2016 Jazz Heroes

Tom GuralnickJoe GransdenTodd MarcusElena SerranoYedidyah Syd Smart (l)and Leonard L. Brown (r)Leslie Callen HylandMarion T. HaydenBradley Parker-Sparrow and Joanie PallattoRobert GinsburgEdythe L. BronstonDouglas MoodyMaggie PelleyaGermaine P. BazzleRio SakairiDon GardnerGeri AllenHerb and Lorene ElyBobby TorresLaurie de KochDennis OwsleyFrank MalfitanoClarence L. SeayBrian Hamilton (l) and Dick SmithImage HTML map generator

The Jazz Journalists Association is pleased to announce the 2016 Jazz Heroes: advocates, altruists, activists, aiders and abettors of jazz who have had significant impact in their local communities. The 'Jazz Hero' awards, made annually on the basis of nominations from community members, are presented in conjunction with the JJA's annual Jazz Awards honoring significant achievements in jazz music and journalism.

 1. Albuquerque NM: Tom Guralnick
 2. Atlanta: Joe Gransden
 3. Baltimore MD: Todd Marcus
 4. Bay Area (SF-CA): Elena Serrano
 5. Boston: Yedidyah Syd Smart (l)& Leonard L. Brown (r)
 6. Capital Region (NY): Leslie Callen Hyland
 7. Detroit: Marion T. Hayden
 8. Chicago: Bradley Parker-Sparrow & Joanie Pallatto
 9. Fayetteville AK: Robert Ginsburg
10. Los Angeles: Edythe L. Bronston
11. Fort Bragg CA: Douglas Moody
12. Miami: Maggie Pelleyá
13. New Orleans: Germaine P. Bazzle
14. New York City: Rio Sakairi
15. Philadelphia: Don Gardner
16. Pittsburgh: Geri Allen
17. Phoenix: Herb & Lorene Ely
18. Portland OR: Bobby Torres
19. Seattle: Laurie de Koch
20. St. Louis: Dennis Owsley
21. Syracuse NY: Frank Malfitano
22. Tallahassee FL: Clarence L. Seay
23. Washington DC: Brian Hamilton (l) & Dick Smith (r)

Congratulations and a big THANK YOU to all the 2016 Jazz Heroes.
The Heroes will receive their awards at public events in their communities.

Tom Guralnick

2016 Albuquerque NM Jazz Hero

Tom Guralnick has dedicated his life to presenting jazz of all types, especially the more challenging and difficult to sell. Through heroic efforts, he has created an audience in a place where none was suspected to exist for the music he loves.

Tom is the founder and Executive Director of the Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has been an arts presenter and performing musician for more than 35 years (he toured as a solo saxophonist and with his innovative TG3 trio from 1970 until 2001). When he moved to New Mexico from Boston in 1976, Albuquerque, the most populous and fastest-growing city in the state, was culturally underdeveloped. Tom dreamed of an organization with its own performance space which would offer an intimate, informal yet respectful, alcohol- and smoke-free home for an eclectic mix of productions.

First he established the New Mexico Jazz Workshop, putting on concerts by jazz greats who seldom visited the southwest, including Cecil Taylor, Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper and Sun Ra. Then in 1988, Tom convened a board and volunteers to found the Outpost Performance Space. In the past 28 years its annual operating budget has grown from an initial $10,000 to the present amount of more than $850,000. Twenty years ago, Tom established an extensive educational program giving young people performance opportunities at Outpost; that program has grown to more than 30 weeks a year of classes taught by three instructors, with scholarships for worthy graduates. In addition, he instituted visual arts exhibits in its Inpost Artspace Gallery.

Today Outpost Productions has more than 650 paying members, and each year some 60,000 people attend Outpost events, which have comprised more than 2,500 concerts with music ranging from experimentalism to the blues, soul, gospel and folk music, jazz-funk and bebop. The number of New Mexicans benefiting from Outpost activities is incalculable. Local recognition for the Outpost has included the Albuquerque Arts Alliance’s 2001 Bravo Award as the city’s “Outstanding Arts Organization.”

Incredibly, the Outpost is not all Tom Guralnick tends to. In 1996 he became the Artistic Director of the New Mexico Jazz Festival, held every summer in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. He’s a founding director and president of the Western Jazz Presenters Network, which has been block-booking jazz in the west since 1995. Tom serves on the boards of the New Mexico Presenters Alliance, African American Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe Music Collective and Tricklock Theatre Company, and is a member of the Advisory Board of 516 ARTS. Albuquerque is no longer so underdeveloped -- it’s a progressive music hub of the southwest, thanks in large part to Jazz Hero Tom Guralnick.

 -- Yvonne Ervin
Executive Director, Jazz in January and Western Jazz Presenters Network
'A Team' honoree, 2010
Photo: Carol Chamberland

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Joe Gransden

2016 Atlanta Jazz Hero

Trumpeter Joe Gransden has toured with many musical acts, performed around the world, released 14 CDs -- and done something truly remarkable in Atlanta. Working here regularly as a jazz musician for the past two decades, maintaining numerous ongoing gigs with trios and quartets, in jam sessions or swinging with his big band, Joe has developed a such a wide and diverse following that he might even be a celebrity in a city that doesn’t often acknowledge, much less celebrate, its jazz artists.
Yet the most remarkably unremarked thing about Joe is what he does apart from his roles as singer, trumpet player, conductor, recording artist and session leader: He’s a mentor and motivator for many, many other musicians in this city. If you play jazz in Atlanta, Joe wants to know who you are. He will invite you to play at his jam session, and if you have the chops he’ll hire you or recommend you for work. 
There are many fantastic players in Atlanta but most go unnoticed, having a hard time getting gigs due to a lack of paying venues. Joe has his finger on the pulse of the business. If a musician is serious he will help him or her make the connections to get the work they need and deserve. And he’ll teach them through example how to turn their talent into a business.  
If it wasn’t for Joe Gransden’s every-Tuesday-night jazz jam at Venkman’s, and the various other places that Joe has turned into live jazz venues, Atlanta might not have a jazz scene at all. That is why Joe Gransden is our 2016 Jazz Hero.

-- J. Scott Fugate
The Jazz Evangelist 
Photo: Jeff Roffman
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Todd Marcus

2016 Baltimore Jazz Hero

Todd Marcus is a bass clarinet specialist, a composer and leader of bands including a trio, a quartet, a quintet and a nonet he calls his Jazz Orchestra. Self-taught in jazz theory and composition, he incorporates classical and Middle Eastern influences -- the latter reflecting his Egyptian-American heritage -- into lyrical, free-swinging compositions. His most recent recording, Blues for Tahir, inspired by the hopes of the Arab Spring, was named one of 2015’s Top 40 jazz releases by JazzTimes. In 2014, Todd received a Baker Artist Award from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance for exemplifying mastery of craft, commitment to excellence and a unique, compelling vision.

But it is not principally Todd’s musical activities that make him a Baltimore Jazz Hero. Yes, he holds a weekly jam session at Homeslyce -- a pizza parlor — where he encourages young Baltimore musicians to work on their jazz chops. But most impressively and productively he is a community activist -- the administrator for Intersection of Change (formerly Newborn Holistic Ministries), a 20-year-old grassroots nonprofit focused on community development in west Baltimore that he organized with Elder C.W. Harris.

Marcus and Harris have initiated programs that enrich the economic, social and spiritual lives of people in the Sandtown-Winchester and surrounding neighborhoods, parts of which were at the center of the city’s 2015 uprising in reaction to the death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. IOC has created Jubilee Arts, which offers classes in visual arts, dance, ceramics and writing, intending to foster empowerment and strengthen community bonds. It runs Martha’s Place, a state-certified recovery program for women overcoming drug addiction and homelessness. IOC has fully renovated six previously vacant and dilapidated buildings, transformed 18 vacant lots into community green spaces and meditative gardens and enabled the creation of a dozen neighborhood murals.

