2015 Jazz Heroes

The Jazz Journalists Association is pleased to announce the 2015 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 and with the month-long celebration of JazzApril.

 1. Ann Arbor MI: Don Chisholm
 2. Baltimore: Charles Funn
 3. (SF)Bay Area: Avotcja Jiltonilro
 4. Bloomington IN:Monika Herzig
 5. Boston: Mark Sumner Harvey
 6. Chicago: Tatsu Aoki
 7. Madison: Howard Landsman
 8. Memphis: David C. Bradford, Sr.
 9. Memphis: Jack N. Schaffer
10. New Brunswick NJ: Virginia DeBerry
11. New Orleans Dr. Michael White
12. NY Capital Region Lee Shaw
13. New York City: Kim A. Clarke
14. Philadelphia Mark Christman
15. Pittsburgh: Dr. Nelson Harrison
16. Portland OR: Mel Brown
17. Santa Cruz CA: Tim Jackson
18. Seattle: Mack Waldron
19. South Florida: Nicole Yarling
20. St. Louis: Don Wolff
21. Tallahassee FL: Carole & Stan Fiore
22. Washington D.C.: Charles Fishman
23. Woodstock NY: Dr. Bruce Milner

Congratulations and a big THANK YOU to all the 2015 Jazz Heroes.
The Heroes will receive their awards at public events in their communities.

Don Chisholm

2015 Ann Arbor MI Jazz Hero

Don Chisholm’s career has been focused on Ann Arbor’s commercial and residential real estate development, but support for the arts and the development of musical expression -- especially jazz -- never has been far from his heart.

Don was one of the original board members of the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, providing assistance with artistic expenses including hospitality when Ron Brooks, owner of the Bird of Paradise Jazz Club, founded the association 1987. Don Chisholm provided transportation for visiting musicians to and from Detroit Metropolitan airport, and lodgings in a one-bedroom-two bath apartment with fully stocked kitchen, within walking distance from the club. Staying there, jazz greats such as Ray Brown, Shirley Horn, Cedar Walton, Ernestine Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie and Toots Thielemans were at ease conducting Ann Arbor workshops, concerts and club dates. They knew and appreciated that their comfortable, elegant lodgings were covered -- at a quietly assumed cost to Don Chisholm which must have reached into the tens of thousands.

The Bird of Paradise is no more, yet Don’s contributions to jazz and other arts continues. Besides remaining in the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, he is a major donor to the Kerrytown Concert House, Ann Arbor's primary venue for intimate concerts. His “Friends of Jazz” group sustains Ann Arbor as a viable destination for touring bands and jazz clinicians. He also supports University of Michigan music students, assuring that they can practice and hone their craft.

Don was born in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1934. He attended The University of Michigan and received his BA in 1955 followed by his MBA in 1956. A stint in the Army followed graduation from UM along with marriage. He his bride Betty relocated to Toledo, Ohio where Don was a successful corporate market analyst often consulting in New York City. Yet he missed Ann Arbor’s intellectual and artistic community -- and its easy access to first-rate golf courses. He and Betty returned to the city of his alma mater where he joined the Hobbs-Schmidt Real Estate firm. Two years later he formed Ann Arbor Associates, which developed attractive and practical buildings for Ann Arbor’s booming business and residential needs. Bechtel Tower, Hidden Valley Apartments, Wolverine Tower, Waterworks Plaza, the Burlington Office Buildings, Park Place for Business, the Stonebridge Golf Course and residences are among Ann Arbor Associates’ many development accomplishments. Sloan Plaza may be dearest to Don’s heart as it’s named for his mother Margaret Sloan, a gifted concert pianist and music teacher. When musicians stay in Chisholm’s Sloan Plaza apartment they practice on Margaret’s 1928 Steinway.

Don Chisholm cares deeply about Ann Arbor. He has served on board of the Ann Arbor Hospice, U-M Music School, the Michigan Theatre and the Summer Festival. His philanthropy extends to all of these organizations, though his main focus of charitable giving has benefitted the U-M School of Music.  In 1987, Don set up the Chisholm Jazz Scholarship and the Chisholm Musical Theater Scholarship, partial tuition awards. He’s added support for jazz department master classes as recently as the 2014-2015 Don Chisholm Jazz Master Class Series.

The Don Chisholm Friends of Jazz at KCHD group has also provided major financial sustenance for Kerrytown Concert House, making it possible for Ann Arbor music lovers to enjoy Jackie Ryan, Tamir Hendelman, Jeff Hamilton, Terry Lower, Gwilym Simcock, The JaLaLa Trio, Mr. B, Peter Bernstein, Randy Napoleon, James Dapogny and many others. His philanthropy issues from a generous heart, making Don Chisholm is a fitting recipient for the 2015 Jazz Journalists Association “Jazz Hero” Award.

- Linda Yohn
Music Director, WEMU

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Charles Funn

2015 Baltimore Jazz Hero

Charles Funn — trombonist, bassist, composer, arranger and educator, father of bassist Kris and trumpeter Kyle — has directed instrumental music at Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School in Baltimore for the past 20 years. A graduate of Baltimore’s Morgan State College (now Morgan State University), Funn has taught theater arts and music from elementary school to college level classes, and over the years has performed with such artists as Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Eckstein, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones and Melba Moore, among many others. Currently he’s a member of the Dr. Phil Butts Big Band, the Clarence Knight Orchestra and the Bowie University Community Big Band. But perhaps most important is Funn’s work with the Dunbar Jazz Ensemble that he founded in 1995, and its offshoot the Dunbar Alumni Jazz Ensemble. The former consists of model students at the high school, who must maintain a B average. When Funn arrived at Dunbar, there were only some six working instruments. With a stipend from the principle, he canvassed the city of Baltimore in search of instruments and he found many that could be repaired for a nominal cost. From there he created a working ensemble that could earn income to support the program and its instrument needs. The ensemble performs everything from Ellington to Monk to James Brown, as well as presenting a history of jazz program that traces the music from New Orleans origins to current trends. The graduating student music majors have consistently received scholarships to a college or university. The Alumni Ensemble was formed at the behest of many of those former students, and this current season the ensemble has embarked on an exploration of the music of Billy Strayhorn. What most motivates Charles Funn can be gleaned from his words from a 2002 interview with Eric Slegowski in the oral history Sounds and Stories: The Musical Life of Maryland’s African-American Communities. “I basically enjoy teaching kids how to play instruments, whether it be jazz or concert music or marching band music. Because it’s one of the things that got me out of school and it kept me out of trouble. Well -- it didn’t keep me totally out of trouble, but if I wasn’t involved in music, I’d be in a lot more trouble than what I got into.” For his activism and dedication to the perpetuation and pedagogy of jazz, and for his 40 years of teaching in Baltimore City schools, Charles Funn is a Baltimore Jazz Hero.

- Don Palmer
JJA Board Member
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Avotcja Jiltonilro

2015 SF Bay Area Jazz Hero

Avotcja Jiltonilro has been fighting the good fight her entire life, and at 73 she hasn’t lost a step. As a poet, radio producer, playwright, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and invaluable deejay on KPOO (89.5) and KPFA (94.1FM), she’s a one-woman cultural force in the San Francisco Bay Area who has championed a vast and varied array of artists, including many of the region’s greatest figures in jazz, blues and Latin American music.

Though she doesn’t describe herself as Nuyorican, Avotcja (she usually goes by one name, pronounced Ava-cha) grew up in New York City in a family of performers hailing from Puerto Rico. Long before scientists began studying the intellectual benefits of a bilingual upbringing, she insisted on embracing her dual heritage from the United States and Latin America, a linguistically flexible identity captured in her latest volume of poetry and prose With Every Step I Take (Taurean Horn Press).

“People have tried to divide me, to put me in an all English or all Spanish box,” Avotcja says from her home in Emeryville. “But if you lose a language, you lose a different way of looking at the universe. And there’s a whole lot more to language than words. There’s a world of culture, of sounds and movement and history.”

A riveting performer, she draws on a rich mélange of cultural expression in Avotcja & Modúpue (which means gratitude), an improvisation-laced ensemble that features a dazzling cast. As a word-artist she delivers rhythmically charged verse while contributing grooves and textures on hand percussion, but the band comprising violinist Sandi Poindexter, tenor saxophonist Francis Wong, bassist Eugene Warren, percussionist Hector Lugo and pianist Jon Jang is far more than a vehicle for accompanying her soulful recitation.

