BBC Jazz Awards 2008: A Winning Shindig

The stars came out for this year’s event – and put on a show that proved to be a celebration of the artform, rather than a backslapping showcase July 23, 2008 4:30 PM

As this blog has recorded a few times before, awards ceremonies get a mixed reception from jazzers. At its best, jazz is frequently informal, unpremeditated and uncompetitive – something that seems to run against the spirit of handing out prizes for Best In Show.

This year’s BBC Jazz Awards shindig, held at the Mermaid Theatre at the beginning of this week, would probably have won over all but the most hardcore of dissidents. It made a stronger-than-usual case for the corporation’s public service remit – getting behind a sidelined artform that has nonetheless transformed modern music.

The attempt to confer mainstream respectability on music famous for its ornery tendencies was also present in the high-profile presenters (Jamie Cullum, Jeff Beck, Nigel Kennedy, Beatles guru Sir George Martin, Goldie, Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, actor/musician Colin Salmon, Mica Paris, Barry Cryer) and the prudent avoidance of sounds with too many overly-disconcerting rough edges. But the performances were otherwise idiomatically varied, heartfelt, and qualified as possibly the best all-round display of jazz’s virtues the BBC Awards have so far seen (in the views of several of the great and good at the after-show bash).

The show went out on Radio 2, and is available to stream via the the iPlayer site until just after midnight on Wednesday July 30. Highlights and discussion about the 2008 Awards will also be presented on Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up on July 26 from 4.00-5.30pm.

And there certainly were highlights. Perhaps a little more glitz than music-oriented was the most popular and virtuosi version of pianist Chick Corea’s famous fusion band Return To Forever (with bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Al DiMeola and drummer Lenny White), which was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Beatles producer George Martin. They briskly rattled their way through Romantic Warrior before departing for the night’s main business, a concert at the 02 Arena.

Surely, no coincidence in the synchronicity of dates with the London leg of the band’s 2008 Reunion Tour?

But if Corea’s group was understandably in a hurry, everybody else stuck around to enjoy a rare chance to swap compliments and not a few good musical ideas – not least those two unstoppable 80 year-olds Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth; Gold Award winners who got a standing ovation for the vivacity of their performance with Guy Barker’s powerful specially-assembled big band at the finale.

Singer Ian Shaw delivered a haunting first public performance of Humphrey Lyttleton’s Sad, Sweet Song (Humph, posthumous winner of the BBC Radio 2 Jazz Artist Of The Year prize, apparently sent it to the singer not long before he died), and Jamie Cullum, Jeff Beck and Clint’s bass-playing son Kyle Eastwood jammed on Let The Good Times Roll – a tribute to octogenarian Candid Records boss Alan Bates, who won Services To Jazz In The UK.

Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith played some of the most dramatic and powerful Coltrane-tradition tenor-sax of the night, after winning the BBC Radio 2 Heart Of Jazz award – dedicating it to all the places in the world where uptight regimes still view music-making as dangerous.

Acoustic Ladyland pianist Tom Cawley’s Curios trio took the Radio 3 Jazz Line-Up Best Band Award, and Jazz On 3’s Innovation Award went to that stylistically jump-cutting band Fraud – though its saxophonist James Allsop put his finger on the event’s nervousness about the sharp end by saying he was “embarrassed to win this category in a list that includes Evan Parker, one of the most innovative musicians ever to pick up the saxophone”.

Link to article.