Todd is now overseeing the development of a week-long IOC festival for next September, at which the organization will launch its vision of goals for 2020. These include offering addiction care and treatment to another 150 women, engaging more than a hundred teens in a Youth in Business class teaching entrepreneurship, creating ten more community murals and providing classes and community projects to 10,000 youth and adult participants.

Todd manages all of this while maintaining a busy performance schedule. “My adult life has really been about being a part of and serving my community by day and cultivating my music by night,” he’s said. “I think I’ve always felt upset by the injustice of inequities in the world and so being a part of my community has allowed me to specifically deal with ongoing issues that stem from systemic racism and poverty. And at the same time, my music has allowed me to try to create some beauty that hopefully unites people across all races through its power.”

Todd is working that beauty part -- making music -- all over Baltimore as well as at the Smithsonian Institution in D.C, at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City and as far away as the Cairo Jazz Festival. At the end of March he premiered new work with his Jazz Orchestra at Light City Baltimore (“a festival of light, music and innovation”). With his quintet, he will pay tribute to jazz masters John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy on April 21 at the Smithsonian American Art museum, and on April 23 at Baltimore's own Caton Castle. At the latter event Todd Marcus, an asset to Baltimore’s community as well as its culture, will be most appropriately honored as the JJA’s Baltimore Jazz Hero.

-- Don Palmer
JJA Board Member
Photo: Gary Young

Elena Serrano

2016 SF Bay Area Jazz Hero

As one of the founders and program directors of the EastSide Arts Alliance, which operates Oakland’s EastSide Cultural Center, Elena Serrano works in the frontlines to preserve local spaces for jazz and cultural production against the pressures of gentrification. Since 1999 she and fellow EastSide Arts Alliance program director Greg Morozumi have produced the annual Malcolm X JazzArts Festival, an event that foregrounds jazz’s progressive politics and community-building power, making jazz a regular presence in a majority African-American and Latino neighborhood and introducing it to new generations. The fest has presented many of the Bay Area’s current great improvisers, including favorites such as Jon Jang, Ed Kelly, John Santos and the two previous Bay Area Jazz Heroes, Faye Carol and Avotcja.

“Elena is a strong-willed community activist who can be as gentle as a lamb in a provocative discussion and roaring like a lion in the faces of the powerful,” says Jesse “Chuy” Varela, veteran freelance journalists and music director of KCSM Jazz (91 FM). “Poet Amiri Baraka saw Elena and Greg as visionaries for uplifting a community downtrodden by poverty, drugs and exploitation.” Baraka supported their efforts with benefit appearances and sage counsel.

Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Elena hails from a family of arts presenters. Her parents came out of Mississippi and her kin run Southern Whispers, a nightclub in Greenville. She moved west in the 1970s to study anthropology at UCLA, and learned the ropes as an arts programmer working for La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, an institution founded by Chileans exiled after the fall of Salvador Allende. She and Morozumi, then her co-programmer at La Peña, originally conceived the Malcolm X JazzArts Festival with the intent of parlaying it into a full-time organization.

“We had in our head a permanent cultural center,” Elena recalls “and used the Malcolm X JazzArts Festival to show people, ‘See what’s going on this one day? This is what we want to do all year long,” That got the local folks to buy in. As in all neighborhoods lacking in resources, people here want jobs and housing and better schools. Looking at what Billy Higgins and Kamau Daaood [previously honored by the JJA] did in Leimert Park in Los Angeles with their World Stage, we thought we’d use a cultural center in a similar way to build and organize the community.”

In addition to the Malcolm X JazzArts Festival, the EastSide Arts Alliance today presents an array of classes and workshops in visual arts, theater and dance for teens and young adults. One workshop, Bop Gun, invited aspiring rappers to jam with jazz musicians. “We’re focused on trying to keep young black folks connected to the music,” our Bay Area Hero says. “We have a big emphasis on regeneration.” Jazz, Elena Serrano knows, keeps communities strong.

 - Andy Gilbert
San Francisco Chronicle, 
Bay Area News Group

Yedidyah Syd Smart (l) & Leonard L. Brown (r)

2016 Boston Jazz Heroes

On July 17, 1977, ten years to the date of the passing of John Coltrane, Yedidyah Syd Smart, Leonard Brown and Hayes Burnett gave birth to the John Coltrane Memorial Concert. Now 39 years later, the John Coltrane Memorial Concert stands as the world’s oldest annual performance tribute to the musical and spiritual legacy of John Coltrane. This rich legacy is the result of the consistent, passionate stewardship of Smart and Brown.

Arriving in Boston during the late 1960s, Yedidyah quickly emerged as a leading force in the pronouncement of “Great Black Music.” His band, Boston Art Ensemble (akin to The Art Ensemble of Chicago), served as an anchor in Boston’s free and creative improvisation music scene. By 1976, he had opened his loft – located on the corner of Beach and Lincoln streets in Chinatown – to the public as the Friends of Great Black Music Loft, and it was here that the first John Coltrane Memorial concert was held. “The Loft” also became the mainstay for creative explorations of music, dance, spoken word and painting.

Yedidyah’s discography is as extensive and impressive as the roster of musicians he has collaborated and/or worked with, which includes Art of Black Dance and Music, Sam Rivers, Bill Dixon, Jimmy Lyons, Kampala Jazz All-Stars, Stan Strickland, Nancy Ostrovsky and The Tefilah Band of Beth El Temple Center. He continues to be a leading force on the Boston jazz scene as a master percussionist, educator and mentor.

Leonard Brown arrived in Boston in 1974 and quickly emerged as a frequent participant and performer at “The Loft.” In 1977, inspired by Black consciousness and Black Nationalism, Leonard, Yedidyah and Hayes Burnett established the John Coltrane Memorial Concert (JCMC) with a commitment to these three tenets:

  • Black African American musicians should exert leadership in perpetuating, expanding, enhancing and defining the musical traditions of Black African American people.  
  • John Coltrane was one of the most remarkable musicians in history, worthy of a memorial tribute. 
  • The community of both listeners and musicians has a continued deep and abiding interest in and love for Coltrane’s music. 

The response to the inaugural concert was so overwhelming that the legacy was birthed.

In 1986, when Leonard Brown was hired by Northeastern University as a professor of music and African American studies, he adroitly navigated to arrange a residency for the concert, and it has remained at the university under his strategic guidance as co-producer and artistic director for 29 years.

Beyond the Coltrane Concert, Leonard is a revered saxophonist, composer and arranger, having worked with artists including Bostonians George Russell, Bill Baron and Alan Dawson, as well as Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef and Edward Blackwell. Now retired from Northeastern University, he maintains an active schedule as a musician, artistic director and producer.

These two master musicians are life-long friends, collaborators, and living legends on the Boston music scene. Today, beyond all their phenomenal accomplishments and all the accolades they have received, both continue to pursue their shared goal of inspiring the next generation of musicians and music lovers – generously spending their time offering wise advice, encouragement and affirmation to younger musicians and passing on the legacy of jazz and creative improvisation music to young children.

In 2017 the John Coltrane Memorial Concert will celebrate 40 years. It will have touched,musically and spiritually, tens of thousands of lives. In Boston, and beyond, Yedidyah Syd Smart and Leonard Brown are true Jazz Heroes.