Since that project first came together in the late 1990s, Modúpue has served as a forum for these globally informed musicians to present their own compositions. Poindexter, best known for her 15-year tenure in John Handy with Class, has performed in classical, jazz, mariachi, flamenco and Cuban settings. Wong has been a driving force in the Asian-American jazz movement since the 1980s as co-founder of AsianImprov, the recording label and arts organization. “All of us are leaders of other groups,” Avotcja says. “Modúpue is a breathing space where everybody writes and everybody listens. It’s a beautiful thing.”

A self-described “theater baby,” Avotcja grew up in a family of professional dancers and musicians. After a disastrous early attempt to study piano, she took up guitar, flute, bass, clarinet and later percussion. By 14 she was gigging professionally at cafes and coffee houses. By 15 she had lit out on her own and landed in Los Angeles, where she found a home in a thriving folk scene.

With the Ash Grove as her homebase, she became close with jazz and blues singer Barbara Dane, the blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee and Bobby Valenzuela (the older brother of Ritchie Valens). At the end of the 1960s Avotcja spent several years working in Europe; when she came back to the States she gravitated to the Bay Area, moving to San Francisco in '71.

While active on the folk scene, she also forged close ties with resident jazz masters like pianist Ed Kelly and drummer Smiley Winters. Percussion greats Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo were in the Mission, so Avotcja made her way there, too. She had written poetry and fantastical fiction since childhood, but didn’t perform spoken word publicly until she was multi-reeds legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk used a bit of reverse psychology to get her to read at the Both/And Club.

“He announced that I was a poet but not very good, and my ego got up,” Avotcja remembers. “I jumped up on stage and read, and he was grinning from ear to ear. I got a standing ovation at the end, and I started getting known after that.”

She’s been sharing her words ever since. Through her work as a radio show host, a presenter of open mic events and a social media crusader, she energetically promotes our local scene and breaks down barriers between artists from different traditions and genres. Avotcja Jiltonilro earns her Jazz Hero honor by enlightening the general public about the world of artists in our midst.

- Andy Gilbert
JJA Member
Photo: Tom Ehrlich

Monika Herzig

2015 Bloomington IN Jazz Hero

Monika Herzig is a ball of fire among the creative educators of Bloomington. A jazz pianist with a doctorate in Music Education and Jazz Studies from Indiana University, she teaches popular, practical classes on the music industry, community arts and creative thinking in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs’ Arts Administration program. She does research focusing on jazz as a living art form and has published a well-received book -- David Baker -- A Legacy in Music, about the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master-cellist-composer and IU educator. She’s recently been working with Dr. Baker on a project about the evolution of jam sessions.

Born in Albstadt, Germany, Monika had to learn melodica as a child to convince her parents of her serious interest in music, and subsequently apprenticed with her church organist. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1988, having bought a one-way ticket from Weingarten, where she was studying, upon being awarded a scholarship for a one-year exchange program in the University of Alabama. As she told Jill Jansen for a profile in SPEA Magazine in 2013, she’d been eager to get to “the land of jazz.”

She came with guitarist Peter Kienle, now her husband; since high school they’d had a band called BeebleBrox, which to date has released eight albums. The couple arrived in Bloomington in 1991 so that Monika could pursue her terminal degree. She now performs somewhere in our region virtually every weekend, on many Saturday nights leading a trio with Kienle in Indianapolis. She has appeared at clubs and festivals internationally, her groups opening for acts such as Tower of Power, Sting, the Dixie Dregs and Yes in Europe and Japan. Her newest project “The Whole World in Her Hands” has brought together leading female jazz instrumentalists for a recording, video documentary and music book. This is an outgrowth of the weeklong summer songwriting camp she co-founded, Girls Create Music.

On her own, Monika has gained attention for her compositions and arrangement skills (with charts published by University of Northern Colorado Press), and has five albums credited to the Monika Herzig Acoustic Project. She is secretary and research committee leader of the Jazz Education Network and in 2005 founded Jazz in the Schools to reach rural communities. And she’s increased exposure for local Bloomington performers since helping in 2000 to incorporate the non-profit Jazz from Bloomington (now called B’Town Jazz), which promotes and preserves the music through affordably priced events and free public educational activities including lectures, concerts, sponsorships of student artists and programming for public school students throughout South Central Indiana.

“I was always hearing complaints [from performers] about there being no place to play and nothing to do here,” she’s said. “So I said, ‘We’ll just have to make it happen.’” JfB’s production schedule has helped Bloomington remain a destination for touring jazz ensembles, and has exposed area players to local listeners as warm-up bands for visiting headliners.

Due to her vast knowledge of the music industry; boundless, focused energy and talent; generosity of spirit; cheerful and outgoing personality, and can-do attitude which benefits all whose lives she has touched, Monika Herzig is our Jazz Hero. We are lucky to have her make our town her home.

 - Janis & Fred Parker,
B'town Jazz 

Mark Sumner Harvey

2015 Boston Jazz Hero

Mark Sumner Harvey is a constant presence in the musical life of Boston, a thought-leader and an inspiration. He may be the only ordained minister in the world who has converted his life from full-time religion to just about full-time jazz. He is a trumpeter, founder of the Jazz Coalition, leader of the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, member of the Board of Directors of JazzBoston and adviser to the annual JazzBoston JazzWeek.

What Harvey accomplished between 1968 -- when he arrived here from Syracuse University to pursue graduate studies simultaneously at Boston University’s School of Theology and New England Conservatory --  and 1985, in particular, is a testament to his relentless good will and his dogged dedication to healing. He is not the only reason that Boston developed a cross-cultural jazz community but he was vital to its growth. As a religious intern and later assistant minister at the Old West Church, he developed “Jazz Celebrations,” a series of events that became a showcase for musicians who were later recognized as master innovators: pianist Ran Blake, saxophonist Julius Hemphill, vibraphonist Walt Dickerson and vocalist Sheila Jordan among them. Its pinnacle was perhaps the 1983 premiere at Emmanuel Church of George Russell’s masterpiece “The African Game,” for which Harvey had snared a composition grant; he also played in the ensemble. His jazz/arts ministry continued at Emmanuel Church and then Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church through the 1990s.

In January 1971, he nurtured the formation of The Jazz Coalition by organizing a series of meetings with community leaders. By July, the Coalition had developed Jazz All Night, an all-night marathon of live jazz, gospel and blues capped by a pancake breakfast at dawn – an event that was an annual tradition for more than a decade. The Coalition also inaugurated Boston Jazz Week in May 1973, with over 100 events, including a pivotal appearance by singer Betty Carter and the American theatrical premiere of John Jeremy’s film Jazz Is Our Religion. In 2007, he helped in the formation of JazzBoston and the resuscitation of JazzWeek, now held annually in April/May.

When Mark came to Boston, local jazz venues were limited in number and programming was conservative. His concerts and advocacy influenced the thinking of club owners new and old to take chances on music that had never before been considered commercially viable. This led to performance opportunities for hundreds of young musicians and more importantly gave jazz people venues in which to build networks of friendship and professional support.

Since 1993 Harvey’s personal musical activities have centered on the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, a free-wheeling collective and the showcase for his formal compositions. Forty years of leadership is a testament in and of itself, since fronting any big band requires unfailing equanimity, steely resolve and unshakable faith in the worth of your group and your music. But this band requires more. Spontaneous contributions from Harvey’s musicians are integral to the success of the pieces he writes. As a result, he has had to find players willing to put aside ego for very little compensation, and be constantly sensitive to changes in personal issues affecting the players, because Aardvark cannot succeed if there is distraction or discord.

Like Jaki Byard, George Russell, Lawrence Douglas “Butch” Morris and other visionary musical directors, Mark Harvey developed his own conducting approach, which he calls “flexology.” He decides on the method appropriate to a particular piece, and uses written and non-written means (particularly a system of expressive hand gestures) to realize it.

His composition themes cluster around creativity, the church and the headlines. The titles of his editorial pieces show some tongue-in-cheekiness: “Big Oil Tango,” “Theocracy in America,” “Rascals & Scoundrels,” etc.  More seriously, he has written a jazz mass, music based on the Psalms, an elegy for the victims in Tiananmen Square and a suite that translates visual images into music (“Paintings,” after works of Stuart Davis). “Sumner,” a recent work, is dedicated to one of Harvey’s distant ancestors, the Massachusetts Congressman Charles Sumner, a bitter foe of slavery and a champion of the newly-freed slaves.

