I listened to Road Shows with some musician friends and we had to laugh quite a bit ... Recently I saw Lovano live (not for the first time) and he just played like some kind of jazz-god, and I also saw Turner with Fly and he played so original, but a little bit too "brainy" for my taste, but still: he is going into some new directions ...

john s in washington's picture

Fred, I've been a frequent reader of Stereophile.com but just yesterday stumbled upon your blog. Wow! This post in particular has been a great introduction to contemporary jazz artists. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

Noah Preminger's picture

Hey Fred, just wanted to tell you I appreciate your vote.. All the nominees for up and coming are wonderful musicians and it's an honor to be mentioned in the same list.. Would have loved to talk at the ceremony, but hopefully we'll meet in the near future.My best,Noahps. I'm making a new record in the fall.. a live one. more info to come ;)

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