- Emmett G. Price III
CEO and Chairman of the Board
 Photos: Abdul Sami (Smart), Emmett G. Price III (Brown) 

Leslie Callen Hyland

2016 Capital Region (NY) Jazz Hero 

Back in 1990, Leslie Hyland answered Butch Conn’s request for volunteers to help A Place for Jazz hold its jazz picnic at the Schenectady Unitarian Church celebrating Duke Ellington’s birthday. Every season since then, Leslie has staffed the ticket sales table at A Place For Jazz’s performance series, and she’s become a familiar figure in attendance at jazz events throughout the Capital Region. She’s there for a kind of selfless pleasure. "It has been a great joy,” Leslie says, “to provide support to our local musicians whenever possible."

Leslie has been a jazz fan from an early age. Her father was a singer with local big bands during World War II; she grew up hearing swing and jazz legends on 78 rpm records. Eventually a friend’s father introduced her to hard bop. She has loved all types of music, but the first LPs she ever purchased for herself were jazz.

She studied to be a registered nurse in the historic jazz city of Baltimore, where she was lucky to hear live in concert some of the greats of the '60s and '70s. While residing in Washington DC, a jazz heaven, she joined a jazz association at The Maryland Inn run by guitarist Charlie Byrd. Eventually she moved to the Capital Region, where the music had not been so well-entrenched. Leslie stepped up to help change that.

In the early years of A Place for Jazz, Leslie assisted Butch Conn, our founder, with publicity, marketing to radio stations and maintaining the organization’s Jazz Calendar. After Butch’s death in 2005 she joined the newly formed board of directors and later A Place for Jazz’s advisory committee, working on membership issues and providing support for outreach at festivals. She created the fest’s banner and many of its other visual displays. She recruited and organized students and their teachers to play at concert intermissions -- an innovation that earned good reviews from audiences and performers alike. She has organized and supported jazz photographers in displaying their art at select concerts.

Today Leslie serves as the friendly public face of APFJ, who welcomes all comers. If there’s ever a snafu, she can be depended upon to untangle it.  For the past four years she has served as A Place for Jazz’s liaison to the Jazz Journalists Association, smoothing the coordination and organization of the local Jazz Hero celebration, so Leslie Hyland is not at all new to the Jazz Hero concept -- she has lived it and advanced it. We are proud to hail her as an “activist, advocate, altruist, aider and abettor of jazz.”

Tim Coakley
2013 JJA Jazz Hero
President, A Place for Jazz 
Photo: Albert Brooks

Marion T. Hayden

2016 Detroit Jazz Hero

Detroit jazz fans love to talk about “the Detroit way.” It means aspiring to levels of sophistication and soul inherent in the music. It means taking the music as a gift that has value only in its sharing – sharing of performances with audience. It means passing along the knowhow, the secrets and 10,000-hour practice techniques of creation, passing them along musician-to-musician and musical generation-to-musical generation. A player who wants to learn gets taught, and the teacher can revel in what happens next. “You could see him opening up. Like a flower to the sun,” says the teacher-character Dox in playwright Bill Harris’ Coda, which captures Detroit’s jazz scene and culture.

That was how Marion Hayden came to the music. That’s how she’s come to pass it on as well. Following the footsteps of revered mentors to embody this local ethos in her rapidly advancing performance career and parallel roles as a educator at University of Michigan, the Detroit International Jazz Festival, and the Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center, Marion has earned grassroots appreciation and now her national celebration as a Jazz Hero.

Marion grew up the child of music-loving parents, her dad, particularly, being a big jazz fan with an extensive record collection. By age 12 she had shifted her attention from cello to bass, attracted to the look of it as well as its sound. (“It looked like a lovely piece of furniture,” she told one writer.) The decisive turn in her early musical education came at 15 when she met trumpeter Marcus Belgrave -- Detroit’s 2013 JJA Jazz Hero -- and the saxophonist Wendell Harrison at Metro Arts, a now legendary summer program for kids interested in playing jazz. These musical elders could see the promise in the studious newcomer.

Academically, Marion pursued liberal arts bachelor’s degree with a minor in entomology at the University of Michigan; she studied bass privately. After graduating, she spent a decade at a day job with the Michigan Department of Agriculture while building her musical presence on the Detroit scene. Her musical resume grew as she worked with such central local figures as pianists Charles Boles and Kenn Cox, the saxophonist Donald Walden, and the saxophonist-pianist Teddy Harris Jr. In the 1990s she enjoyed a sisterhood-of-jazz breakthrough alongside violinist Regina Carter, pianist Alina Morr and drummer Gayelynn McKinney in the ensemble Straight Ahead, which built a local following, recorded three albums for Atlantic, picked up a Grammy nomination and toured widely.

 Hayden, Morr and McKinney have kept the band going. Through it all, Marion has been ubiquitous, a first-call accompanist for musicians coming through town from Donald Byrd to Cindy Blackman Santana, from Nancy Wilson to Eric Alexander. Her lovingly assembled 2008 solo debut, Visions, showcased her as the leader of brisk, post-bop ensembles, anchoring and driving the music, for sure, but also taking the bass out front with Mingusian aplomb, including break-a-heart arco ballad work. Her originals on the album are a sign of her growing prowess as a composer; her appointment to the Meet the Composer national funding panel is further validation.

Marion had long addressed students at both college-university and secondary school level, currently as faculty in Michigan’s Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisational Studies, as Detroit Fest educator-in-residence and as director of the Carr center’s summer jazz program. Since her mentors Belgrave, Cox, Walden and Harris, among others, have passed, she is now one of the key musicians passing on their knowledge in classrooms and bandstands, keeping their compositions alive, parsing their styles, carrying on their traditions. Marion Hayden is a Jazz Hero, the Detroit Way.   
-  W. Kim Heron
Senior Communications Officer
The Kresge Foundation
Photo: Darryl Smith

Bradley Parker-Sparrow & Joanie Pallatto 

2016 Chicago Jazz Heroes

Native Chicago pianist Bradley Parker-Sparrow and Cincinnati-bred vocalist Joanie Pallatto, married now for 33 years, have separate yet intertwined musical careers. Sparrow has recorded more than a dozen albums under his own name, many featuring Joanie; she’s released nine albums as a leader, several with Sparrow at the piano. They recorded most of those sessions at Sparrow Sound Design, the northside studio they built in 1977 (and maintained until 2013), and all of them were released on their family labels Southport and Northport Records.

Their resumes, however, don’t acknowledge the couple’s larger contributions to Chicago music. Many musicians have formed small labels to promote their work, but none other than Southport/Northport have expanded to comprise more than 75 other artists and over 140 albums – mostly of jazz but also including cabaret performers and contemporary classical composers. Through this catalog Sparrow and Joanie, as they are warmly known throughout the local music community, have bountifully served that community and beyond.

The Southport catalog brims with jazz-famous Chicagoans. Sparrow and Joanie have produced multiple albums by iconoclastic tenor saxophonists Fred Anderson and Von Freeman; Von’s guitarist-brother George who, thanks to Southport, remains in demand at age 89; modernist piano master Willie Pickens; bassist Tatsu Aoki (2015 Chicago “Jazz Hero”), and all but one member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Southport/Northport’s intrinsic value is further enhanced by its founders’ belief that Chicago teems with lesser-known musicians who are unrecorded but need to be heard – especially some whose idiosyncrasies place them beyond the pale of traditional labels. This belief, and its corollary that audiences can make up their own minds about the music's enjoyability, have brought hidden gems to light. As Joanie said in a 2010 New York Times profile, “Who else would do this?” The lack of like-minded risk-takers proves her point.

Sparrow and Joanie have done it, independently and together, as performers, label owners, producers, engineers and impresarios of low-key showcases. They’ve collaborated on dozens of songs with lyrics, and album-length suites. Joanie has appeared on hundreds of nationally broadcast commercials, and Sparrow has written soundtracks for five films – also a film and plays of his own – as well as having published music criticism and entertainingly opinionated rants.

For all this which enriches Chicago’s cultural mosaic, Joanie and Sparrow are our Jazz Heroes.