Mark Harvey’s own words describe his goals and his accomplishments: “To put sound into the world in hopes of transforming that world for the better of life.”

- Steve Elman
The Arts Fuse
Photo: Kate Matson

Tatsu Aoki

2015 Chicago Jazz Hero

Born in Tokyo, the prolific musician, composer, educator and filmmaker Tatsu Aoki has been a vital creative force in Chicago since his move to the city in 1977. In genres ranging from jazz and experimental improvisation to traditional Japanese music – and as a mainstay of the movement that bridges modern Japanese jazz with the progressive sounds of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) – Aoki has lent his artistic and organizational efforts to some of the most important recent developments in Chicago culture.

As a bassist, Aoki has produced and/or appeared on more than 90 recordings; these include more than 25 albums under his own name – several as an innovator in the solo-bass idiom – as well as those in which he backs legendary Chicago jazz artists and plays in Yoko Noge’s Jazz Me Blues Band. As an expert performer on the Japanese taiko drums and shamisen (the traditional three-stringed Japanese banjo), he has accompanied the world-renowned Japanese pipa virtuoso Wu Man.

Aoki has incorporated these instruments in monumental compositions for his Miyumi Project, which he created to perform large-scale works exploring the Asian-American experience in Chicago. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Miyumi Project, which was specifically cited when the Chicago Tribune named Aoki a “Chicagoan of the Year” in 2001. It dovetails with his work as executive director of Asian Improv aRts Midwest, through which he initiated the annual Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival in 1996 as well as the Tsukasa Taiko Legacy arts residency.

Aoki comes from an artisan family that trained and booked engagements for geishas – women educated in the arts, including music and dance – and they provided his earliest exposure to traditional Japanese culture. He began performing within this community at the age of four, shifting his focus to American pop music and experimental jazz in his teens. He was an active member of the early ‘70s Tokyo Underground Arts Movement, working with the experimental-music ensemble Gintenkai. Because his father was a movie producer, Aoki had a strong interest in film as well, and in his teens began producing experimental films of his own. This led him to study filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago shortly after his arrival in the U.S. He currently holds an adjunct position there as full professor in the Film, Video and New Media Department, teaching film production and history courses.

For his contribution to Chicago-area arts, the Asian American Institute presented Aoki with its 2007 Milestone Award in 2007, and in 2010 he received the Cultural Achievement Award from the Japan America Society of Chicago. That year, he was also named the a recipient of the Artist Award from the Three Arts Club of Chicago.

In the nearly 40 years since he arrived in Chicago from his native Tokyo, this indefatigable artist has played a vital role in several cultural communities. Tatsu Aoki continues to use his formidable skills as an instrumentalist, composer and educator to unite Chicago-bred modernity – represented by his love of jazz, blues and experimental music – with the ancient native traditions that shaped his youth in Japan.

- Neil Tesser
JJA Board Member
Photo: Lauren Deutsch

Howard Landsman

2015 Madison WI 

Jazz Hero

Howard Landsman was born in the Bronx and grew up in Queens, New York, a “child of the pavement,” as he says. His family wasn’t musical and he had no childhood music lessons, but his mother had a good ear and a large collection of albums by the great singers of the American songbook. These records seeded Howard’s lifelong passion that resulted in him putting his considerable energies into a major retirement project: Making the Madison jazz community more viable.

Decades earlier, Howard had discovered rock ‘n’ roll. At Columbia University his college roommate had turned him on to classical music as well as some jazz. After graduation and some unsatisfying work in New York City, he applied to several graduate schools and, attracted by a postcard of the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union terrace, accepted UW’s invitation to study Urban and Regional Planning. After the initial shock of Midwestern winters, he grew to love his adopted city, finding opportunities here to learn and explore.

The Madison Public Library proved to be a wonderful resource for him; Howard borrowed hundreds of records, finding his personal musical tastes. Another important stimulus was the UW Black Music Ensemble, whose free concerts encouraged Howard to delve more deeply into the music; this is how he really came to know and love jazz. Although engaged in study and professional work, he began to host a jazz radio show called "The Egret’s Delight" (he was the Snowy Egret) in the early days of WORT-FM. Doing the show led him to listen and learn more about jazz’s sub-genres and artists.

Work as a grants-writer for the Madison Metropolitan School District, marriage, family -- then eventually Howard became a volunteer with the Madison Music Collective. He served on the Collective’s Board of Directors, chairing fundraising and publicity committees. In 2010 he chaired the Mary Lou Williams Centennial committee, which produced a year-long series of events honoring the great jazz pianist. He also served on the board of Madison Jazz Jam, raising funds that helped the group expand its program and achieve financial sustainability.  For these activities, Howard received the Isthmus Jazz Festival “Jazz Personality of the Year” award in 2012.

Expanding on his involvements with MMC and the Mary Lou Williams Centennial, Howard spearheaded the formation of the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium, whose mission is to advance the jazz scene in all its aspects in our community. He’s been its founding Board chairman and fundraising chair, devoting countless volunteer hours to the organization.

After retirement, Howard also started taking piano lessons for the first time in his life.  Although he has now suspended this endeavor, he still hopes to learn to play a few jazz standards. Maybe next year?  

- Judy Landsman
Supportive Spouse

David C. Bradford, Sr.

2015 Memphis Jazz Hero

After a successful career in banking and investment banking, David C. Bradford, Sr., a native Memphian, retired to enjoy life, particularly by listening to jazz on record and performed live. But at that time there was no Memphis jazz club and performances by touring national/international jazz artists were rare and poorly attended. The Memphis Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau promoted the city as “Home of the Blues” and “Birth Place of Rock and Roll,” but ignored the area’s jazz heritage.

So in 2002 David and two like-minded jazz lovers formed the Mid-South Jazz Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of jazz in the Memphis region, improving the scene and re-establishing jazz to its rightful place in Memphis music. The only one of those founders who has remained actively involved in the Foundation’s efforts -- and gone beyond them through personal direct action -- David has been joined in its operations by Jack Schaffer. These two individuals, through enormous contributions of time and energy, have affected significant changes in this vicinity.

Jazz education is the basic focus of the Foundation, with market awareness and acceptance of jazz performance as both art form and entertainment its primary concerns. Early on it developed a website, event calendar and mailing list to promote local performances. In 2006, the foundation activated the rehearsal hall of the Memphis Opera as a venue for “Jazz at the Opera,” a three-session series including performances by New York City pianist Johnny O’Neal, Nashville artist Annie Sellick and the Jazz Orchestra of the Delta, a 17-piece big band. However, the Foundation’s longest supportive relationship is with the Jazz Studies program at the Rudi Scheidt School of Music at the University of Memphis, where David personally assists with each spring semester’s Jazz Week programming of visiting artists and educators, clinics for high school and college students and concerts.

That engagement led to him helping the University of Memphis Library enrich its National Endowment for the Humanities-funded free series of films, performances and discussions entitled “Looking At: Jazz, America’s Art Form” held at diverse Memphis and Shelby county locations. He editing and producing audio visual presentations of area musicians, uniquely expanding the scope of the material provided to all 50 cities participating in this pilot project -- work that was so well received that he was asked to do it again when the Memphis and Shelby County libraries received similar grant funds.

Meanwhile, David supervised the Foundation’s educational efforts to provide complete curriculum and study guides for Wynton Marsalis’s “Jazz for Young People” to six middle school music programs. He also serves on the Beale Street Walk of Fame Committee, which selects and finances the program that honors area musicians, music industry executives and Beale Street historic district notables. Some 140 individuals and groups have been recognized with their names engraved on a Brass Note enshrined in the district’s sidewalks; David was specifically asked onto the committee to increase presence of local jazz artists. During his tenure Memphis-born musicians George Coleman, Charles Lloyd, Jimmie Lunceford,  Mulgrew Miller, Phineas Newborn, Jr. and James Williams have gotten their Brass Notes.

David continues to expand his activities, recently as a member of a local team that raised over $19,000 through crowd-funding to produce Mists – Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra, my album released in August 2014. The team now has a special project in the formative stages meant to eventually benefit WUMR-FM, UM’s all-jazz 24-hour all-jazz radio station.

