2020 Jazz Heroes

The Jazz Journalists Association is pleased to announce its slate of 2020 Jazz Heroes Advocates who have had significant impact in their local communities. In this troubling time, as the world fights a pandemic, the JJA is proud to celebrate the hearts, souls and efforts of 27 "activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz" in 23 U.S. cities. These Jazz Heroes are united by their devotions to put jazz into the public sphere, for all to enjoy.

The 'Jazz Hero' awards, made annually on the basis of nominations from community members, are presented by their local fans and friends in conjunction with the JJA's annual Jazz Awards honoring significant achievements in jazz music and journalism. Please spread the word of Jazz Heroes and the photo collage designed for easy sharing on your own social media posts.

  1. Ann Arbor, MI: Deanna Relyea
  2. Atlanta, GA: Gwen Redding
  3. Baltimore, MD: Sean Jones
  4. Bay Area, CA: Richard Hadlock
  5. Birmingham, AL: Leah Tucker
  6. Boston, MA: Ran Blake
  7. Brooklyn, NY: Matthew Garrison & Fortuna Sung
  8. Capital Region, NY: Susan Cohen Brink
  9. Charlotte, NC: Lonnie & Ocie Davis
  10. Chicago, IL: Harriet Choice
  11. Cleveland, OH: Terri Pontremoli
  12. Denver, CO: Norman Provizer
  13. Fort Lauderdale, FL: Dr. Ronald B. Weber
  14. Hartford, CT: Ed Krech
  15. Indianapolis, IN: Albert Coleman
  16. Los Angeles, CA: Billy Mitchell
  17. Minneapolis, MN: Patty Peterson
  18. New York, NY: Roberta Alloway
  19. Philadelphia, PA: Anthony Tidd
  20. Portland, OR: Ron Steen
  21. Seattle, WA: Jay Thomas
  22. St. Louis, MO: Gene Dobbs Bradford
  23. Tallahassee, FL: Jan & Mark Pudlow
  24. Washington, DC: Sunny Sumter

Congratulations and a big THANK YOU to all the 2020 Jazz Heroes.
The Heroes will receive their awards at public events in their communities when those can be resumed. Dates will be announced.

Deanna Relyea

2020 Ann Arbor Jazz Hero

What would musical life in metro Detroit have been like for the last 36 years without Deanna Relyea? It’s chilling to even think about, but the short answer is less vital, less swinging, less adventurous, and less filled with performances by the world’s finest jazz musicians across the stylistic spectrum, from legends of New Orleans jazz and the swing era through bebop, post-bop masters and avant-garde heroes.

As founding executive and artistic director of the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Relyea has for more than three decades presented everyone from Doc Cheatham to Barry Harris to Roscoe Mitchell. She also spearheads the annual Edgefest celebration of avant-garde jazz and improvised music, one of the premiere events of its kind in North America.

Relyea’s keen artistic vision, sharp ears, eclectic taste, personal warmth, and soulful embrace of the creative spirit have forged a special environment for music. For these reasons, the Jazz Journalists Association recognizes Relyea as Ann Arbor Jazz Hero for 2020, an honor extending over the whole metro region.

Born in Detroit, Deanna Relyea went to high school in nearby Pontiac. She earned a degree in collaborative piano (accompanying) at the University of Michigan, before switching gears and pursuing a singing career as a mezzo-soprano. She started the Kerrytown Concert House in 1984, transforming a 19th century home into an intimate, 110-seat, L-shaped space for well-suited to chamber music recitals and cabaret. In 1988, the House acquired a spectacular 7-foot-4-inch Hamburg Steinway model C piano. The House today presents 200 events a year.

Jazz found a home at the Concert House in its early days. Though jazz was not Deanna's natural milieu, she quickly grew comfortable with the idiom and sought out the best without regard to sub-stylistic borders. Those who have performed at the house range from traditionalists (Art Hodes), to mainstream icons (Tommy Flanagan) to today's stars and innovators (Dave Douglas, Kris Davis, Oliver Lake).

Edgefest began in 1997 with founding director Dave Lynch and Relyea launching a two-day event. After a decade, she took over sole direction of the festival, which now stretches to four days. Edgefest has been recognized for its adventurous programming by Chamber Music America/ASCAP, and DownBeat has named the concert house one of the 150 best jazz venues in the world.