- Neil Tesser
JJA Board Member 
Grammy-winning album annotator

Robert Ginsburg

2016 Fayetteville AR Jazz Hero

Robert Ginsburg has lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas with his wife, Susan Jenkins, since 1976, and began his life in music here in ‘79, volunteering to produce a jazz radio show on KUAF-FM. At the time it was a 10-watt lab station housed within University of Arkansas’ School of Journalism. Six years later the station morphed into a full-fledged National Public Radio affiliate. Today “Shades of Jazz,” Robert’s Friday 10 p.m.-to-midnight broadcast, stands as the station’s longest running program.

Robert grew up up in St. Louis and as many “youngin’s” from there do, when he turned 18 he migrated 120 miles due west down I-70 to the University of Missouri in Columbia. He volunteered there, too, for community radio station KOPN-FM, and eventually graduated with a degree in structural design. To earn a living, Robert became a building contractor, designing and constructing houses. Also a climber, caver and avid outdoorsman, in 1982 he opened Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters, a retail outlet he sold in 2011. Nonetheless, Jazz always fed his soul – and in the vernacular, “he was and is good at it.”

In 1992 Robert founded the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society, a non-profit, community-based membership organization producing a fall-to-spring series featuring major jazz musicians; he continues to serve as its executive director. In ‘93, he joined the steering committee assigned to bring focus and direction to Fayetteville’s then-emerging Walton Arts Center. When the multi-venue performing arts center opened its doors that year he was named its “jazz curator” – another position he still holds – booking a subscription series of nationally touring artists and guiding their educational outreach to schools where they conduct workshops and master classes. From that stance, and also as house manager of the Walton Arts Center’s 10,000-seat outdoor Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers, about 25 miles north of Fayetteville, Robert has collaboratively organized and participated in regional block bookings

In ‘99 Robert launched Northwestern Arkansas Jazz Society's Summer Jazz Concert Series to showcase local and regional talent. He gradually expanded the series’ sphere, offering performances not only in Fayetteville, but also in surrounding locales such as Rogers, Springdale, Siloam Springs, Fort Smith, Little Rock and Bentonville. He broadened his base of support and attracted young people with in-school programs and a scholarship for aspiring jazz musicians, which after 16 years have paid tuition for more than 65 students to attend Jamey Aebersold’s Summer Jazz Camp held in Louisville KY.

Robert's efforts have not gone unnoticed: in 2010 he received the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Community Development, a recognition bestowed upon “a civic leader who has taken a leadership role in creating an environment for artists and the arts to flourish in his/her local community.”

It takes something special to create “jazz-life” and a life in jazz in this part of the U.S. That Robert has done it -- after some three decades, forging a permanent presence for jazz within the Northwest Arkansas cultural landscape – is what makes him so special. At a time when places for jazz artists to perform are disappearing, and jazz on the airwaves is greatly diminished, Robert’s impact and sphere of influence upon his community has never been stronger or more visible. I think, as the JJA does, that makes Robert Ginsburg a Jazz Hero, certainly worthy of a salute.
Jon W. Poses
Jazz Hero, 2014
Columbia Daily Tribune
"We Always Swing"® Jazz Series
Photo:  Randi Cruz

Edythe L. Bronston

2016 Los Angeles Jazz Hero

The tag line “starving artist” most certainly applies to vast numbers of jazz musicians. Often with a precarious income stream, they are only one cancelled gig or illness or accident from financial crisis; musicians commonly lack an adequate safety net. In California, those on hard times have an angel looking out for them. A lifelong love of jazz and a singular desire to help musicians in need spurred dynamo Edythe L. Bronston, ten years ago, to create the California Jazz Foundation (CJF).

Edythe knew first-hand the difficult situations for too many fine musicians, including those with credits for a substantial body of work and history of great acclaim. A Los Angeles-based attorney and court-appointed fiduciary with a full-time work schedule, she founded CJF in 2006 as a nonprofit organization to aid and assist California jazz musicians in financial or medical crisis.

She put her heart into nurturing the nascent organization, recruiting associates and other music lovers. In its infancy -- before CJF had raised any funds -- charter members passed the hat to secure financial help to assist an ailing San Francisco musician. Since then the organization has come to the aid of 200 California jazz musicians.

More than 75 per cent of CJF’s grants regularly go toward alleviating homelessness. They also assist musicians with food, utilities, transportation, medical referrals, bureaucratic dealings, and virtually anything else necessary. Intake is by an in-house social worker who counsels and provides valuable services such as coordination with and advocacy to allied organizations supplementing the CJF grants. A network of medical professionals in every discipline is ready to provide essential healthcare services to qualified recipients on a sliding-scale basis. The CJF is also committed to raising musicians’ awareness of the importance of prevention and early treatment of disease, which it implements through free public education and community outreach programs.

In a decade the Foundation has steadily grown more robust. It is governed by a board of 19, and its membership approaches 600. As awareness of the organization has spread throughout the ranks of musicians, requests for assistance have also accelerated, requiring concomitant increases in funding sources. Meeting those needs has required a leader with tenacity and a compelling message. Fortunately, we have Edythe.

She is never far from the music. She is a booster of live performance, and is frequently seen at concerts throughout southern California as well as at festivals, jazz parties and on The Jazz Cruise. One of the best friends jazz musicians have, many have benefitted from her support of documentary and recording projects and through strategic introductions. She is forever proselytizing for the cause.

Determination, tirelessness, cheerleading – these traits mark all Edythe Bronston’s endeavors. Fulfilling her vision, the California Jazz Foundation recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, ably led by President Bronston. It is fitting that she be named a 2016 Jazz Hero for “aiding and abetting jazz.”

-Peggy Barber
Jazz at Chardonnay
Photo: Bob Barry


 Douglas Moody

2016 Fort Bragg CA Jazz Hero

Businessman and marketer, jazz aficionado, philanthropist and maker of some of the finest craft beers in the world, Douglas Moody has successfully combined his passions into a single lifestyle that is also benefiting jazz locally and nationwide. As co-owner and senior vice president of North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg, California, about 175 miles north of San Francisco, Doug has decisively and effectively committed his company’s name-brand support to many significant jazz initiatives throughout the U.S. as well as close to home, due to a personal commitment that goes well past expectations of financial gain.

At Doug’s instigation, North Coast has become one of the biggest for-profit sponsors of jazz in the country. Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale is among the dozen award-winning craft beers Doug and his partner Mark Ruedrich, North Coast’s president, founder and original brewmaster, make, market and distribute worldwide. A percentage from every case of Brother Thelonious sold is devoted to the education programs of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz -- a contribution recently exceeding the $1 million mark. North Coast is also the official beer sponsor of the Monterey, Newport, Montclair and Northampton Jazz Festivals, the American Jazz Museum’s 18th & Vine Jazz & Blues Festival, the Oregon Coast Jazz Party, the Mendocino Music Festival and the Jazz Journalists Association’s Jazz Heroes and Jazz Awards programs. It underwrites jazz programming for radio stations nationwide, including KOZT in northern California where Doug personally hosts “Jazz from the Coast,” a weekly Sunday night show on-air and on the Internet.

Doug is also a record producer. He’s the man behind the NCBJazz label’s cd The Brother Thelonious Quintet, comprising Monk Institute alumni including Ambrose Akinmusire, Gretchen Parlato and Helen Sung, and Baritone Monk, featuring baritone saxophonist Claire Daly’s quartet. All NCBJazz proceeds go to the artists, artists’ tours (which North Coast underwrites) and jazz education programs, especially those designed to develop future audiences. In 2014, Doug founded the Glass Beach Jazz label, issuing Emerging Markets by pianist Pete Malinverni; the Claire Daly Quintet’s 2648 West Grand Boulevard is due soon.

