JJA 'Jazz Heroes' are activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz who have had significant impact in their local communities. The 2011 'Jazz Hero' awards were presented on June 11, 2011 in conjunction with the presentation of the Jazz Journalists Association's Jazz Awards honoring significant achievements in jazz music and journalism.
2011 JJA Jazz Awards 'Jazz Heroes'Omrao Brown
Peggy Cooper Cafritz
Don Z. Miller
Dr. Maitreya Padukone
Roger Spencer and Lori Mechem
Elynor Walcott and Sons
Omrao grew up in Connecticut and Massachusetts, immersed in jazz from birth as son of Dr. Leonard Brown, an accomplished saxophonist and musical scholar at Northeastern University. Surrounded by the music and its practitioners, he dabbled in violin and saxophone, but after graduating from Northeastern embarked on a career as a computer engineer, his work for nearly a decade. In 2006, however, Brown decided to reinvest in his love of music —"I figured it's best to do it when you're young," he says — and joined a partnership to purchase Bohemian Caverns.
Five years later, under Brown's stewardship, the Caverns balances weekly spoken-word and open-mic nights with a full schedule of jazz legends, up 'n' coming national acts and a steady rush of homegrown District talent. His support of local musicians has brought a particular charge to the D.C. scene. With the establishment of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra as the house big band, an artist-in-residency project and a weekly late-hours jam session led by a rotating cast of players, he has created a de facto headquarters for area musicians which gratifies loyal audiences every night.
Brown operates three successful businesses out of the same building: the Caverns in the basement, the Tap and Parlour bar and restaurant on the ground floor and the hip-hop nightclub Liv on the second floor. His activities, musical actuity and focus on regeneration make him not merely a club owner or an entrepreneur but a jazz hero. Still, Brown demurs. "I'm a pretty simple guy," he says. He'll receive his JJA Jazz Hero award at a Jazz Awards satellite party at Bohemian Caverns on June 11. – Mike West
Mike Janssen produced this video portrait of Omrao Brown and Bohemian Caverns
Duke Ellington School of the Arts with Mike Malone. She served the school and its non-profit affiliate the Ellington Fund from then until January 2001, when she became the first publicly elected president of the District of Columbia Board of Education (and served two consecutive terms).
This is but the top layer of Ms. Cafritz's arts community activism and doesn't touch on her journalistic background: She was an Award-winning programming executive and documentary producer for Post-Newsweek Stations and WTOP-TV (now WUSA) during the mid 1970s, and after leaving those positions executive director of the Minority Cultural Project, with Harry Belafonte and WQED/Pittsburgh working to develop a dramatic literary series for the Public Broadcasting Corporation. Starting in 1986, she had a 14 year tenure as WETA's "Around Town" arts critic – for which she received an Emmy Award. Besides many educational positions, she chaired the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and in 1993 was appointed by President William Jefferson Clinton to serve a vice-chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. From 1989 to '90, she co-chaired the Smithsonian Institution's Cultural Equity Committee, initiating greater racial and cultural diversity to the Smithsonian's personnel and programs.
She has been a longtime art collector, has sat on the boards of many significant arts and cultural institutions, always working to have minority artists receive equitable consideration in exhibitions and financing. Youth is also an important focus on her work and life – she now concentrates on refining her collection to emphasize younger artists, and she gives college scholarships to three Duke Ellington School of the Arts students every year, in honor of her own children.
Thanks to the great good works of Peggy Cafritz, the world is a more colorful and musical place for everyone. This certainly qualifies her as an exemplary Jazz Hero, and she will be honored as such at the JJA Jazz Awards June 11 gala in New York City. – Howard Mandel
John GilbreathEarshot Jazz, Seattle's non-profit jazz-support organization, and by thinking globally, acting locally, he has demonstrated the attributes of a genuine jazz hero. Gilbreath is responsible for Earshot Jazz, a monthly publication; various educational programs and services to the community, and the presentation of more than 100 concerts annually, including the highly regarded Earshot Jazz Festival, now in its 23rd year as a major annual Seattle event.
Gilbreath serves as artistic director of regional jazz initiatives such as the Bellevue Jazz Festival and the Art of Jazz series at Seattle Art Museum, and has programmed the Anacortes Jazz Festival, Experience Music Project's Jazz in January series, and myriad other events. He's also a busy radio programmer, six days a week hosting a mix of jazz and international music on KBCS-FM's morning weekday show "The Caravan," bringing new and adventurous jazz to "Jazz Theater," Sunday nights on KEXP-FM.