The house also remains an indispensable showcase for southeastern Michigan’s talented pool of musicians. Above all, Relyea has been a community builder. “Our mission is to do things that need incubating and may never have a huge audience but are necessary to the creative life of a community,” she once said. Deanna Relyea retired several years ago from day-to-day duties, but she remains director of Edgefest and her impact – that of a Jazz Hero -- continues to resonate as it has for more than 30 years.

– Mark Stryker

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Gwen Redding

2020 Atlanta Jazz Hero

Gwen Redding, a jazz broadcaster and singer professionally known as Rivablue – a name she took in 1994, for the place the river and sky meet -- is from Washington, D.C. but has found her true field of operations in Atlanta, Georgia.

The connection of Georgia and Redding sounds familiar? Yes, she's a cousin to soul music legend Otis Redding, though her influences as a vocalist are the classic jazz women such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae and Shirley Horn.

Gwen grew up in New Jersey, returning to Washington to attend college, earning a degree in mass communications and print journalism, from the University of the District of Columbia. She got her first radio gig was in 1980 at UDC’s student-operated station, where she served writing copy performed production assistant duties, voice overs and did fill-ins for other air talents. She was soon promoted to the school's major, public station WDCU, which had a jazz format – and jazz music became Gwen’s love at first listen. She played the music from golden age straightahead jazz stars, and also hosted “Jazz Vision,” a talk show on UDC’s television station, on many occasions pitching in to assist the bi-annual fundraising campaigns of neighboring public radio station WPFW.

After devoting 20 years of her life to public radio broadcasting, she decided to do some different. In 2001 Gwen moved to Atlanta, enrolled in nursing courses, became an aphaeresis technician with the American Red Cross, and then a medical assistant with a prominent local private practice. Though working in a new town in a new profession, the jazz bug was still in her, and she began to perform singing gigs around town.

Then one day in 2006, friend and mentor jazz saxophonist George B. Johnson apprised Gwen of an announcer job at Atlanta's WCLK (owned by Clark Atlanta University). She took the reins of the station's “Midday Jazz” program, and over the subsequent years has become one the most popular announcers in that day part in a major radio market.

Through her career, she has gotten to interview some of the giants of jazz. She's also come to emcee tons of jazz concerts, special events and cruises, present lectures and has even spoken to imprisoned inmates as an outreach effort. She offers her energies to such community organizations as Students Without Mothers, the Unity Jazz Foundation (providing students with instruments via scholarships), the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Cliftondale United Methodist Church.

While enjoying her radio gig, she’s also upped her performing career, as Rivablue appearing regularly around Atlanta with artists including Doug Carn, Julie Dexter, the Harper Brothers, Maria Howell, Joe Gransden (a JJA Jazz Hero!) and Russell Gunn.

She attributes her double-barreled success to her listeners locally, and globally via WCLK.com. They respond with love to the big, warm personality and unique blend of music that Gwen "Rivablue" Redding offers them, weekdays from 10 am to 2 pm on 91.9 FM WCLK, "Atlanta’s jazz station." Supporters like that are clear evidence of the presence of a Jazz Hero.

Kemba Cofield

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Sean Jones

2020 Baltimore Jazz Hero

Sean Jones, trumpeter, composer and educator is the JJA's 2020 Baltimore Jazz Hero. He has served as Chair of the Brass Department, Berklee College of Music; been Artistic Director of both the Pittsburgh and Cleveland Jazz Orchestras, has performed and/or recorded with such jazz luminaries as the late Jimmy Heath and Nancy Wilson, and continues to. Rather than delve into his recording career and releases, though, what's most important from our perspective is his commitment to Baltimore City.

In September 2018, Jones began his tenure at the Peabody Conservatory as the Richard and Elizabeth Case Chair of Jazz Studies. He hit the ground running, and has not only reanimated the Peabody’s Studies program but reached out beyond it to the various communities of Baltimore as well.