While there is still much to be accomplished, David (with Jack Schaffer) has created momentum and interest in Memphis for jazz. Two young entrepreneurs have founded a production firm, Strictly Jazz Entertainment, that will soon celebrate a decade of staging jazz events. Local performing arts centers now view jazz as viable and are booking national jazz artists with some regularity on main stages. One presenter has a series of eight monthly jazz nights featuring regional and local artists. Commercial venues and restaurants are committing nights to local jazz players. In late 2014 Dizzy Bird’s, the area’s first new jazz club in long memory, opened. The Memphis Chamber of Commerce doesn’t yet have a jazz slogan, but David says, “We’re working on that!”   
-  Jack Cooper
Director of Jazz Studies, University of Memphis

Jack N. Schaffer

2015 Memphis Jazz Hero

Jack Schaffer is a retired architect, who devoted 44 years to his diversified practice involving hotel design and development of multi-family housing, hospitals and shopping centers. Born in Memphis, his interest in music began at age eight with classical music and the music of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong and popular big band groups to which his parents introduced him. In 1951, while visiting family in Chicago, they took him to a club to see jazz pianist Art Tatum. That experience changed his attitude toward music and re-directed him to pursue what he’d become enamored with. He was hooked on jazz.

From that moment on, Jack focused on learning as much about jazz music as he could. He read about its history, the musicians who wrote and performed it, the social and economic influences that shaped it as a popular art form. He was relentless in acquiring recordings of the great bands, instrumentalists and vocalists. He nurtured this passion by attending jazz festivals, cruises and performances by many nationally-known artists. He became especially proud of the outstanding legacy of renowned jazz musicians born or raised in Memphis.

Upon retiring in 2005, he was asked to join the founders of the Mid-South Jazz Foundation of Memphis, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and supporting the rich heritage of jazz, especially Mid-South jazz. That liaison has led to his many initiatives relating to jazz music education, consulting with local performing arts centers in their jazz programming, working with the Jazz Studies Department of the University of Memphis, the UM Library and the Memphis and Shelby County School system. Like David Bradford, his fellow activist at the Foundation, Jack has been involved with the Beale Street Brass Note program honoring musicians born, raised or having important musical impact on Memphis. Jack was the nominator of the recently honored late jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller.

Working with the Foundation, he was instrumental in placing Wynton Marsalis’s “Jazz for Young People” curriculum in six Memphis and Shelby County middle schools, addressing some 450 students. He was also a member of the Memphis team that crowd-sourced funds  to produce Jack Cooper’s Mists -- Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra. He helped produce the “Jazz at the Opera” series, a joint venture with Opera Memphis, and, working with the University of Memphis Library and a grant from the American Library Association, assisted with the presentation at several different venues of the free, multi-part, multi-media presentations “Looking At: Jazz, America’s Art Form” and “A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songwriters, 1910-1965.”

Jack currently serves on the Broadcast Board of Directors for WUMR-FM, for which the Mid-South Jazz Foundation has just embarked on a campaign to raise $25,000 for replacement of aging, out-of-date equipment. He is a member of the Jazz Advisory Committee for the Germantown Performing Arts Center as well as their Jazz Society Group that helps underwrite Main Stage Jazz events and their highly successful “Jazz in the Box” series. He’s at work with his partners in the Mid-South Jazz Foundation on several projects intended to expand the base of jazz fans in Memphis.

Jack and Gloria Schaffer, his wife of 56 years, live in Germantown, TN. They both love traveling to festivals and conferences, and meeting with friends from all across the U.S., sharing their passion for jazz music.
- Jack Cooper
Director of Jazz Studies, University of Memphis

Virginia DeBerry

2015 New Brunswick NJ Jazz Hero

Virginia DeBerry is a Jazz Hero -- in the truest sense of those words -- in the greater area of New Brunswick, New Jersey. She and partners James Lenihan and Michael Tublin voluntarily  started the New Brunswick Jazz Project (NBJP) five years ago when jazz in the Hub City had essentially diminished to nothing.  Since then, Virginia has successfully used her writing and social media skills to create a diverse community of jazz enthusiasts which continues to grow in central New Jersey.

Starting with live jazz two nights per month, the New Brunswick Jazz Project has expanded to shows two-to-four nights every week at several venues, year around. DeBerry and her partners have been successful in gaining financial support from local businesses and individual supporters so that its events are free or nearly so to the public. Its ongoing series includes a weekly “Emerging Artist” showcase which makes it possible for students from college jazz programs (including those from New Brunswick-based Rutgers University) and other young musicians to hone their performance skills in a club setting. Since its inception, NBJP has presented over 700 events featuring internationally and nationally recognized jazz musicians.

Virginia, who sees herself as a “professional jazz appreciator,” grew up in Buffalo, New York, hearing her parents’ music – jazz. She earned her BA degree in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. For more than ten years she taught high school and college English before moving to Manhattan to pursue a modeling career, which led to her founding Maxima, a fashion and lifestyle magazine for full-figured women where Virginia served as editor-in-chief. Since leaving the fashion world she and her friend Donna Grant have co-authored seven published novels, which have sold well over one million copies.

Using skills she had developed as an author to build readership, Virginia employed social media to raise the organization’s public profile. In addition, she writes and disseminates a weekly email newsletter to a list of nearly 2500 that highlights each week's shows with articles, bios and performance resumes of the musicians. She designs monthly posters which are distributed throughout the community, writes press releases for special events, updates dozens of event websites and researches submissions from musicians who want to perform New Brunswick. She emcees every event and acts as host, greeting regulars and welcoming new faces to the NBJP family.

This audience, consistently one of the most diverse for any entertainment presented in central New Jersey, comprises a new community within its community. DeBerry has broadened it further through the NBJP’s collaboration with the Somerville Jazz Festival and township of Flemington to institute the Central Jersey Jazz Festival. She manages social media promotion for that fest, which last September drew 10,000 jazz lovers to the free three-day, three-city event.

Of the affect of NBJP on the population of our region, says DeBerry: "Everyone understands our mission: to keep jazz alive where it began, in local communities. This music should be everywhere, all the time. Louis Armstrong said 'What we play is life.' I was concerned that the life that brought forth this original American art form from steamy kitchens, crowded living rooms, dusty cellars and smoky neighborhood joints had become relegated to special occasions. That’s not how it was meant to be."

Virginia DeBerry and the NBJP have transformed what had become a jazz desert into a fertile and evergreen jazz garden. She will receive her Jazz Hero Award on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at the Gala Event celebrating the 5th Anniversary of NBJP at the Hyatt New Brunswick Hotel, starting at 8 p.m. -- a free event, to which all are invited.

Dr. Michael White

2015 New Orleans Jazz Hero

Clarinetist, educator and bandleader Dr. Michael White has said that the sound of a record by clarinetist George Lewis, of the first generation of New Orleans jazz players, changed his life forever. In the decades since that first spin, Dr. White’s advocacy for New Orleans’ traditional sounds has led hundreds -- no, thousands -- of music lovers to similar epiphanies.

An indefatigable ambassador for both the legacy and current incarnations of early New Orleans jazz, Dr. White is among the world’s leading experts in the history of our music. He has led the Original Liberty Jazz Band on tour since 1981, recording more than a dozen albums and making regular pilgrimages to New York City’s Village Vanguard to share the spiritual as well as the entertaining aspects of the art to which he’s dedicated his life.

A professor of Spanish as well as African-American Music at Xavier University, where he holds the Rosa and Charles Keller Endowed Chair in the Humanities, Dr. White brings the substance and stories of the city’s music to ever-new generations of musicians and scholars. Much of his knowledge results from his insatiable curiosity about what seems not to have been documented in books. Tragically, most of his interviews with his own jazz heroes -- New Orleans artists born around the turn of the 20th Century -- were lost in the floods following Hurricane Katrina. But Dr. White’s determination to incorporate what he learned from the old masters shines through in his playing, his teaching and his intention to keep issues relating to traditional New Orleans music alive in the public discourse.

To that end, Dr. White has been a commissioner of the Jazz National Historical Park, directed concerts at Jazz at Lincoln Center and served frequently as an authoritative source in consultations with filmmakers, documentarians and journalists. In recent years he’s brought light to how today’s bands and players fit into the music’s longer arc. His lectures on the New Orleans jazz funeral tradition feature a startling range of perspectives on the music. And in February 2015 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released Dr. White’s production New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the Streets of the City -- crisp new recordings from New Orleans brass-based ensembles of three contrasting generations, with his own in-depth liner notes detailing the derivation of repertoire, song forms and more.