And he’s become a club-owner. Upon moving to Fort Bragg, Doug faced having to travel 175 miles to the closest club offering live jazz, so he converted the banquet space of North Coast’s always-packed Taproom into the Sequoia Room, sparing no expense in designing the venue’s sound and sight-lines. Local as well as international musicians have been presented there.

Born and raised in Santa Monica, Doug attributes his love of music to his mother, a pianist who always had music on at home and hosted her own radio show. In his teens in the ‘60s he worked at Music Box Records and Tapes, hearing rhythm & blues and soul music that led him to jazz. Highly regarded and well-liked by North Coast’s employees and clients, numerous musicians, jazz students, organizations and educational institutions, beloved by his wife Deborah and their rottweiler Hollywood, Douglas Moody is the very model of a Jazz Hero, advancing the good life.

- JB Dyas
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
Photo: Deborah Moody

Maggie Pelleya

2016 Miami Jazz Hero

Born in Cuba and arriving in the United States in 1960, Maggie Pelleyá grew up in Miami, obtained an education, had a 21-year career with Delta Airlines, raised a family and during it all held music -- jazz in particular -- close to her heart. Joining WDNA community public radio during its infancy in the early 1980s, Maggie added broadcasting to her resume, playing contemporary and Latin jazz rhythms for the nascent and slowly growing South Florida audience. Music became her passion and promoting radio as a vehicle for it, her mission. After retiring from Delta, Maggie devoted herself to making jazz available to those who previously had nowhere to hear their favorite music.

Soft­-spoken, small in stature and of humble nature, in person she offers few superficial clues to the immense impact she’s had on our community. However, Maggie has the sharp intellect, warm personality and sultry voice so attractive in a woman radio broadcaster, and through her leadership, WDNA has developed into what it is today: Miami’s only audience-supported public radio station, a central force in South Florida’s musical landscape offering 24/7 jazz music and educational events. In the course of the past 35 years the station has moved from its modest beginnings in a warehouse to small, leased offices and finally its own building with production studios, an open art gallery and concert space from which it broadcasts live.

Maggie has been the driving force behind this transformation. She’s done all that’s been necessary to make it happen: built bridges between WDNA and local educational institutions, developed on-air talent, overseen programming, applied for grants, produced membership drives and community outreach events, too.

A friend to musicians and listeners alike, she has given traditional jazz, Latin jazz, Brazilian music, reggae, world music and uncategorizable musical projects a home and a forum. Thirty years ago, Miami was not thought of as a force in the jazz world. Today, Miami and South Florida have become hot-spots for jazz from all over the world and the work of Maggie Palleyá is one reason why. If asked, she says it’s not enough, there’s more room to grow. With our Jazz Hero at the helm of WDNA, there’s little doubt that it will.

- Edward Blanco
WDNA Board of Trustees
JJA Member 

Germaine P. Bazzle

2016 New Orleans Jazz Hero

For more than half a century, Germaine Bazzle has been one of New Orleans’ most talented and accomplished jazz artists, singing with elegance, flexibility and heart while in command of serious bass and piano chops. So why has she prioritized teaching above touring and recording?

Education is her calling, she’s explained in multiple interviews, and gigs are “the fun” or personally therapeutic part of her job.

Germaine, now 84, has gone above and beyond the call of duty in both arenas. As a music educator at Xavier Prep (currently known as Drexel Prep), the high school of Xavier University, the only historically black Catholic institution of higher learning in the U.S., she opened the door for generations of young women to discover and engage with jazz. She’s played an active role in the esteemed Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp for nearly 20 years. As Offbeat magazine reported in a feature honoring Germaine for her lifetime achievement in music ed, she has focused on the big picture of what such studies can do for a young person, posting in her classrooms mantras relevant to both life and music such as “Yes I Can,” and “Listen and Learn.”

Germaine herself studied classical voice at Xavier Junior School of Music alongside pianist Ellis Marsalis, with whom she still performs. She got into jazz listening to Stan Kenton, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck and Sarah Vaughn, among others, at home with her brother and his friends. She began teaching shortly after graduating from college and, with her jazz leanings, quickly became a staple of New Orleans’ music scene.

Musicians, critics and fans, too, have long praised her big ears, impressive vocal technique – she’s best known for her near-perfect scat mimicry of brass instruments – and ease on the bandstand. Germaine P. Bazzle has devoted her life to imbuing the next generation of New Orleans musicians with skills and values that reflect those she practices herself, making her New Orleans' Jazz Hero on all counts.

- Jennifer Odell
Offbeat, DownBeat
Photo: Ryan Collerd 

Rio Sakairi

2016 New York City Jazz Hero

Artistic director since 2000 at The Jazz Gallery, the non-profit cultural center and performance space at 27th and Broadway in Manhattan, Rio Sakairi does that job with distinction while keeping her broader mission in mind. “What I’m looking for is soulfulness,” she says of her criteria for booking the fifth floor space that presents some 300 concerts a year, supports commissions and a mentoring program, offers rehearsal space and exhibits visual art.

Soulfulness as a principle seems to inform all Rio’s activities, “and that’s not a stylistic reference,” she asserts. “Music is a way to communicate something, like literature or any other art.” In fact it was Rio’s urgency to communicate about a calamity with international ramifications that drew her to The Jazz Gallery to begin with.

Born and raised in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki, Japan, Rio arrived in New York in 1990. She earned a dual degree in music and liberal arts from the New School for Social Research, and approached The Jazz Gallery in 2000 after signing up for the Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride, an approximately 500 mile bike trip from Fairbanks to Anchorage.

“Everybody had to raise $5,000 to take part,” Rio recalls. “I wanted to do a fundraising concert and approached Dale Fitzgerald, founder and then-director of The Gallery, which was just getting started as a performance space. I put on the benefit, it was a great success, and then Dale told me he needed help.” Soon Rio was setting the venue’s agenda, on her way to becoming one of jazz’s most respected curators.

Rio likes to connect musicians of varying sensibilities, linking established traditions with fresh sounds, hosting legendary elders as well as up-and-coming artists. She’s lent early support to young musicians who’ve gone on to win Thelonious Monk Institute competitions, MacArthur fellowships and DownBeat polls; thanks to her, many artists signed recently to Blue Note Records had previously gained invaluable experience and exposure. Seeking out the next generation of innovative players and composers, then often guiding and nourishing them over a span of years, Rio has exerted sizable impact on the music scene, raised The Gallery’s profile on NYC’s cultural map and gained it recognition worldwide.

She has an especially keen appreciation for music’s pan-stylistic and global reach, introducing musicians from Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America. This sensitivity was at work when Rio -- who grew up just 200 miles from the Sendai area ravaged by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March 2011 -- enlisted singers Claudia Acuña from Chile, Sachal Vasandani (self-described “nice Indian kid” from Chicago), Becca Stevens, Rebecca Martin and Gretchen Parlato of Tillery; guitarists Doug Wamble (born in Tennessee), and John Ellis of New Orleans, among others, to record Home: A Gift of Music, a benefit album with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity, Japan.

“There has to be a certain standard of technical ability, but beyond that, I want to feel something when I hear you play,” Rio says of the musicians who interest her. As pianist-composer Vijay Iyer, first presented as a bandleader at The Gallery and still an attraction there attests, “Her tireless efforts have rejuvenated the music and galvanized the musical community.” That’s because Rio Sakairi has heroically promoted music that helps us “feel something.”

David Adler
 The New York City Jazz Record
Photo: Jimmy Katz

Don Gardner

2016 Philadelphia Jazz Hero

Since 1985, Don Gardner has been in the leadership and management of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz, a haven for local artists and a hub of cultural expression. The nation’s first facility to be constructed -- in 1995 -- specifically as a jazz institution, it houses a performance hall with some 200 seats, two levels of classrooms, and practice studios open to local musicians as well as its students. Never concerned with titles, simply committed to moving the Clef Club forward, Don has done everything from digging its foundation to being chief maintenance man to serving as President. He’s currently Managing Director, but that doesn’t cover the scope of his activity. One man, many caps.