Perhaps most notably, he is a founder and curator of the Baltimore Jazz Collective, an ongoing creative arts project featuring the some of the very best musicians from Baltimore and the Mid-Atlantic Region, comprising besides Jones the tap dancer and vocalist Brinae Ali, his personal partner; Todd Marcus, a previously named Jazz Hero, on bass clarinet; Alex Brown, piano; Kris Funn, bass, and Quincy Phillips, drums. BJC members are constantly writing and arranging original compositions for the band to rehearse and perform for Baltimore's citizens.

Jones is a consultant to the Eubie Blake Cultural Center, the presid-elect of the Board of the Jazz Education Network and leader of the National Youth Orchestra's jazz section at Carnegie Hall – but here at home he's determinedly brought jazz out of the conservatory, schools and concert halls into neighborhoods, performed at the Tiffany Series at the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Arts North District’s Motor House, the Billie Holiday Jazz Concert in Sandtown-Winchester's Lafayette Square, and other events meant to raise awareness of buildings newly repurposed to house community groups.

Jones believes passionately in championing the creative arc of artists who are committed to their life journey. “I think the progression of the art form comes with people being allowed to be themselves in their rawest form with no compromise,” he has said. This faith in others' innate creativity, the personal energy, dedication and generosity that he's put into efforts to help them realize it, and artistic excellence in his own right substantiates that Sean Jones is indeed Baltimore's 2020 Jazz Hero.

– Don Palmer

Richard Hadlock

2020 Bay Area Jazz Hero

Richard Hadlock has been at the center of the San Francisco Bay Area's jazz scene for more than 60 years as a saxophonist, publisher, journalist, historian, educator and broadcaster.

A longtime resident of Berkeley, he’s best known as the author of the seminal book of biographical sketches Jazz Masters of the 20s (Da Capo), which has been an oft-cited reference since it was first published in 1965. But locally, he's established himself as a daily companion, being on the air almost continuously since 1959, when he introduced his "Annals of Jazz" show on San Francisco's KJAZ. "Annals of Jazz" next had a nearly two-decade run at the public station KQED, but in the 1980s he moved the program KCSM (broadcasting from San Mateo), where some three decades later he continues to broadcast on Sundays from 7 to 8 p.m., always opening with the theme “Pagin’ the Devil” by Lester Young and the Kansas City Six.

As a journalist, Hadlock acquired the jazz magazine The Record Changer during the last years of its storied tenure (1942-57). He contributed reviews and profiles to Downbeat, Metronome and the San Francisco Examiner, and has written liner notes for dozens of albums, including an essay on Joe Sullivan that was nominated for a Grammy Award).

He was teaching kindergarten in the Berkeley Unified School District (pianist Dick Whittington was also teaching kindergarten there) when Dr. Herb Wong introduced an innovative, jazz-steeped curriculum that seems to have shaped the consciousness of upstarts like Peter Apfelbaum, Steven Bernstein, Jeff Cressman, and Jessica Jones. He’s also taught numerous adult ed courses on jazz history over the years.

A respected saxophonist, Hadlock started studying the horn in high school when his family lived in Rio de Janeiro. His first lessons were in Portuguese with the popular Rio orchestra leader Zaccarias, who pioneered the jazzy samba de gafieira style in the 1940s. At 17, Richard returned to the United States to attend college in Philadelphia and sought out Sidney Bechet for soprano sax lessons. Upon graduation he settled in New York City and began long-term clarinet studies with ace reedman Garvin Bushell.

After moving to San Francisco Richard Hadlock took his final formal instructions from Lee Konitz. Accomplished in a wide array of styles, he’s performed with New Orleans artists such as Kid Ory, Pops Foster and Danny Barker as well as envelope-pushing masters like '50s and '60s pianist Herbie Nichols and currently active clarinetist Ben Goldberg and guitarist John Schott, among others.

An avuncular presence on the airwaves, a communicator in print and the classroom, a musical presence in performance, Richard Hadlock is noted for his generosity as a source of information, linking younger jazz lovers to a vanished world of foundational jazz masters, and is himself a genuine Jazz Hero.

—Andy Gilbert

Leah Tucker

2020 Birmingham Jazz Hero

Leah Tucker has gone the full distance, -- from volunteering at Birmingham’s Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame to working as the executive director’s assistant to becoming the executive director herself, in 2004 -- and over the past 16 years has kept up the momentum, enabling this organization, based in a historic site at the center of the Birmingham Civil Rights District, to serve as cultural touchstone, originating and sustaining many musically invaluable programs.