An active member of the Western Jazz Presenters Network, Gilbreath has become an important activist and collaborator even beyond the Pacific Northwest, without ever forgetting his home base. His ideas and activities extend beyond Washington state, though his activities are focused on what Seattle and its environs need and can best support. The JJA is proud to honor John Gilbreath as a Jazz Hero and will do so at the JJA Jazz Awards satellite party in Seattle on June 11.. – Yvonne Ervin
Don Z. Miller is Arizona's jazz impresario, an active producer, advocate and supporter of live music for four decades.
Founder and president of Concerts and Music Productions Inc., Miller has booked top-name musicians for 34 years of the annual Paradise Valley Jazz Party -- world-renowned stars of the swing, bebop, hard bop and modern eras. He's also one of nine founders of Jazz in Arizona Inc., a 34-year-old nonprofit jazz-support organization. From 1989 through 1992 he produced the Phoenix and Scottsdale Jazz Festivals, featuring a stylistic range from the Lionel Hampton Big Band to Spyro Gyra, Rebirth Jazz Band, Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Clark Terry-James Moody Quintet, among others. For Jazz in AZ, he conceived and produced "Treasures of Jazz" concert series, with artists such as Ellis Marsalis, Danny Barker, Bud Freeman, Dave Frishberg and Art Van Damme.
He's also organized and led tours to jazz festivals in Europe and produced several Festivals de Jazz in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico. Don was proclaimed "Arizona's First Citizen of Jazz" by Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, and named "Promotor Turistico" by the State of Sonora Tourism Department in Sonora, Mexico. He is author of two non-fiction books and publisher of music-instruction books.
The seeds of both the Paradise Valley Jazz Party and Jazz in AZ were sown during a 1976 series with live music by local professionals and Arizona State University students at the University Club of Phoenix; Don produced those in conjunction with weekly jazz-history lectures by ASU music professor Wally Rave. Since then, he has been responsible for bringing hundreds of major jazz stars to the state. Such jazz activism, without parallel in Arizona, makes Don Z. Miller a true Jazz Hero and he will be honored on June 11 at a private gathering in Phoenix. – Patricia Myers
Jazz Foundation of America, become president of the New York County Dental Society, and has also been able to pursue his passion for music, continuing studies and performing on tabla, traditional tunable Indian drums. He is both a world music maven and a jazz hero.
Originally inspired and initiated in the art of tabla playing by the late Indian percussionist and musicologist Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, Dr. Padukone has presented solo performances in New York City, accompanied diverse Indian vocalists and instrumentalists, presented lecture-demonstrations at senior citizens centers, performed in Damrosch Park and at the Turtle Bay Music School with bansuri flutist Steve Gorn. He has promoted musicians himself, as vice president of the Raga Music Circle of New York. One has to have rhythm to be a tabla player, precision to serve as a dentist and deep humanity to offer his talents to musicians as generously as Dr. Padukone has done. He's an exemplary Jazz Hero, and will be honored for this at the June 11 JJA Jazz Awards gala in New York City. – Joseph Petrucelli
"The good stuff takes care of itself," Reed continues. "It's the sad stuff that you really need to pay attention to, 'cause it'll really drag you through the mud if you don't acknowledge it and let it go. So many of us hold onto our sadness, but we need to shout about it, sing about it."
Reed (no relation to JJA Jazz Hero Mike Reed) emphasizes such insights as a substance abuse educator at Kaiser-Permanente's Chemical Dependency Recovery Program in Vallejo, California, and at other health agencies. "This work," he says, "is as important to me as music."
He fell in love with jazz on Los Angeles radio around 1940. Introduced to heroin while in the army, Reed tried to launch a singing career upon discharge but was undermined by his addiction. He kept singing while jailed, but didn't emerge publicly until the early '90s, gigging at Bay Area restaurants. In 2005, Reed impressed JazzCamp West instructor Peck Allmond, who co-produced his initial release, Ed Reed Sings Love Stories. His follow-ups are The Song Is You and Born to be Blue.