Don has always been versatile. Born in Philadelphia, he began his musical career in 1947, while still in high school, playing drums and singing in The 3 Bachelors with Jimmy Smith, then a pianist but soon to turn to organ. In 1953 Don formed the Sonotones, teaming up with vocalist Dee Dee Ford, with whom he scored the 1962 hit single “I Need Your Lovin’,” and continued to record into the ‘70s. Upon retiring from performance, Don took on the task of road manager for Curtis Mayfield. He was also second in command at the John Mack Level Slate and Torozo Construction Company, eventually becoming the owner of his own construction company.

At the Clef Club, he's been a consummate teacher. The Club has a proud place in the vanguard of jazz education, with students flocking to workshops and classes from the likes of Sonny Fortune, Mimi Jones and Bernard Purdie as well as Don Gardner himself. He is uniquely able to pass on wisdom gained from personal relationships with such Philly’s jazz icons as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan and the Heath Brothers. Don has mentored musicians including Christian McBride, Jaleel Shaw, Justin Faulkner and Joey DeFrancesco. Under Don's leadership the Club continues to present performances celebrating and preserving jazz’s legacy. He considers this all part and parcel of education.

To be a servant in leadership of jazz takes something special, actually something spiritual. You must have a real love for your people, your culture and the music. A person – more than one! -- must be seriously commitment to keeping an institution going. The Clef Club is a cherished Philadelphia asset, boasting some of today’s finest musicians as former students and current students who are promising musicians of tomorrow. It's a place where the past meets the present and the present meets the future, thanks to the spirit and guidance of Don Gardner, Jazz Hero.

- Joey Harrison
Gospel Meets Jazz
Photo: Ronald Simmons from Bob Lott, Teamwork Productions, Inc.

Herb & Lorene Ely

2016 Phoenix Jazz Heroes

The Jazz Hero Award is an acknowledgement of Herb and Lorene Ely’s lives of quietly heroic endeavors. For more than 50 years as a practicing trial lawyer in Arizona, Herb has stood up for the rights of individuals who lack money or power to pursue issues of social and human justice, and throughout that time jazz has been for him more that a musical passion, rather a continuation of his devotion to democracy and civil rights. His wife Lorene is his partner in every sense, every step of the way.

When Herb arrived in Phoenix in 1958 from a small town in Pennsylvania, he became a leading activist in the battle against discrimination and was soon appointed as legal counsel and vice president of the local NAACP. A few years later, Herb drafted Arizona’s civil rights bill, which was signed into law in April of 1965. Next, he co-founded the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, the most successful non-profit public interest firm in the United States. In 2009, Herb received the Judge Learned Hand Community Service Award for his sustained contributions to the advancement of equality and democratic principles, and in 2012, he received Arizona State University's Martin Luther King Servant Leadership Award.

In 2011, Herb had the vision of opening an inclusive jazz venue in the heart of Phoenix that would give budding jazz musicians a place to perform and learn about jazz, and build a new audience for America’s original, democratic art form. Through the tireless efforts of Herb and Lorene, The Nash opened in downtown Phoenix on April 12, 2012 with a Jazz for Young People concert performed by Wynton Marsalis – who drove from New York City and appeared pro bono in recognition of the new venue’s bold promise, not to mention his respect for its namesake: drummer Lewis Nash, Phoenix native son. In her enthusiasm to bring youngsters to this inaugural event, Lorene lost track of The Nash’s maximum occupancy, and to this day the exact number of attendees remains a mystery. But the way people were packed in defied basic laws of physics.

Lorene is the love of Herb’s life and his behind-the-scenes power-partner, highly accomplished in her own right. A beloved retired school teacher, she wrote, received and implemented a multi-million-dollar grant that taught new technology to teachers and revolutionized tech use in the Phoenix school system. Once The Nash opened, Lorene became involved literally full time in all aspects of its operations – from selecting and buying its stylish chairs to developing its ticketing and database systems to fundraising, serving as board secretary and other duties. Without doubt she contributed to The Nash’s exponential growth. Herb refers to his relationship with Lorene as a ménage à trois because of The Nash-dedicated laptop that is ubiquitous in their home, on vacations and cruises, everywhere they go.

The Elys have opened their minds, hearts, home and wallets to nurture The Nash so it has become not only an extraordinarily successful Phoenix music space, but a unique model for building jazz communities in America. Their intention was from the start to attract students, educators, musicians and audiences from near and far to share and care for jazz in a dedicated, non-profit, non-commercial environment. They’ve definitely succeeded. In existence barely four years, The Nash has already been named three times to DownBeat's list of “Great Jazz Venues in The World” – an unprecedented achievement. The Nash has enabled Phoenix to become a major regional hub for jazz in America.

The Jazz Journalists Association is honored to present its Jazz Heroes Award to the dynamic duo of Herb and Lorene Ely in recognition of their vision, conviction, generosity and passion for jazz as an expression of fundamental American values: freedom and equality.

Joel Robin Goldenthal 
Executive Director
Jazz in Arizona/The Nash 

Geri Allen

2016 Pittsburgh Jazz Hero

Since the mid 1980s, Geri Allen has built and sustained an international career in jazz performance, composition, bandleading and creativity, shining light on her musical antecedents and community – including especially the contributions of women and interests of children – while also becoming a major force in jazz education. In 2013 she returned to her alma mater, University of Pittsburgh, to become an associate professor and take over the Jazz Program started by her own mentor, Dr. Nathan Davis. In a significant sense, Geri Allen had come home.

Born in Pontiac, Michigan and receiving her early musical education in Detroit from mentor Marcus Belgrave (a 2013 JJA Jazz Hero), Geri was deeply impressed by the midwestern legacy of jazz, and the region’s pianists in particular. After graduating from Howard University she received her Master’s degree in ethnomusicology at Pitt, then moved to New York City, where she launched an impressive career.

 Geri has always acknowledged and and appreciated the role of communities in sustaining creativity; from the start, she collaborated with friends from her youth in Detroit, veterans of musicians’ self-determination groups from Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles, and helped found both the Black Rock Coalition and M-BASE Collective. She has also consistently represented issues of cultural relevance and social significance in her art, whether composing a sacred suite in tribute to 9/11 victims for Howard University's Afro-Blue Jazz Choir, writing music for documentaries such as Music, Community & Social Conscience and Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, performing at the Dr. Martin Luther King Monument Unveiling Concert or simply playing piano with her group or others.

In the three years she’s been back at Pitt, Geri has advanced her ongoing revival of the works of Pittsburgh native Mary Lou Williams, initiating the first ever Mary Lou Williams Cyber Symposium at Pitt in which she performed a three piano improvisation in real time using Internet 2 technology with ViJay Iyer at Harvard and Jason Moran at Columbia University. She attracted the archives of Pittsburgh-born-and-raised pianist Erroll Garner to be housed at the University, celebrated native son Billy Strayhorn by promoting and performing his works in a Centennial Concert, expanded the annual Pitt Jazz Seminar into a seven-day event with additional local venues and, without precedent, opened the Jazz Studies program to dozens of collaborations with related community groups. She has established active relationships with local jazz people and institutions as no one at Pitt has done before.