Among Tucker’s accomplishments: growing the AJHF’s annual Student Jazz Band Festival from one day to three days to attract middle school, high school and collegiate attendees from across the southeast to play before noted professional adjudicators. A “recycling program” getting donated instruments in the hands of students in need. Presentations by multicultural artists of performances and workshops for highschoolers, Managing the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame museum, and the historic Carver Theatre -- once the only place African-American audiences in the region could attend the movies -- in the Carver Performing Arts Center, now undergoing a $4.3 million redevelopment.

In 2018, she presided over the AJHF’s acquisition of WAJH-FM, the “Voice of Jazz for Alabama,” the area’s only jazz-exclusive non profit radio station. Since then she’s secured additional funding to outfit the newly renovated Carver with a broadcast studio that will anchor the station to its community (which was the scene of terrible events during the height of the Civil Rights movement, including the church bombing immortalized by John Coltrane in “Alabama”). There are plans for “Art of Radio” internships, offering students instruction in media production, digital archiving and journalism.

As the Carver renovations have hampered AJHF activities in its home, Tucker has partnered with neighboring non-profits to keep things going. The Saturday Jazz Greats series of tuition-free jazz lessons for young people, run weekly since 1999, continues at a new venue, and the monthly AJHF jam sessions are now hosted at a local lounge.

Tucker’s good works have not been limited to the AJHF. After college and graduate studies, she served on the board of directors for the Selma and Dallas County Arts Council, helping to develope a fledgling arts community in the poorest counties of the state, and organizing the Selma Bridge Festival to showcase regional talent. She’s been on the strategic planning team for the Alabama School of Fine Arts, designing its curriculum and mission statement. In 2018 she was appointed to the Alabama Course of Study for Arts Education, working to build a state-wide curriculum for the public schools, and in 2019 she was elected president of the board of directors for the new nonprofit the Taste of 4th Ave., Inc., to expand on the existing of Fourth Ave. Jazz Festival, launched by the AJHF in 2003.

Leah Tucker has done so much since growing up in Los Angeles, first hearing jazz on her father’s vinyl albums, listening to his stories of visiting the Cotton Club, sneaking out with her older brother to see Cannonball Adderley and Ramsey Lewis at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. Today she’s enabling some other young person to make just the sort of discoveries she did, and as a Jazz Hero inspiring them to follow through, undoubtedly to the benefit of Birmingham and beyond.

—Leslie Marlow

Ran Blake

2020 Boston Jazz Hero

When Ran Blake arrived in Boston in 1968, the 33-year-old pianist was already an iconoclastic performer and composer deserving of wider recognition. His debut recording with vocalist Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound Around, and his subsequent Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano, revealed an original artist with his own identifiable voice and uncommonly wide range of influences. In the subsequent decades, he has proven himself to be a visionary educator, theorist and advocate who has expanded the very notion of musical fusion, and has made Boston an early center of creativity without borders.

Ran was brought to town in one of the first acts of newly appointed New England Conservatory President Gunther Schuller. While he was about as far as one could imagine from the notion of a credentialed conservatory professor at the time, Blake was the perfect leader, thought Schuller, for developing an academic complement to the blending of jazz and classical musics that he'd dubbed "third stream." After initially assuming a role of the school’s Community Services Department, and after Schuller had introduced the first Jazz Studies major at a traditional music conservatory in 1969, Ran was tapped to create and chair a Third Stream department in 1972. To say that he hit the ground running, in this or any task that he finds important, would be the grossest of understatements.

As an educator, Blake has developed the approach he calls “the primacy of the ear,” which focuses on learning by listening and singing back musical examples, rather than score-reading or standard transcription. His method also prioritizes improvisation and personal interpretation over precise reproduction. Drawing of his own sources, a kaleidoscopic list in which Thelonious Monk, Olivier Messiaen, Chris Connor, Mahalia Jackson and non-musical influences (especially film noir) were given equal weight, Blake xpanded Schuller’s initial concept of third stream to encompass a more broadly based fusion of serious/popular/ethnic styles, in which all musical sources could be blended.

