Q: What inspired you to create the Jazz Music Awards?
A: It was a lofty idea to see jazz musicians honored on stage, like at other awards shows. I watch all the awards shows, the Grammys, the Tonys, the hip-hop and country music shows; I love the fanfare of everything. Artists know there will be a wonderful event where they can all come together and celebrate their genre. As a public radio executive for 28 years here in Atlanta and before that in Baltimore, those two things resonated in my mind and I didn’t see that for jazz.
I started a Jazz Legacy Award at our station about 15 years ago. We would honor the musicians at an annual fundraiser: Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Freddy Cole. We also honored the High Museum of Art, which has visibly contributed to jazz to promote the genre. They have been our partner for quite some time and have sponsored our Friday Jazz program for 10 years. We wanted to recognize individuals who help push jazz forward, improve it, and keep it going.
Q: How did you go from a “lofty idea” to an actual awards program?
A: It still didn’t happen in 2020, and then there was this long hiatus with COVID. I realized how heavily influenced the musicians and venues around the world, a deafening silence. When we got back to work, I started talking to Dave Linton, our program director, and he introduced me to Rushion McDonald, the producer behind the Neighborhood Awards and Steve Harvey’s early success. We asked Rushion if he would like to work with us and he said yes.
We started laying out a strategy in February 2021, including a lot of initial groundwork, like trademark searches, progressing bit by bit. We brought in our senior jazz awards consultant, Gwendolyn Quinn, a public relations professional, to help us develop an application and music submission system. Over the next year we received 327 submissions from around the world for eight competition categories: Best Mainstream Artist; best contemporary artist; best duo, group or big band; best new jazz artist; best vocal performance; Best Mainstream Album; best contemporary album; and song of the year. That was the first really good sign that we were on the right track, all those entries.
Q: How did you inform all these musicians?
A: Our deputy station manager Eugenia Ricks reached out to the (record) labels. Arts and entertainment writer Ray Cornelius sent press releases to Billboard and other music media outlets. James Locklin, WCLK Corporate Sales Director, and Shed Jackson, our Global Marketing Chief, were part of the team, then we added three-time Grammy winner Terri Lyne Carrington as our Musical Director. This completes the core team. We have held team meetings at least twice a week since the original group met in February 2021.
Q: As far as I know you are keeping the names of the award winners under wraps until the night of the show. But can you tell us how they were chosen?
A: We had to develop a voting platform. They had to be musicians, composers, educators, radio people, magazine journalists. But not the record companies; we didn’t want them crowding their people. In the end we had 28 judges and by June 30th we had our nominees for the eight competition categories. For the second round, an entirely different panel of about a dozen judges named the nominees and the music choices they had submitted, and selected the winners. And for our awards, we had six judges, also well-known scholars and creators. Our original team selected McCoy Tyner to receive the Jazz Legend Award.
Q: You’ve assembled quite a star cast of artists for the show, led by Carrington: Dianne Reeves, Kenny Garrett, Ledisi, Lindsey Webster, Brian Bromberg, Jazzmeia Horn, hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater and Delroy Lindo. an opening by The Baylor Project and a closing by Lizz Wright. And more.
A: Yes, we want this to be known not just as an awards program, but as an awards concert.
Q: How has the public reacted?
A: Reception was slow. Maybe people don’t understand what a jazz awards show is, what we do, a concert with awards. Finding sponsors was difficult coming out of COVID and they didn’t quite know what they were getting, jazz’s biggest night when it comes to celebrating the genre. We have to go through the start and let the show happen, then touch every corner, every local, regional, national and global jazz musician with a project worth submitting. And to bring in other creators and scholars as judges. Clark University shares this vision.
Q: What is the plan after October 22nd ie the future of the Jazz Music Awards?
A: We want to build on the success of this show. You will see nine great performances by artists at the top of the jazz charts, a main stage, a public show by musicians who have satisfied audiences and played to hundreds of thousands of people and are now here on our stage, performing and existing honored.
Our goal is to elevate art to be recognized like other art forms. Jazz is America’s art and there was no awards ceremony for our genre. Our hope is to elevate the Jazz Music Awards to televised status like the other major awards shows.
Jazz Music Awards
October 22, 7 p.m. $50-$250. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 770-916-2852, cobbenergycentre.com.
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ArtATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about the arts and culture of Metro Atlanta. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s mission is to help build a sustainable arts community that contributes to the city’s economic and cultural health.
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