"It documents the reality of New Orleans brass bands beyond commercial settings," he told New Orleans’ alternative weekly newspaper Gambit in an interview earlier this year. "There've been a lot of questions about the survival and future of New Orleans traditions. It seems like the older styles are kind of dying out. There aren't younger people seriously picking up the mantle. It's important in this time to give a view of what the tradition is.

“I really believe that New Orleans is what I call a spirit center,” Dr. White has said. “In traditional New Orleans jazz the spirit is in how the music captures the personal, individual sound and feeling of musicians and in the way it unites. The collective improvisation is the spirit of souls uniting.”

With his personal music, his educational activities and other professional roles, Dr. Michael White consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty. Growing the audience for New Orleans jazz globally by imbuing listeners with an understanding of and a feel for its spirit, he’s become a hero, especially -- but not only -- to jazz journalists of his hometown.  

-Jennifer Odell
JJA Board Member
Photo: David Powell


 Lee Shaw

2015 NY Capital Region Jazz Hero

Lee Shaw is the consummate, internationally known pianist who Owen McNally of the Hartford Courant observed is an “artist who [has] had a virtually religious calling for jazz.” However, her place in our local community transcends her professional virtuosity, intensity and mastery of this great music, which has been well documented in countless articles and reviews over the years -- and is detailed in Lee’s 88 Keys, a documentary about her life by filmmaker Susan Robbins receiving its world premiere immediately following the presentation of her Jazz Hero award (at 3 pm on Sunday, April 12 at Proctor’s GE Theater). What we value just as much if not more than her beautiful music is Shaw’s selfless, indefatigable support of our jazz community and jazz education since she relocated from Long Island/metropolitan New York City to New York’s Capital Region in the 1970s.

Her life of unselfishly giving of herself through jazz is embodied by a practice she started the year after her husband died. For the next decade Lee played concerts on Thanksgiving and Christmas days for every patient unit at the 11-story Albany, New York Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. The piano was moved via elevator from floor to floor.

Lee’s professional students are a who’s who of musicians who have gone on to successful international and local careers, often returning to our area to play and learn more from her. John Medeski, Peg Delaney, Joe Barna, Keith Pray and Theo Hill are among her students who have become professionals. Her mentorship has not been limited to the piano; drummers, saxophonists, trumpeters, guitarists and at least one chromatic harmonica player have responded to her much coveted invitation to “Come play for me sometime.” The Village Vanguard, the Apollo, Minton’s Playhouse and the Blue Note are some of the prestigious venues Lee has performed in; she has also enjoyed European residencies, receiving high acclaim. We in the Capital Region are profoundly grateful that she always returns home to us!

Now 88, Lee was making her regularly scheduled local performances and had just negotiated a new gig with her trio when she was felled early in 2015 by a stroke. While she continues rehabilitative therapy and is temporarily unable to live alone, her recovery has been miraculous. Having regained most of the use of her right hand, she has begun practicing again, while her fellow patients gather and call out requests. Their responses may be particularly gratifying, as Lee has never stopped reaching out to those around her and cultivates new audiences passionately. With humor and delight she instructs listeners about the origins of tunes, answers questions, fills in blanks in our histories of the music and interacts offstage with those she charms, in many instances converting the jazz-averse.

For several weeks of Lee’s recent hospitalization she was very ill, and much to her consternation unable to play. In her hospital room she began collaborating with a fellow pianist and former student who took up the challenge of making charts of  her original music that although recorded had not been transcribed. This music is the very essence of her being and sharing it is her life. She has been our secret weapon for building audiences and teaching jazz. There is no one who more exemplifies the spirit and life dedication of a true jazz hero than Lee Shaw.

- Leslie Hyland 
for the Board of Directors of A Place for Jazz

Kim A. Clarke

2015 New York City Jazz Hero

For 13 years, bassist Kim Clarke has produced the grassroots Lady Got Chops festival, staged during Women’s History Month (March) at more than a dozen venues throughout New York City and suburban Westchester County. The annual event includes a series of concerts and gigs featuring bands headed by women, with close to 200 musicians participating throughout its history.

To say Clarke runs the operation on a shoestring is no exaggeration. She’s done crowdfunding and has received occasional support from the Jazz Foundation of America, but most donations are small, coming from the extended jazz community, and a contribution that breaks into the low three figures is a rare -- welcomed! -- occurrence.

Financial challenges have not deterred Clarke, who was determined to start the Lady Got Chops jazz festival after hearing Sir Mix-a-lot’s early ’90s rap “Baby Got Back.” That female-objectifying hit motivated her to find a positive way to highlight talented women. An additional push came when a Brooklyn club owner asked Clarke, “Where are all the female musicians?” Clarke knew just where to look, starting with players she’d gotten to know as a member of Kit McClure’s long-running all-women big band.

Clarke taught herself HTML, in part so she could design a website to promote the festival; she designs promo material such as banners, posters and flyers, supervises their printing and distributes them; she promotes the festival online and with press releases. She secures venues, including places that don't usually have music or don't typically have jazz or have never hired bands led by women. She gets the musicians involved, sometimes putting together bands comprising players who want to participate but don't have ensembles of their own.

The month-long 2015 Lady Got Chops fest showcased undersung talents including pianist Roberta Piket with flutist Cheryl Pyle, iconic veterans such as pianist Bertha Hope and singer Judi Silvano, rising stars like saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and acclaimed out-of-towners -- this year, Philadelphian guitarist Monnette Sudler. While the festival focuses on female musicians, it’s inclusive; there are frequently sidemen, and tunes written by male as well as female composers.

Community building has been one festival benefit -- musicians testify that it’s great to meet like-minded players, and have pointed out that petty gossip, jealousy and competitiveness seems to fade as people work together. There's been a positive business aspect, too: Club owners find the festival attracts a new audience, some attendees becoming regulars. Some owners say the fest has strengthened their commitment to booking jazz regularly. The Bean Runner Cafe in Peekskill, NY, for instance, had not been a hotbed of jazz, but now features the music practically every weekend.

Besides the Lady Got Chops festival, Clarke is an active member of International Women in Jazz. She has organized open jams at American Federation of Musicians’ Local 802, toured and recorded with Joe Henderson, Joseph Bowie’s Defunkt, Wallace Roney, Cindy Blackman, James Blood Ulmer, Cassandra Wilson, Oliver Lake, Geri Allen and many more. Every year Kim Clarke says she’s not gonna do the Lady Got Chops fest again, but she changes her mind and just keeps on keepin’ on. Jazz Heroes are like that.

- Elzy Kolb
JJA Member
Photo: David Powell

Mark Christman

2015 Philadelphia Jazz Hero

Since founding the non-profit Ars Nova Workshop in Philadelphia in 2000, Mark Christman, the recipient of a Jazz Journalists Association’s Jazz Hero Award for 2015, has turned his organization into one of the most adventurous arts groups in the city and one of the most admired in the country. Over the last 14 years Mark has presented well over 500 performances in Philadelphia featuring an astonishing array of musicians, including Cecil Taylor, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Pauline Oliveros, Anthony Braxton, Dave Douglas, Uri Caine, the Sun Ra Arkestra, John Zorn and Bill Frisell.

Christman has previously been honored by the ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming in Jazz.  A four-time winner of the Philadelphia City Paper’s Choice Award for best jazz series in Philadelphia, he has also received Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philly” award and was named a “Local Hero” by Spin magazine. Deeply committed to the cultural life of the community, he serves on the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Committee and works with many local groups such as the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia in its efforts toward the restoration of the John Coltrane house. He has also celebrated the careers of elders such as Rashied Ali and encouraged younger musicians such as Shot x Shot and Matt Davis.

Mark has curated arts and music performances at the Slought Foundation, the Institute of Contemporary Art and Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s had a part in the development of events such as Outbeat - the first LGBT jazz festival, and “Offering: Live at Temple University,” a program that honored the 2014 first release of the same-named John Coltrane concert recording from the late 1960s. He has also produced records, maintained an extensive video, photo and audio archive of Ars Nova Workshop events, and been a consultant for other festivals and exhibitions.