The renaming of the Third Stream Department as the Contemporary Improvisation Department underscores the role Ran has played in making the improvisational foundations of jazz available to practitioners of all of the world’s musics, as do the NEC alumni who have benefitted from the program and the numerous admission-free events which Ran and his students present annually in the Boston area. A prime example is the recent Film Noir concert in which NEC students performed original accompaniments to Fritz Lang’s silent Dr. Mabuse films).

These achievements have won Ran many prior honors, including one of the first MacArthur Fellowships, but it is his tireless championing of young and overlooked musicians that have added to his importance on the local scene.

I use the term “tireless” advisedly as it recalls my first encounter with Ran, which took place 52 years ago. I was in the middle of an eight hour overnight Orgy of avant-garde jazz on WHRB-FM when I received a call from him, urging me to attend a performance in town early that afternoon by a high school tenor saxophonist he had heard named Ricky Ford.

Flattered to hear from a musician I admired (and had programmed earlier in the Orgy), I said something like “Thanks for the call, Mr. Blake, but after being up all night there’s no way I can attend a concert in the early afternoon.” That was no excuse for him – he insisted that I find an appropriate stimulant and show up. In the decades that followed, I’ve witnessed Ran Blake introducing all kinds of people to all kinds of music. His passion and his dedication know no bounds, the true sign of a Jazz Hero.

—Bob Blumenthal

Matthew Garrison & Fortuna Sung

2020 Brooklyn Jazz Heroes

When ShapeShifter Lab opened its doors in 2011, Matthew Garrison and Fortuna Sung envisioned not simply a performance space but a center for Brooklyn’s already thriving creative community, which has grown fruitfully in the ensuing years. For nine years they've presented new jazz, free improvisation and contemporary composition (better still, music that’s a mélange of these -- and more) nightly, expanding the range further by including cutting edge spoken-word, dance and visual art. This has led their venue in the mixed residential-industrial Gowanus neighborhood to be cited as “the new downtown”. Hosting bold underground arts alongside jazz (jazz+?), ShapeShifter Lab lives up its name with an open-door policy to experimentation.

Matthew Garrison, son of John Coltrane's celebrated bassist Jimmy Garrison and modern dancer Roberta Escamilla, is a gifted bass player in his own right, as well as Shapeshifter's Creative Director. He first toured with Gary Burton as a Berklee student some 20 years ago, currently works in a trio with Jack DeJohnette and Ravi Coltrane, and can boast -- but he won’t -- of performances and recordings with Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Joni Mitchell, Whitney Houston and many more.

Fortuna Sung was raised by a musician-father and actor-mother in Hong Kong. She studied design at the University of San Francisco, already having experience in administering vast educational arts programs in her home country. She's put her skills in both design and business organization to excellent use as ShapeShifter Lab’s Administrative Director.

In 2010 the pair was living in Brooklyn and embarked on the development of a 4200-square-foot, high-ceilinged, gallery-like venue, with an ample, flexible performance- and seating-areas and a streamlined bar. They equipped Shapeshifter Lab with the latest sound, recording and lighting technology including pioneering live-streaming capabilities, and instituted a series of community-based programs “to educate up and coming artists and musicians of the historical significance of jazz/improvisation/blues/rock/funk and demonstrate the continuous evolution of modern day music based on those disciplines" (as their mission statement avows).

True to that mission, Garrison and Sung have presented thousands of performances by musical innovators and progressive awareness-raisers. They've given a home to large-scale events including the NYC Forward Fest and several editions of my own Dissident Arts Festival, among other activities. It's for their ongoing dedication to the community of jazz and improvisational musicians, their colleague artists and their audiences, as well as their forward-thinking use of newly available technology in service of the arts, that leads the Jazz Journalists Association (including its several members based nearby who love coming to their place) to hail Matthew Garrison and Fortuna Sung as 2020 Jazz Heroes of Brooklyn, New York.

—John Pietaro

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Susan Cohen Brink

2020 Capital Area Jazz Hero

Susan Cohen Brink may be one of the most tireless, persistent advocates for jazz that upstate New York has ever seen. A Jersey girl by birth, Susan also has deep family ties to the Capital Region, and since moving permanently to the area in 2004, she has been unflagging in her quest to turn on as many people as possible to every aspect of this music – a quest that fueled her earlier efforts as a concert booker in central New Jersey.