Coming to terms with pain and sadness has been key to Reed's recovery, as he relates in his health lectures and the songs he sings. "Until you have the blues and allow yourself to acknowledge them, you're stuck," he says. "You're stuck because you keep choosing to be stuck. You keep walking down that street full of mud puddles." As a truth-teller, Ed Reed is a Jazz Hero and will be recognized as such at the June 11 JJA Jazz Awards satellite party at the Jazzschool in Berkeley. – Terri Hinte
At age 36, Reed leads People, Places & Things, a quartet paying tribute to Chicago jazz of the mid-to-late 1950s, and the quintet Loose Assembly, in which he explores spontaneously and collectively shaped and structured music. Besides his musical achievements, in 2001 he started co-curating with cornet player Josh Berman the Sunday Transmission Series at the Hungry Brain. Since then, he has been involved with the indie rock Pitchfork Music Festival -- now a major summer event for the Windy City – and the Umbrella Music Festival, which promotes exchanges with fellow improvisers from Europe and elsewhere. He has also served on the programming committee of the Chicago Jazz Festival.
In 2005, Reed became a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the organization founded in 1965 by Muhal Richard Abrams, among others. As vice-chairman of the Association, he has helped refresh an esteemed entity. Concurrently, he has been one of the rare Chicago musicians to successfully bridge the southside and northside segments of the local jazz community. Chicago needs more jazz heroes with the multi-tasking abilities of Mike Reed. – Alain Drouot
Nashville Jazz Workshop, turned ten years old last fall, and the city wouldn't be the same without it.
A school for mid-career pros and advanced amateurs and a live venue with a unique vibe, it has become the gathering place for a community of jazz players and fans. Roger and Lori's genial but demanding journeyman/apprentice teaching style, establishment of visual arts exhibits and performance series and support of other local jazz educational and performance events has built the NJW into an irreplaceable institution in a town where, due to an abundance of talent and activity across many genres, jazz has to fight hard to be heard.
Roger attended Indiana University to study jazz under David Baker (a JJA "A Team" member), and graduated from Indiana State with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. Bassist for Les Brown and His Band of Renown, Harry James, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Terry Gibbs and Buddy DeFranco, among others, he's also performed and recorded with Lori, is a longtime member of the Beegie Adair Trio and is on Vanderbilt's Blair School of Music faculty. At the NJW, Roger is responsible for administration and financial management, and teaches improvisation, theory and ensembles.
Lori, a pianist also from Indiana, received a BA in Jazz Studies from Ball State University and has collaborated with a long list of stellar jazzers, Dizzy Gillespie among them. Her well received recordings Welcome to Brazil, a Nashville Music Awards nominee of 1997. At the NJW, Lori concentrates on curriculum, student advisement and special events. She teaches vocal, instrumental, and keyboard classes. Together, she and Roger are an inspiring and productive team, helping Nashville thrive as a jazz city, too. They will be honored as Jazz Heroes at a June 11 JJA Jazz Awards satellite party in Nashville.– Craig Havighurst
Wally's Cafe Jazz Club, the funky and storied, no-cover Boston music room run by Elynor and her progeny, 'heroes" sounds exactly right.
Wally's has been a family operation from the time Elynor's father Joseph "Wally" Walcott, an immigrant from Barbados, opened it as Wally's Paradise in 1947. Today Elynor is fulltime CEO, sharing responsibility with sons Paul, Frank and Lloyd Poindexter for a business that has become an official cultural treasure. The Bostonian Society has marked Wally's as a historic site, on a list with Faneuil Hall and Old South Meeting House.
In 2009 Elynor told the Boston Herald, "My father and mother told me they brought me there in a basket when I was a baby." Jazz royalty, including young Roxbury native Roy Haynes, graced the place from early on, and Wally had the idea of hiring music students from Berklee, New England Conservatory and the Boston Conservatory to perform, a practice that continues. So well before moving across Massachusetts Avenue in 1979 to its current location, Wally's ushered new generations into jazz.
"My father was a pioneer, but as a little girl I didn't know that," said Walcott. "I did know that he was a very hard worker. He was always at Wally's, working so hard. Our mission - myself and my three sons - is to be legacy-keepers for my father. He created Wally's, along with my mom."
"These kids are the future," Frank Poindexter, Elynor's middle son, recognizes. "We have to do everything we can to make sure they can develop their craft. We've dedicated decade after decade to that. . . Jazz is the great American art form, and we've got to take care of the garden." Wally's, tended by Elynor Walcott and sons, is fertile ground. For all of this, they will be honored as JJA Jazz Heroes at a June 11 JJA Jazz Awards satellite party held at Wally's. – Bob Young