Philadelphia has a long history of nurturing and presenting musicians, but as with other cities, recent economic changes and technological shifts have taken their toll on arts and arts education. The largest venues in Philadelphia offer a small amount of mainstream big-name jazz, and only one dedicated downtown jazz club still remains. There is otherwise very little consistency and virtually no breadth in jazz programming in the area. Mark’s extraordinary accomplishment is that he has found ways to successfully present such a large number and variety of musicians for so many years, and has brought to the city new and exciting composers and performers, some of whom seldom appear even in New York City.

All this has been accomplished without an ongoing source of financial support or a single facility that could be counted on for regularly staging the music. It’s here that Christman’s genius is most apparent. Jazz had its beginnings and its period of greatest development not in concert halls, large nightclubs or ballrooms, but in neighborhoods, close to the people, often in small bars spread across the city. In relatively modern times, new forms of jazz emerged in deserted lofts and empty buildings. But such venues for musical creativity have grown harder to find and sustain, very difficult even in cities with a deep jazz tradition such as New Orleans. The question Mark faced was how to present this music to larger, more diverse and fragmented audiences in new, flexible, and affordable locations throughout Philadelphia while securing a consistent audience. His answer has been to find spaces that are under-utilized in a variety of locations that allow him to reach new audiences.

His recent New Paths series is an example of his creative programing. After locating a number of possible spaces throughout the city, he offered them to various musicians to see if they might be able to develop site-suitable projects.  Drummer and researcher of herbs Milford Graves chose the barn in Bartram’s Gardens, the birthplace of American botany. Zorn opted to play one of the largest organs in the country at Girard College Chapel. William Parker wrote a suite of music dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King that he performed in the chapel at the First Unitarian Church where King first heard a lecture on Gandhi’s and Thoreau’s ideas on civil disobedience. Other sites musicians used throughout the city’s neighborhoods were the Barnes Foundation, the American Swedish Historical Museum, the German Society of Pennsylvania’s Homer Memorial Library and the St. Francis de Sales Auditorium.

Sustainability through diversity of audience and location: A daring strategy, but one that has more than paid off by changing the musical landscape of the Philadelphia area and providing a model for bringing 21st century music to the public elsewhere. Thanks to Mark Christman for that model.

- John Szwed
JJA Member
Photo: Ryan Collerd 

Dr. Nelson Harrison

2015 Pittsburgh Jazz Hero

Combine a psychologist, an instrument inventor, a documentarian of the history of Pittsburgh jazz and spreader of news about what’s happening in Pittsburgh music now via the Pittsburgh Jazz Network email list-serve, then add “musician,” and you have Nelson E. Harrison.

A bandleader since age 13, Harrison has played brass with Kenny Clarke, Billy Eckstine and Earl “Fatha” Hines, Jay McShann, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams and Gerald Wilson. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he has recorded with Walt Harper, Nathan Davis and Count Basie and has co-led groups featuring Joe Harris and Andy Bey. He’s a composer with more than 300 credits to his name, including movie scores and soundtracks for works by August Wilson, Mark Snow, George Sanford Brown and John Russo. He’s written lyrics to 125 bebop and hard-bop standards, the libretto basis of five “Boperettas” he has prepared for the stage.

Harrison’s invention, the Trombetto, is a unique, 10-inch long, brass instrument on which he can play six octaves chromatically. Only a former trumpeter-and-baritone horn-player-turned-trombonist could design such an instrument, constructed from an Amati pocket cornet and fitted with a trombone mouthpiece which gives it the velvety rich timbre of a French horn/flugelhorn combination. Harrison worked with brass technician Ted Weir for the final version of the Trombetto, custom-crafted with additional tubing attached to a rare, antique fourth valve to complete the horn’s lower register capability.

With a Ph. D. in clinical psychology, Harrison is an adjunct professor of psychology at Community College of Allegheny County and lecturer on the critical/esthetic response to jazz – what he calls “the Joy Factor.” Harrison lectures extensively on Pittsburgh’s jazz past, besides sustaining his impressive daily “Pittsburgh Jazz Network” email notifications.

Harrison attended Westinghouse High School and the University of Pittsburgh. He has enjoyed significant local recognition for his many, diverse accomplishments, including the MCG Jazz Pittsburgh Legends of Jazz Award (2008) and African American Council on the Arts Rob Penny Lifetime Achievement Award (2009). As a full-of-life octogenarian, he’s still gigging and going to hear performances all the time besides consulting with MCG Jazz, the Heinz History Center, the Carnegie Museums, the Afro-American Music Institute and other organizations. In all forums, Dr. Nelson Harrison is an avid proponent of passing on the language of jazz through immersion rather than by text book. This Jazz Hero’s main message for aspiring players and audiences as well is: Experience the music live!

Renée J. Govanucci
 Director, MCG Jazz
Photo: Kahmeela Friedson

Mel Brown

2015 Portland OR Jazz Hero

If you have to choose a single musician who represents jazz in Portland, it’s drummer and bandleader Mel Brown. His accomplishments, including a career as one of the leading soul/r&b drummers of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s; his reputation throughout the West Coast and Pacific Northwest for hard-driving bands, and his advancement of jazz education through the Mel Brown Summer Jazz Workshop at Western Oregon University transcend local fame. But the stage named for him at Portland’s premiere nightclub Jimmy Mak’s -- where he typically leads bands three nights a week, and has long shaped the music policy -- testifies to his definitive status in his hometown. Altogether, this is why he’s the JJA's 2015 Portland Jazz Hero.

Born and raised in northeast Portland’s African-American neighborhood, Brown began learning his craft from musicians in the historic jazz community that flourished along Williams Avenue in the 1940s and ’50s. “During that time, that kind of teaching was what everybody did … because they were helped that way themselves,” he has said, and he’s carried on the tradition. By age 15, as a member of the Junior Symphony he was teaching other students at Washington High School.

He attended Portland State University on a music scholarship, continuing classical training while playing jazz and making his recording debut with Billy Larkin and the Delegates. While working in Vancouver, B.C. in 1967, Brown was hired by Martha Reeves; he recorded with her Vandellas and subsequently became a core member of Motown Records touring and studio bands, working with the Temptations, the Supremes, the Four Tops and The Main Ingredient, among others. Returning to Portland in 1973, Brown became central to a resurgence of live jazz in the city, in ’79 forming a trio with high school-aged pianist George Mitchell and college freshman bassist Phil Baker, who soon he was taking on tour to accompany Diana Ross. He taught at Mel Brown’s Drum Shop during that time, and later started a bookkeeping service which he maintains today — along with his full music schedule.

In the 1980s, he developed three formats: the Mel Brown Sextet, a partnership with Los Angeles transplant bassist Leroy Vinnegar and a Hammond B-3 organ quintet that revived in Portland the soul jazz he had played in the 1960s. Though Vinnegar died in 1999, Brown has sustained his other bands. In the 1990s, Mel became a member of the Board of Directors of the Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz, and in association with the festival, he began his summer programs for student musicians there.

Without him, the city’s active scene would not be attracting the excellent players and generating the recording and performing opportunities that have turned Portland into a West Coast jazz mecca. Mel Brown has literally fathered the next generation of Portland jazz —  his April 22 performance will be followed by a set from the Chris Brown Quartet, his son’s band.

- Lynn Darroch
JJA Member
Photo by Dianne Russell

Tim Jackson

2015 Santa Cruz CA Jazz Hero

In four remarkable decades as a jazz presenter, Tim Jackson has charted the course for two renowned nonprofit arts organizations: Kuumbwa Jazz (Santa Cruz, California) and the Monterey Jazz Festival. As the Artistic Director for both organizations, Tim's programming instincts and organizational skills are key to their ongoing success. Strongly committed to providing audiences with an in-depth experience of the music's heritage and its stylistic diversity, his inclusive approach focuses not only on internationally-known jazz artists, but spotlighting up-and-coming talent as well.

As a teenager, Jackson’s career path to becoming a professional musician led him serendipitously into concert promotion. Only a year out of high school, what he calls his “unceremonious” introduction to the jazz presenter’s life began in 1973. Needing a temporary place to live, he interned for six months at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society – the legendary beachside jazz and classical music venue in Half Moon Bay, California – and learned the ropes of music production from colorful, curmudgeonly Pete Douglas. At night, Tim slept outback in an old VW van.