Susan’s first involvement in this area’s live-music scene came as a member of the Board of Directors for the Lake George Arts Project, the long-time producer of “Jazz at The Lakel,” the two-day festival held every September in Lake George, NY. She also covered the jazz concert scene as a writer for Saratoga Living and for the arts web site Nippertown.com. However, she really made her mark as an area promoter in 2014, when she began booking jazz concerts at Troy, NY’s Sanctuary for Independent Media, a telecommunications production facility dedicated to community media arts. Susan turned SIM into one of the Capital Region’s best alternative stages for jazz, presenting cutting-edge artists such as Melissa Aldana, Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, Myra Melford and Ben Goldberg, the Tani Tabbal Trio, and Frank Lacy’s 1032K.

It was her deep connection to the jazz world that led Susan to become the creative force behind “Jazz Sanctuary” – the three-hour, five-nights-a-week show on SIM’s non-commercial radio station, WOOC 105.3FM. While her concert bookings may have focused on the unconventional side of the genre, Susan embraced this music’s full history on WOOC, immediately giving “Jazz Sanctuary” the mission statement “100 Years of Jazz!” Although the program was a relative newcomer to the broadcast portion of this genre, the efforts made by Susan and her volunteer airstaff earned WOOC nomination by the industry publication JazzWeek, as Station of The Year (Fewer than 40 hours of jazz per week) in 2019.

The connections Susan has made in this area through her role as a staffer and now board member of the Jazz Journalists Association cannot be understated. She has helped strengthen the bonds between musicians, journalists, radio announcers, presenters and super-fans that gives the Capital Region jazz scene the kind of dynamic you’d expect to find in cities like New York and Chicago. While jazz would have always existed in this area, it would not be nearly as interesting or exciting without Jazz Hero Susan Cohen Brink stirring it up in her own inimitable way.

—J Hunter

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Ocie and Lonnie Davis

2020 Charlotte Jazz Heroes

When Lonnie and Ocie Davis left New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they weren’t sure where they would settle. They found their way to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2007 and 3 years later founded the 501c3 JazzArts Charlotte, with Lonnie serving as President and CEO. Ocie is the Artistic Director, leading the organization’s creative efforts and supporting their educational programs.

The couple met in 1996 when they were both attending Ellis Marsalis’ jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans, and married in 2003. Lonnie considers herself a native of the Crescent City, though she was born in Landstuhl, Germany. She began studying music with the flute at an early age and had the privilege of attending Louisiana’s prestigious arts conservatory, NOCCA (New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts), where JJA Jazz Hero saxophonist Kidd Jordan was among the instructors and she studied with his son, flutist Kent Jordan. Her passion for jazz was cultivated.

Los Angeles native Ocie was introduced to the drums at age seven. Now he's internationally recognized as a musician, educator, and composer, having traveled the world performing at festivals and venues with notable NOLA-based musicians including Ellis Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Christian Scott, Nicholas Payton and Donald Harrison, who has called Ocie ‘one of the premiere drummers in jazz’. He's also been recognized as a Jazz All-Star by New Orleans Magazine.

Lonnie currently serves as Board Secretary for the Jazz Education Network and is a member of the Jazz Afterschool Task Force. She has served on the panel for the Kimmel Center Jazz Residency program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has been a contributing columnist for local Charlotte magazines and has curated such special events in the area as the Sunset Jazz Festival, Kings Drive Art Walk and the Charlotte Jazz Festival. Her degree in psychology is from the University of New Orleans and she's done graduate work in urban and regional planning at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Southern Living Magazine listed Lonnie among its top “50 People Who Are Changing the South” in 2015, and she was also featured by BELK, Inc. for their Modern Southern Music Campaign, which reached more than five million readers nationwide and was including in Lucky Brand displays in Belk department across the country.

As a leader of the Ocie Davis Trio, Ocie is currently playing at home while writing for an upcoming recording effort. His band was chosen as “Best Jazz Group in Charlotte” by Charlotte Magazine in it's "Best of the Best” list. He continues to share his experience and dedication for America’s classic music with young musicians through applied lessons, workshops, and clinics.