Prior to her return, Geri had been just as actively engaged with students of all levels as a music professor at Montclair State University (NJ), and associate professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation for ten years at the School of Music, Theater & Dance at University of Michigan. She firmly believes that "meaningful access to music is one of the keys to success in any field, and music informs our sensitivity to others," so she is a fierce advocate for children to have direct contact with music. In summer 2016 she will convey these convictions as artistic director of the all-female jazz residency faculty at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

By returning to Pitt, Geri Allen reinforces the value of the hands-on, artist-practitioner education that she valued during her ethnomusicology studies here, and which she intends to sustain. She has received many honors, including a 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Jazz Legacy Award, and she stands tall as a Jazz Hero, in the view of the JJA, by showing how jazz activists go beyond self-interest by putting their all and then some into the communities that nurtured them early on. Pittsburgh has welcomed her back with open arms. 

-- Dr. Nelson Harrison 
2015 JJA Jazz Hero, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Jazz Network

Bobby Torres

2016 Portland OR Jazz Hero

It’s been 23 years since percussionist Bobby Torres started his Latin jazz band -- the Bobby Torres Ensemble -- in Portland, yet our best known and most beloved percussionist shows no sign of slowing down. He’s still enriching our culture with his music, teaching up-and-coming conga drummers and making us dance.

Famously a “Mad Dog” in Joe Cocker's band at Woodstock, Bobby has been a busy session player in L.A. on hits by Jackson Browne, Tom Jones (with whom he toured for ten years), the Captain & Tennille (on "Do It To Me One More Time"), Kenny Rogers and Gladys Knight, among many others. But his name has become synonymous with Latin jazz in Oregon. He’s entertained throughout the state and outside it, mentored generations of would-be Latin percussionists and other musicians and built a community around these activities that reaches into other communities, too.

When Torres first settled in Portland in the early 1990s, he suffered a rough patch. He was newly a single father, and devoted a couple of years to, as he says, "playing Mr. Mom." But he soon became comfortable with the local scene, and productive, earning fame for bringing rhythmic flavor and virtuosity to his performances whether with a trio at an intimate spot or a kicking big band on a large stage. In 1992 he founded the Bobby Torres Ensemble, and by ‘95 it was being booked with regularity across the region, frequently providing music at worthy benefits, fundraisers and community events.

Torres’ band varies in size and personnel. He often features his longtime collaborator Luis Conte as well as Portlanders including Dan Gaynor, Damien Erskine, Israel Annoh, John Nastos, Kirt Peterson, Matt Carr, Lars Campbell, Rob Davis and Brian Ward, all of whom have earned their Latin jazz cred as his protégés. His family joins in, too: Torres’ daughter Julana sings, his son Carmelo is a percussionist and his other son, Ensemble drummer Reinhardt Melz, is a king of odd meters, working in bands of diverse genres.

Bobby himself is not a flashy player. He doesn’t try to hog the spotlight; he doesn’t have to be the star. He thinks of his band as the star, and knows (as he’ll tell you), that even though he doesn’t look like the star, his band revolves around him. That understated confidence is characteristic of Jazz Hero Bobby Torres, who keeps Portland moving.

Tom D'Antoni
Oregon Music News

Laurie de Koch

2016 Seattle Jazz Hero

Laurie de Koch became a Jazz Hero at the forefront of the fight against social inequities by following the musical path her son began in sixth grade. That's when bespectacled band director Robert Knatt had scanned the halls of Washington Middle School in Seattle, intent on filling seats in his ensemble, and settled on a nearby student, Willem de Koch.

"You!" he said. "Trombone!"

Scared but excited to be drafted by the demanding teacher, Willem scurried to the school library where Laurie, his mother, worked as a volunteer.

"Mr. Knatt... He wants me to play trombone."

"Trombone?" Laurie thought. "Isn't there a cooler instrument?"

But the benefits of music education from a rigorous teacher with high standards were clear -- among them, encouragement of hard work, creativity and self-esteem. Laurie was grateful when Knatt drafted her younger son, Bergen, too. Her boys had joined the music program that fed Garfield High School's award-winning bands led by Clarence Acox (a JJA “A Team” honoree).

Unfortunately, even though the schools were located in the Seattle's Central District where the concentration of people of color remains high by Pacific Northwest standards, the music programs mostly served white male students. Inadequate funding for Seattle public schools reaching back to the 1970s made successful music ed classes the exception rather than the rule. Only students living within enrollment boundaries of certain schools could access excellent teachers. Laurie could not abide the disparity between the benefits of jazz ed being reaped by white boys compared to girls and people of color in minority neighborhoods. What could she do about it? She created an organization called JazzED.

Building upon her Masters in Arts and Non-Profit Management degree from the University of Oregon, experience with operations for the Seattle Chamber Music Festival and fundraising for the Seattle Opera and Seattle Youth Symphony, Laurie got JazzED up and running. Her passion, tenacity and focus were persuasive in getting Knatt and Acox to run the education program. She invited Earshot Jazz Executive Director John Gilbreath and several grateful parents to join the board. Their first-year enrollment goal for 2010 was 60 students. They added 20 more when composer-keyboardist Wayne Horvitz signed on to lead a New Works ensemble.

Six years later, JazzED serves 350 students a year. They have access to instruments, private lessons and ensembles. Half receive financial aid, many through scholarships. Forty percent are students of color. Also, Girls Jazz Day and Girls Ellington Project have been established. JazzED's steps towards institutionalizing racial equity while pursuing the twin goals of expanding access to music education and its excellence earned the organization the 2015 Mayor's Arts Award. Laurie is a catalyst for the community and her big smile takes the chill off any challenge.

Laurie's son Willem is still playing trombone. He earned a degree from the Manhattan School of music and National Public Radio host Terry Gross broadcast him playing with his group The Westerlies on Fresh Air. Thanks to Jazz Hero Laurie de Koch's contribution, more students will have the opportunity to follow his lead.
Steve Griggs
Musician and writer 
Hip City Music
Photo: Marcus Donner

Dennis Owsley

2016 St. Louis Jazz Hero

Jazz Heroes can be teachers, writers, radio deejays, musicians, photographers or professionals in other fields, philanthropists, presenters, producers or simply dedicated and enthusiastic fans. Dennis Owsley, St. Louis’s 2016 Jazz Hero, qualifies as a Jazz Hero on multiple counts.

Since 1983, Dennis has produced and hosted “Jazz Unlimited,” a weekly Sunday night program on KWMU St. Louis Public Radio – and it’s still going strong. He’s blogged on jazz for St. Louis Magazine and is an accomplished jazz photographer, whose images have been in books, concert programs, websites and exhibited by a St. Louis gallery. In 2006 Reedy Press published Dennis’ illustrated coffee table book City of Gabriels – The Jazz History of St. Louis: 1895-1973. In addition, he volunteers for Jazz St. Louis, driving musicians who’ve come to perform at the Ferring Jazz Bistro to their educational presentations in area schools. In person and using all media, he’s promoted, documented and stimulated the city’s music scene.

Dennis was born in the Los Angeles area in 1943. He’s been a jazz fan since his teens, when he heard the giants of the 1950s and ‘60s at local L.A. clubs. With a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, he initially moved to St. Louis to work for Monsanto. Soon after his arrival Dennis met jazz historian, broadcaster and lecturer Charlie Menees, who led him to KWMU. At first Dennis called his show “Bebop and Beyond.”

“Beyond” and “unlimited” characterize what Dennis is about. He’s has never been afraid to champion avant-garde music or to express his opinions, even when they go against the grain. At the same time, Dennis is always open to documenting and honoring the St. Louis  jazz tradition. Maybe that’s a result of being trained in the scientific method!

One of the best things about “Jazz Unlimited” is that beyond playing great jazz, he also enlightens his listeners. His every program is scripted, and has a theme – perhaps a focus on the compositions of Wayne Shorter, or an overview of the careers of St. Louis-associated musicians such as the late pianist John Hicks or lesser known sax giant Willie Akins. In 2013 Dennis put together a 30-hour history of jazz in St. Louis, reputedly the second longest such music production in radio history.