In 1975, Jackson co-founded (along with Rich Wills and Sheba Burney) Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz. Although the youngest co-founder, Tim's unflagging dedication proved crucial to Kuumbwa’s ongoing survival after the others moved on. He labored not just to keep the place going but to see it thrive. Bringing major name jazz artists to a relatively small seaside town like Santa Cruz on a weekly basis seemed to defy the odds, but it worked. A local/regional artist series and weekly jam session were on the regular schedule. People liked coming to a non-smoking venue (one of the first) to hear jazz without cash registers ringing or the burden of a drink minimum. They no longer had to commute to San Francisco or Oakland to hear world-class music.

Over the next 40 years, Jackson initiated numerous physical upgrades to Kuumbwa and increased staffing. Educational outreach through jazz master classes and clinics has always been a priority. Specific programs such as Kuumbwa Jazz Summer Camp and the Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band were created for young people. And Tim took on a second responsibility, in 1992 succeeding Jimmy Lyons as Artistic Director/General Manager at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Delving into Lyons’ legacy, Jackson returned the Monterey fest to its adventurous roots with musical lineups ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde. He reactivated the Commission Artist Program and added performance venues while upgrading the older ones. Tim grew the festival’s youth education programs, encouraging emerging performers under the Generation Next program which included an Artist-in-Residence and international tours.

Tim Jackson’s love for jazz, and his respect for the musicians creating it, has made an extraordinary impact on the quality of life and cultural activity on the Central Coast of California. Under his steady hand the Monterey Jazz Festival – which JazzTimes has called “the best jazz festival in the world” – retains its long-running vitality and remains an annual pilgrimage for thousands. Kuumbwa Jazz, deemed by DownBeat magazine “one of the top jazz venues” for several years running, continues to prosper, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015. The 200-seat venue is a favorite stop of touring musicians from around the world. Best of all, Tim no longer has to sleep outback in a VW van. Now that's a Jazz Hero!

- Kurt Brinkmeyer
Kuumbwa Jazz 
Photo: R.R. Jones  

Mack Waldron

2015 Seattle Jazz Hero

Elliott “Mack” Waldron is the proprietor of Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club in Seattle, which for two decades has featured local and regional jazz musicians seven nights a week, filling an important cultural niche here. Seattle is just lucky enough to be Waldron's wife’s hometown.

To explain: Mack began his personal association with jazz in his youth. He played in his high-school jazz band in Kilgore, Texas (in the northeastern part of the state), and continued when he attended Kilgore Junior College. He enlisted in the Navy, joined the band and eventually becoming a bandleader – making that his career for 26 years. He was stationed at Sand Point Naval Base on Lake Washington when he retired, and he and his wife Tula (yes, the club is named for her: it’s a diminutive of Demetra) decided to stay.

At first, Mack worked booking musical acts, but then he decided to plunge into the business directly. “It had always been my dream to own a jazz club,” he’s said.

Mack knows his jazz. In the service he’d been considered a players’ bandleader, and today he’s considered a players’ club owner. He books the bands, treats the musicians well and in turn is well respected by the musicians he hires. “We have a mutual admiration,” he says. “I admire them for their musicianship, and I think they do appreciate me for providing a venue for them to perform.” He acknowledges difficulties in keeping Tula’s open for the past 21 years, but has always accepted them as a personal challenge. He’s quick to credit the support of his family and abundance of highly talented players in the region for the club’s success.

Wynton Marsalis has ranked Tula’s among his top 10 clubs in the nation for USA Today, saying “This is a cool place.” Tula’s has been featured in DownBeat’s guide to the world's “150 Great Jazz Rooms,” too.  Mack has been honored with Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Golden Ear Award for providing a key showcase for our local musicians.

And he’s trying to make sure there are more of them to come. In support of music education, Mack invites high-school bandleaders to bring their bands to the club. “Seattle has a wealth of good high-school band directors and music teachers,” he believes. “The parents are also very supportive of music education. We have a wonderful education system here. It’s very exciting to participate and I feel like I’m contributing something to further young musicians in the Seattle area.” Which makes Mack Waldron a Jazz Hero for everyone in hailing distance, and even further.

- Robin Lloyd
JJA Board Member 
(from Earshot Jazz profiles written by Jason West, 1999 and Gregory Brusstar, 2012)
Photo: Daniel Sheehan

Nicole Yarling

2015 South Florida Jazz Hero

The music of Charlie Parker and Horace Silver floats over the courtyard of Fort Lauderdale's Miniaci Performing Arts Center, putting concertgoers in the mood for stars appearing at the monthly South Florida Jazz series. Off to the side, Nicole Yarling can frequently be found, proudly surveying her students from the Jazz Educators Community Coalition (JECC) Boot Camp.

Ranging in age from 11 to 18, these musicians under Yarling’s tutelage confidently play repertoire from an era long before they were born. After all, the Hollywood, Florida-based Yarling — a vocalist and violinist as well as an educator — knows the value of exposure to history and elder mentors. She's been a beneficiary herself.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, arriving in South Florida in the 1980s, Yarling has ever since brought great joy and impeccable artistry to audiences from the Florida Keys to the Palm Beaches and beyond. Longtime fans may have first encountered her as part of multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan's 1983 Strings Attached project, others will recall her as the dynamic leader of Little Nicky and the Slicks, which recorded in ’87. She vaulted into the national spotlight touring with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer band in the ’90s, and a few years later got a boost when iconic singer Joe Williams introduced her performance with the Count Basie Orchestra during an all-star Ella Fitzgerald tribute. Discovering her to be a uniquely gifted performer with infectious passion and charisma, who could caress a timeless standard or belt a raucous blues, he was so impressed he lent his name (and talents, on a couple of a duets) to her 1999 live recording, Joe Williams Presents Nicole Yarling at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.

Yarling, who received her masters degree in Music Education from Columbia University, also brings her pedagogical gifts, warmth, wisdom and access to teaching classes at Florida Memorial University and the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. An exceptionally enthusiastic fan as well as performer, she can and will expound about the legacies of heroes from Stuff Smith to Leroy Jenkins, or extol the gifts of up-and-comers such as Gregory Porter, Christian Howe and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Many a South Florida jazz and blues fan lights up at the mention of Yarling, whose presence on a bandstand is always welcome. Her musicianship, her voice and her presence reflect the great joy and beauty she finds within the music to which she's devoted so much of her life. And we eagerly expect more of all this from Jazz Hero Nicole Yarling in the future.

- Bob Weinberg 

Photo: Michael "Bongo" Hawn

Don Wolff

2015 St. Louis Jazz Hero

Since the 1960s, Don Wolff has earned a reputation as one of St. Louis’ top lawyers, and has also worked tirelessly to support a variety of charitable and nonprofit organizations. In addition to serving a term as president of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Wolff has also been a champion for equal rights under the law.

But he is best known and instantly identifiable by the phrase he’s used constantly over the past three decades: “I love jazz!” Don Wolff has been an enthusiastic advocate for jazz since he fell in love with the music as a teenager, hearing such greats as St. Louis’ own Clark Terry with the Duke Ellington Orchestra on the radio.

in 1987 on radio station KXOK Wolff took to the airwaves himself, launching his own jazz show, “I Love Jazz.” He went on to play jazz on a succession of St. Louis area stations – including WSIE, KMOX and KFUO - up until 2010.

Wolff’s now changed media platforms. He now hosts the “I Love Jazz” television show documenting the St. Louis jazz scene on HEC-TV. And he continues to spin music -- as an Internet webcaster. His weekly web program is available 24/7, and those weekly broadcasts can also be accessed through his website, www.donwolff.com. You’ll find an extensive inventory of the more than 200 interviews with jazz artists he’s conducted there, too.

Although he has been battling against leukemia and cancer in recent years, Don has continued his practice of the past several decades of being an enthusiastic presence at area jazz concerts and festivals. The late Rich McDonnell, founder of the St. Louis-based MAXJAZZ record label, summed up Don’s influence in a 2012 interview for a feature article about him.

“Don Wolff states it very clearly: ‘I Love Jazz!,’ and he does,” said McDonnell. “He has devoted his incredible energy and creativity to living his passion – and to sharing it generously with many others. He is known throughout the jazz community as a champion of the art and as the ‘go-to’ person for making something happen. He has vision and grit – characteristics that are both important in moving the art forward.”

While enriching our local jazz scene, Don has had an impact through radio, television and the Internet that extends far beyond the St. Louis area. His lifelong support of jazz music has certainly earned Don Wolff the honor of being named St. Louis Jazz Hero for 2015.
- Terry Perkins
JJA Member
Photo: T.L. Witt

Carole & Stan Fiore

2015 Tallahassee FL Jazz Heros

,As a new club owner, my image of a jazz club was from a jazz lover’s perspective. The clubs I attended recognized the regulars and welcomed them as such.