Together, Lonnie and Ocie Davis have been featured as exemplary local music activists in numerous area publications. The JJA hails them as Jazz Heroes, respecting the impact of their efforts in Charlotte, NC and envisions their influence will be felt in the future as it has been already, there and well beyond.

– Susan Cohen Brink

 Harriet Choice

2020 Chicago Jazz Hero

Chicago has always been a jazz town, but its oldest newspaper didn’t have a jazz critic until Harriet Choice. In 1968, when she began publishing her weekly column “Jazz by Choice” in the Chicago Tribune, she also broke another barrier. At that time, you could count on one hand the number of women writing regularly on jazz – and none of them covered the music for a major daily.

Choice's weekly collage of interviews and reviews, followed by a curated listing of who was appearing in town that week, established the template for writing about jazz in Chicago, and for the next 13 years her byline constituted a familiar guiding light for the city’s music followers. Among her most memorable columns was one she wrote after visiting legendary tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons in Statesville Penitentiary, where he was incarcerated on a drug conviction. When he gained his release shortly later (having served half his 14-year sentence), he made it clear that he believed “Jazz by Choice” had helped set him free.

Choice did more than write about jazz, however. A fierce advocate and activist for the music, in 1969 she enlisted a handful of Chicago musicians, supporters, and fellow journalist Dan Morgenstern to create the Jazz Institute of Chicago, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to nurturing and preserving jazz in all its forms. In 1981 Choice produced the memorable “Goin’ To Chicago” concert at Carnegie Hall in New York, highlighting her home town’s players from Art Hodes to Roscoe Mitchell, its historical contributions and continuing place in the nation’s jazz conversation.

In addition to her coverage of jazz, Harriet was editor of the Tribune's Sunday arts section for five years and later it's executive travel editor. Then she became an associate vice president at Universal Press Syndicate, where she introduced the first full color service as well as syndicating the first columns devoted to the environment and to womens' health, writings by such authors as Roger Ebert and President Jimmy Carter, and Boondocks, the groundbreaking and controversial African-American comic strip.

As the “founding mother” of the Jazz Institute, Choice has continued her involvement over the years, most recently as co-chair of the Archive Committee, where she has worked to build a collection of oral histories documenting scenes that might otherwise be lost. She has conducted interviews with, among others, trumpeter Bobby Lewis, multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan, and her fellow JIC founders AACM visionary Muhal Richard Abrams and Bob Koester, longtime proprietor of Delmark Records and the Jazz Record Mart (another JJA-recognized Jazz Hero).

Harriet Choice’s love affair with jazz started in her teen years, thrived as she brought it into her professional journalism, and blossomed further through the kind of activism that supports and enriches the art form – precisely the sort of passionate energy that the Jazz Hero Award was designed to honor.

– Neil Tesser

Terri Pontremoli

2020 Cleveland Jazz Hero

Terri Pontremoli doesn't consider herself to be a marketer, but she has a way with a catchy slogan. When the Tri-C JazzFest, of which she has been the longtime director, was held in April, she came up with this one: "Cleveland rocks but in April it swings." Despite the fact that in this April of social distancing when jazz clubs and other venues are all in a silent way, Pontremoli can add a new slogan to her list of accomplishments: JJA Jazz Hero.

As director of the Tri-C JazzFest, now scheduled for June, and during her tenure as executive and artistic director of the Detroit International Jazz Festival, she raised the profiles of both events while deepening the roots of the festivals in the rich and fertile soils of the communities they call home.

Trained at the Cleveland Institute of Music as a classical violinist Pontremoli was immersed in the music of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and the Great American Songbook by her jazz guitarist father.

In Cleveland, Pontremoli has raised more than $6 million for jazz in Northeast Ohio including winning prestigious national grants, such as the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund in 1999 for a city-wide Duke Ellington centennial celebration and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation JazzNet award (from 2000-2005).

But most notably, she led the creation of many educational programs that are perhaps her most abiding legacy to the music and to the community. "We do a two-week Jazz Camp with JazzFest artists teaching. Those kids get to go to all festival events for free and play at the outdoor stage, which is a huge thrill for them that we're happy to provide," she said. "Furthering the development of players here and creating opportunities to learn, play, arrange and compose—that's what makes our work important."