Over the years, Dennis has won several gratifying local awards. There was even an city-proclaimed day -- January 24, 2008 -- in his honor. It’s more than fitting that he be acknowledged by the greater jazz world as he is at home, since he’s brought that world to us, and vice versa. St. Louis is proud of Dennis Owsley, Jazz Hero.

Terry Perkins
St. Louis Post Dispatch

Frank Malfitano

2016 Syracuse NY Jazz Hero

For more than 30 years, Frank Malfitano has been a driving force behind jazz and the arts in Syracuse, where he was born and raised. He’s spent his career singing the city’s praises to all who will listen, while bringing national talent back home for the local audience. He’s not only enthusiastic, he is tenacious. That’s made all the difference to jazz in upstate New York.

Frank founded the Syracuse Jazz Festival in 1983 and has served ever since as its executive director and stalwart champion. Over the past 33 years, the festival has established itself as the largest free jazz fest in the Northeast. It has attracted legendary artists like Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck while also providing a spotlight for the immediate region’s best talent. He has spent tireless hours ensuring that Jazz Fest remains a vital piece of Syracuse culture.

Frank’s work in Syracuse extends beyond the fest: he was executive director in the 1990s of the historic Landmark Theatre, which during his tenure experienced a renaissance of activity. Frank also initiated the Syracuse Area Music Awards and Syracuse Walk of Stars to celebrate the city’s most acclaimed artists. His resume reaches beyond Syracuse, as he’s been artistic director for the Detroit International Jazz Fest and director of Detroit’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts.

Frank’s most lasting contribution is his insistence on excellence and his steadfast support and love for the music. He is a master of the background management efforts that make music thrive, as well as a compelling spokesperson for the music in which he so ardently believes. He is a champion of the arts whose impact in Syracuse and beyond will be felt for generations to come, and that’s earned him many accolades, including 2016 recognition as a JJA Jazz Hero.

Christopher Baker
Photo: Michael Davis

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Clarence L. Seay

2016 Tallahassee FL  Jazz Hero

It’s hard to really rate the importance of someone when you are close to them.You watch them work and appreciate what they do, but the actual significance of what they do and what they’ve done requires a different perspective. I think of this when I consider Clarence Seay, my husband of 34 years, as a Jazz Hero.

In middle school in Washington DC, Clarence went to pick an instrument because all his friends had gone to get one. By the time he reached the music teacher, the only instrument left was a bass. The teacher gave it to him, and Clarence rolled it home in a grocery cart. Getting that bass to cart home was one of the best things that ever happened to him. I think the bass chose him.

Living in a small apartment in Washington D.C. with his mother, grandmother and two brothers, the only place Clarence could practice was the bathroom. He still talks about how good the bass sounded in there. He practiced religiously and earned himself a berth in the D.C. Youth Orchestra, entrance into Duke Ellington School of the Arts and eventually admission at Howard University. Clarence was to become one of the early ‘80s Young Lions of Jazz and enjoyed a 30-plus year career as a first call bassist, with Wynton Marsalis on his first album, with Wallace Roney for two decades, in the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra, on tour with Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Lou Donaldson and Billy Harper, among many others.

Through it all, he found time to teach. His stint with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Jazz Department in its early days produced a whole generation of musicians -- James Genus, Steve Wilson, Clarence Penn and Victor Goines among them -- who have gone on to secure enviable jazz careers. Not currently affiliated with a school, Clarence still teaches. Whatever level a student is on, he makes one want to play the instrument more and better. He shows how it makes sense.

Struggling young people find real joy after working with Clarence for a few minutes. All of a sudden they can make a melody, they can make music. It’s the same when he takes the stage with college students: the energy level increases palpably. Their faces light up and the music takes on a life of its own. His energy and love for the music is infectious, making everyone around him better, and the music better in accord.

Clarence is also a realist. I remember a college student talking to him about quitting school and just going out to play. Clarence, with only the best interests of the student at heart, steadfastly recommended that he finish his academic program -- advice the student heeded, in testimony to Clarence’s powerful but egoless jazz force.

B Sharps is the name Clarence came up with when I decided a jazz cafe was in my path - B Sharps because  that’s what many musicians used to call him. Perfect! His knowledge of the scene is an asset beyond comprehension, helping us established a serious venue worthy of national and international as well as our local community’s respect. Clarence has been music director, physical plant guru, sound and tech expert. His presence provides the competitive difference that has kept B Sharps going. His contacts reach across the globe and his programming makes our patrons comfortable with the music onstage.

Clarence has had trouble with his fingers of late, and he is not playing his bass right now. But he regards his legacy as what most professionals live for: musical values preserved by the students he’s taught, the bands he travelled with, the recordings that captured his sound and the relationships he’s forged throughout his long, globetrotting career. His accomplishments and attributes are those of a Jazz Hero, and I may be biased but I believe Clarence Seay is really a national treasure, who deserves wide recognition, respect and appreciation. Here’s some from our local community and the JJA!
- Gerri Seay
B Sharps Jazz Cafe 
Photo:Von Herb Huber

Brian Hamilton & Dick Smith

2016 Washington D C  Jazz Heroes

The Reverend Brian Hamilton came to Washington, D.C. in 1996 with his wife Ruth to co-pastor Westminster Presbyterian Church, a politically progressive church with a small, predominantly white LGBT congregation. Brian and Ruth wanted to reach out to the church’s local Southwest CD African-American community, and since Brian had previously presented jazz vespers in Philadelphia and Detroit, he felt music could be his vehicle. At a vespers at Northminster Church in 1997 he met vocalist Dick Smith, been performing in a group with saxophonist Buck Hill, drummer Keter Betts and bassist Nasar Abadey at various Washington churches. Dick was the ideal person to reach both jazz and African-American communities.

Originally from Ohio, Dick had come to DC in 1967 to play football with the Washington Redskins. A defensive back, he spent two seasons on the team -- and was known to hang out in jazz clubs with teammate Bobby Mitchell. After his football career was over, he’d made Washington his home. He returned to his first love, singing, and became active in Lettumplay, the jazz community organization founded by former Bohemian Caverns owner Tony Taylor. By the late ‘90s Dick Smith and his close friend Earl Banks were looking for a venue to advance Lettumplay’s mission: Giving DC musicians opportunities to perform.

Here was a perfect match: Brian Hamilton had a passion for jazz and wanted to involve his church in the community through music. Dick Smith had strong community ties through Lettumplay and had performed with many Washington area musicians. With Earl Banks, they planned a series of performances that would not be church services and would draw an audience beyond the congregation. Held on Friday nights from 6 to 9 pm -- early enough for musicians to get to other gigs -- admission would be an affordable $5, children would be admitted free. Fried fish, chicken and greens, i.e. “soul food” available downstairs.

The first Jazz Night In DC was held on January 22, 1999. Performances have continued weekly since then without fail. Admission is still $5. Earl Banks is no longer with us, but Dick Smith continues to host the shows and is occasionally persuaded to sing. Performers are drawn from the Washington metropolitan area, including Baltimore. Blue Monday Blues was added in 2006. At a free bimonthly “Thinking About Jazz” session on Saturday afternoons, attendees learn about Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker and Shirley Horn.

Westminster is Washington’s jazz church in much the same way as St. Peter’s is in New York. Brian Hamilton has presided over funerals and memorial services for countless DC musicians. Dick Smith has been there, helping jazz musicians pay tribute in performance to departed friends.

The Reverend Brian Hamilton and Dick Smith began these programs and have kept them going non-stop for 17 years. In March 2015 Westminster Church was honored by Howard University with its Benny Golson Award for presenting outstanding jazz programs for the Washington community. In 2016, the Jazz Journalists Association hails them as Jazz Heroes of Washington, DC.

- Rusty Hassan