Who is the regular and what are their attributes? Well, first off they are actual supporters of the music. They are not there just for the stars, but also for the local musicians who are the backbone of a club’s success. In other words: They don’t just show up on Easter, but have a regular pew every Sunday. They have a table and favorite foods and beverages. The jazz club regular is the lifeblood of the jazz club and shares in its special memories and musical moments. This is a perfect description of Stan and Carole Fiore.

Natives of Philadelphia, both Stan and Carole have had a long history with the music. Stan spent his formative years servicing juke boxes in clubs, bars and private homes that rented them. (For those who do not know, juke boxes were a standard way to have music in restaurants and clubs. They actually played vinyl 45 rpm discs! Look it up!) As a young man, Stan collected jazz albums and attended performances of the Benny Goodman Orchestra at the Earl Theater in Philadelphia. Carole grew up listening to jazz on the radio with her parents. Her first jazz concert was Maynard Ferguson at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music.

After marriage, they continued to love jazz in their new home in Tampa, Florida. Stan was an electrical engineer with Sperry Univac and Carole was a librarian in schools and city facilities.  They enjoyed a jazz-dedicated radio station in the Tampa Bay area and attended concerts  with such headliners as Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd, Oscar Peterson, Buddy DeFranco, Natalie Cole and Dr. Billy Taylor. But upon moving to Tallahassee, they were disappointed to find that the jazz scene was lacking. Not to be deterred, after retirement they got involved in Florida State University’s (FSU) musical offerings, attending jazz and classical concerts. Eventually they became FSU Musical Associates -- active volunteers.

Now, Stan and Carole are mainstays of an improved scene which includes our small venue, B Sharp’s Jazz Club. The Fiores see themselves fulfilling a specific mission, supported by a specific philosophy. “While neither Stan nor I play an instrument, we both love listening to music,” says Carole. “Listening to recorded music is one thing, but hearing it performed live is yet another. It’s important to encourage young musicians and provide them with an audience. That is our musical ability: To be good listeners. Like an author needs a reader, a musician needs an audience.”

What an audience they have been for B Sharp’s! We are very proud to have Stan and Carole as our 2015 Jazz Heroes, as their support has been crucial to our continuing presentation of the music of young lions coming up – musicians who have gone on to perform with Carmen Lundy, Stay Human, Jason Marsalis and other high profile mainstays -- and stars of today including Robert Glasper, Cyrus Chestnut, Rene Marie, Dr. John, Sara Morrow and Lou Donaldson. Looking over and seeing Stan and Carole at their favorite table with their favorite beverages has been a part of our dream-come-true: Having regulars at our jazz club. Stan and Carole Fiore are welcome all the time!

- Gerri Seay 
B Sharps Jazz Club
JJA Member

Charles Fishman

2015 Washington D C Jazz Hero

The mark of a Jazz Hero is to see what needs to be done and do it. Charles Fishman established the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C. in 2004 because he thought the idea “that we who invented the music didn’t have a jazz festival in our nation’s capital was stupid and shameful.” He knew from experience that setting up such a fest in such a place might not be easy, but that didn’t stop him at all.

Fishman had been Dizzy Gillespie’s manager from 1986 through the trumpeter’s death in 1993, so he’d handled a fair share of challenging situations, and since the mid ‘80s had also been principal of Charismic Productions, a Washington, DC-based production and consulting company, putting on or enabling events throughout the US and beyond. He’d produced television programs and audio recordings, winning a Grammy in 1990 for Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nation Orchestra Live at the Royal Festival Hall. Moving back to DC, where he’d grown up, to take care of his aging parents, he was struck by the need to showcase D.C.’s abundant jazz history and stimulate its continuing, often overlooked activity.

He reached out to Bob Peck, then president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, who agreed the situation should be remedied and supplied contacts to potential sponsors. Fishman pursued them. The Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, named for the composer-bandleader-pianist-icon who is unrivaled as D.C.’s greatest native son, premiered as 12 concerts in 2005, to wide community and critical acclaim. Every year he expanded and solidified programming, with concerts including “Jazz Meets the Classics” and a tribute to Ellis Marsalis with his sons plus Dr. Billy Taylor and Harry Connick, Jr. at the Kennedy Center; Jazz ‘n’ Families Fun Days, Jazz in the ‘Hoods concerts, and shows where they most gloriously belong, on the National Mall. In 2010, Fishman's organization evolved into the DC Jazz Festival with a mission to advance music curriculum in city public schools, and present programs year-long. By 2013 the DCJF comprised (according to Matthew Dicker in the Washington Times) “125 performances in more than 40 venues.” It had established an educational component in league with the D.C. public school system, and an after school program.

Fishman has stepped down from directing the fest -- the JJA’s co-founder, former vice president and Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism honoree Willard Jenkins has taken over, lauding his predecessor’s “perseverance” and model of  “vital, pan-stylistic, multi-cultural” festival bookings. Kudos pursue Fishman -- “Charlie” has already been honored as “one of the 50 men and women who have transformed Washington into one of the nation’s liveliest centers for the performing arts” by Washingtonian magazine (in 2008), and with an award for “Distinguished Service to the Humanities” from the Humanities Council of Washington in 2011. But the strongest marker of his success may be that the festival he dreamed up then realized has convened and energized the town of Washington so that jazz is now a considerably higher profile activity in the nation’s capital than it was in 2005.

Of course countless D.C. residents and visitors have now got decade of musical memories thanks to Fishman’s ceaseless efforts, and researchers (especially) value his generosity in donating a valuable collection of business records, memorabilia and personal ephemera originally belong to Dizzy Gillespie to the National Museum of American History.  He’s also established the Charles Fishman Young Artists Program, through which young Washingtonians -- as Duke Ellington once was -- perform in the foreign embassies in D.C, for diplomatic functions. We wonder: What will Charles Fishman, Jazz Hero, see that he has to do next?

- Howard Mandel
JJA President

Dr. Bruce Jay Milner

2015 Woodstock NY Jazz Hero

In Woodstock and all over the Hudson Valley, Dr. Bruce Milner is known as the “Jazz Dentist.” Throughout his career as a dentist, he has always been empathetic toward musicians and their needs, and in addition to supporting the music itself has tirelessly provided dental work to musicians of all kinds for reduced or negligible fees. “I am happy to do this,” he says, “as I have, not so secretly, always admired great musicians more than anybody else and always wanted to be great myself … However, I am only a great dentist.”

Bruce was born and raised in Brooklyn, and developed a deep appreciation for music and musicians at a very young age. He enjoyed success as a musician early on, playing keyboards with Every Mothers’ Son on “Come On Down To My Boat, Baby,” a number one hit record in 1967. Yet he was already on a path to become a dentist. As a health-care professional, Dr. Milner is special for his appreciation of music on a level few medical people of his stature share. His calls his current practice in Woodstock and New York City “Transcend Dental.”

“Of course there is an obvious play on words,” he says, “but beyond that is the real meaning. We have been conditioned to regard health practitioners as people who are greater than the people they treat. I have never subscribed to that thinking. We need to be accessible and compassionate. In my practice I feel I have a connection with everyone who entrusts their care to me. At our office we elect to ‘transcend’ the doctor ego and try to partner with our patients to assist their healing and well-being.”

Having played piano since age eight, Bruce always loved all kinds of music. In 1961, while in college, he saw and met the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, and being a vocalist himself, found the experience transformational. He got to know them and through them became familiar with many jazz greats. To this day, he continues to introduce his patients/clients to great music while at work in his office. He claims he could not have survived his job were it not for the freedom he has to listen to great music all day.

Each year Bruce volunteers at the non-profit O+ Festival in Kingston, NY, which connects musicians, artists and health & wellness providers for weekend-long celebrations featuring concerts, performances, art making and wellness offerings for the entire community. Bruce has also continued to make music, currently singing with Prana, which bases its sound in sacred Tibetan Buddhist multiphonic chant and Tuvan throat singing. In his private practice, Dr. Milner continues to generously support the many musicians in need of dental work who cannot always afford it, including several of the best jazz players on the scene today. We consider that heroic, indeed! And thank Dr. Bruce Milner, Jazz Hero.
- Teri Roiger