Apr 23 2017
The Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) is a non-profit that provides a mix of jazz advocacy and journalism resources. Everything about the organization comes off as well-meant. Once a year, they, like most music organizations and sites (including this one), roll out a Best Of list. Apparently the JJA membership vote on a number of categories, which leads to a nominating list, which then goes through another vote for the final selections. The newest ballot, for the 2016 JJA Jazz Awards, was just released. I very much like that the JJA has a Jazz Heroes section, which puts the spotlight on various people in communities tirelessly seeking to promote and advance jazz music. However, the rest of their nominating ballot reveals a pretty big flaw. A few years ago, after reviewing that year’s ballot, I stated it was unfortunate that only U.S.-based musicians were eligible for inclusion. That’s when the JJA informed me that there was no such restriction, and the reason that almost every musician on the ballot lived on the east coast (with a few west coast musicians sprinkled in) was that’s how the votes shook out.
And that’s how it typically is. It could lead you to believe that the only place the best jazz is happening is within or near the epicenter New York City and a couple hot spots along the California coastline. This, obviously, is nowhere close to a representative picture of the state of jazz. Outstanding jazz is being created everywhere, and it’s disappointing that a jazz advocacy group whose membership consists of jazz journalists isn’t able to reflect that fact.
So, in the spirit of jazz advocacy, I spent the last 48 hours putting together an impromptu “expanded ballot.” I included only musicians (and labels) who aren’t based in the United States. I used most of the JJA Awards categories. I didn’t bother with categories like Album of the Year or Musician of the Year or Large Ensemble of the Year, because, quite honestly, those categories are adequately populated by the various inclusions on my Best of 2016 list. In order to be included on my list below, each musician had to have a significant release in 2016 and/or contributed to someone else’s recording in a significant way… which I believe honors the true collaborative nature of jazz music. Strangely, that doesn’t appear to be a requirement of the JJA Jazz Awards; there have been several musicians over the years who didn’t appear on a recording for a year they were nominated.
I also included the city each musician resides. The locations are only as accurate as the online resources I utilized. These lists are certainly not comprehensive. I tried to leave it at five selections for each category, and I worked mostly from memory. Most of the music I listen to each year (which numbers in the thousands of albums) stays with me pretty well… especially the best of it. That said, there will be holes in this list, and I’m sure many of them will become apparent to me within 24 hours of posting this column. By way of example, for the life of me I can’t figure out why I could only come up with three trombonist selections. And I could filled pages for the “rare instruments” category, but kept it simple. I did a quick review of my 2016 recommendations to fill in some holes on my list (relying 100% upon my memory is a dangerous approach for any venture), but not much more than that. As I said before, this list isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but simply to put the spotlight on some musicians who aren’t receiving it elsewhere.
You can learn more about each of these musicians by searching their names on Bird is the Worm. It will lead you to posts of album recommendations, which also have embedded audio, links to artist & label sites, retail options, and anything else that seemed like a good idea to include at the time. I strongly encourage you to do it. These are trails of breadcrumbs that can lead you to your next favorite album. As an added incentive, I included some embedded audio.
Record Label of the year:
For-Tune (Warsaw), Edition Records (London), Clean Feed (Lisbon), Auand Records (Rome), Underpool (Barcelona).
Sissel Vera Pettersen (Trondheim), Alya Al-Sultani (London), Lucia Cadotsch (Berlin), Siyabonga Mthembu (Johannesburg).
Laura Jurd (London), Natsuko Sugao (Barcelona), Rory Simmons (London), Susana Santos Silva (Porto), Sebastián Jordán (Santiago).
Tony Cattano (Livorno), Gianluca Petrella (Italy), Filippo Vignato (Mestre).
Alban Darche (Paris), Piero Bittolo Bon (Ferrara), Anna Högberg (Stockholm), Christoph Merki (Zurich), Marco Vecchio (Bologna).
Malte Schiller (Berlin), Shabaka Hutchings (London), Christophe Panzani (Paris), Harald Lassen (Oslo), Elin Larsson (Stockholm).
Joakim Berghäll (Helsinki), Anna Högberg (Stockholm), Mats Gustafsson (Vienna), Marco Guidolotti (Rome), Guillaume Christophel (Paris).
Jasmine Lovell-Smith (Morelia), Joakim Berghäll (Helsinki), David El-Malek (Paris), Konrad Wiszniewski (Glasgow), Michał Król (Tarnów),
Christophe Dal Sasso (Paris), Joanna Ważna-Pociask (Tarnów), Esinam Dogbatse (Brussels), Miho Wada (Auckland), Jane Bunnett (Toronto).
Nils Berg (Stockholm), Rebecca Trescher (Nuremberg), Wacław Zimpel (Warsaw), Laurent Rochelle (Toulouse), Joachim Badenhorst (Antwerp).
Mikkel Ploug (Copenhagen), Jakob Bro (Copenhagen), Mathias de Wiele (Ghent), Pierre Perchaud (Ballancourt-sur-Essonne, France), Nicolás Vera (Santiago).
Clemens Christian Poetzsch (Leipzig), Sean Foran (Melbourne), Giovanni Guidi (Foligno), Christian Wallumrød (Oslo), Ivo Neame (London), Sunna Gunnlaugs (Reykjavik).
Jasper Hoiby (Copenhagen), Paraskevas Kitsos (Athens), Tomo Jacobson (Copenhagen), Christian Meaas Svendsen (Oslo), Miguel Ângelo (Porto), Henri Texier (Paris), Pippi Dimonte (Bologna).
Shirley Smart (London), Peggy Lee (Vancouver), Andrew Downing (Toronto), Olivier Soubeyran (Paris), Lucy Railton (London), Dominique Pifarély (Paris).
Bex Burch (London), Roland Neffe (Berlin), Mario von Holten (Zurich), Stephan Caracci (Marseille), Victor Vieira-Branco (São Paulo), Ralph Wyld (London).
Per Oddvar Johansen (Oslo), Mauricio Takara (São Paulo), Arnau Obiols (Catalonia), Einar Scheving (Reykjavík), Shun Ishiwaka (Tokyo).
Daniel Herskedal, tuba (Oslo), Hermine Deurloo, chromatic harmonica (Amsterdam), Yan Lebreton, kamalengoni, (Paris), Stefanos Tsourelis, oud (London), Clemens Christian Poetzsch, fluid piano (Leipzig).