"Terri Pontremoli has long been one of the country's leading jazz festival producers — a woman of impeccable personal integrity, who understands that high artistic standards, creative programming, robust education programs, and community partnerships all play key roles in creating sustainable festivals," according to Mark Stryker, author of Jazz From Detroit and former arts reporter and critic at the Detroit Free Press.

While the sustainability of festivals, and indeed culture as we know it, is an open question at the moment, the truth of Terri Pontremoli's contribution to the art form in Cleveland is, as the city's musical son Albert Ayler might say, marching in. She's a Jazz Hero.

—John Chacona 

 Norman Provizer

2020 Denver Jazz Heroes

Norman Provizer is a five-tool jazzbeau.

I first came to know him by following the "Jazz Notes" column that he wrote for 20 years for the defunct Rocky Mountain News. Secondly and subsequently, we crossed innumerable times -- and still do -- at Denver County-based jazz gigs, where he's an omnipresent aficionado sporting his jazzy baseball cap.

Thirdly he has had jazz compositions dedicated to him, notably by his Metropolitan State University of Denver colleagues in the Jazz Studies department, saxophonist Fred Hess and cornetist Ron Miles. That testifies to the high esteem in which Norman is held. Fourth: He's written liner notes for cds by many Colorado jazz artists, reviews for journals such as DownBeat, and is an active member of NARAS, the recording academy.

Fifthly and presently, he broadcasts his weekly "Jazz Notes" on KUVO.

Though its stretching the notion to say that he's is a jazz musician/composer, Provizer's presence continues to be a standard of excellence for the Colorado jazz community. In 2013, journalist Mindy Sink wrote in Metropolitan Denver Magazine (produced by the MSUD Office Of Marketing And Communications) that "political science Professor Norman Provizer has steeped himself in both politics and jazz" because, as Dr. Provizer, founder and Director of the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership has stated, "Both politics and jazz are about the art of improvisation."

We of the jazz community, Colorado~based, national and international, too, are blessed that Norman's big ears were excited early in his life by jazzy notes and that the current state of the art form continues to enrapture him. He generously shares with his rapture with his audience, wherever it finds him – in print, on radio or at a show. He's the very spirit of a Jazz Hero.

– Peter Poses

Dr. Ronald B. Weber

2020 Fort Lauderdale Jazz Hero

Start a conversation about the jazz scene in South Florida and it will almost inevitably lead to Dr. Ronald B. Weber.

Weber, at six feet, seven inches tall, is a towering figure in the local jazz community, as well as one of its outspoken ambassadors and enterprising organizers. A founding member of South Florida JAZZ in 1992, he has served as president and artistic director of the non-profit, all-volunteer organization for the past 26 years. Throughout that span, Ron has been brought the jazz's most revered artists (such as Milt Jackson, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny and Ron Carter) to the region, first in conjunction with the Hollywood Jazz Festival and subsequently with South Florida Jazz’s namesake concert series.

Under his leadership, the festival has sustained a diverse program of high-quality performances each season, with a focus on providing a platform for up-and-coming performers whose careers stand to gain from early, widespread exposure. The approach has a proven track record, as Weber points to four artists in particular -- vocalists Cecile McLorin Salvant and Kurt Elling and pianists Brad Mehldau and Hiromi -- who were featured in an SFJ performances before going on to popular and critical acclaim.

With Weber at the helm, SFJ has grown in scope and scale. In addition to its yearly performance season, it supports jazz education in southeast Florida at elementary, high school, and college levels, aiming to introduce young musicians to life under the bright lights through real-world performing experience. Local student ensembles often open for top-billed performers at SFJ shows at Bailey Hall Davie, Florida.

That commitment to jazz education reflects Weber’s foundational interests. Born in Detroit to musically inclined parents, he began playing piano at age five, adding drums at age 11. By 13 when he'd discovered jazz, music had become an obsession. He recalls practicing for up to 12 hours a day during the summers he was studying classical percussion and timpani with members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Then jazz caught Weber’s ears. He anchored the rhythm section in a Mumford High School jazz band that was good enough to play Stan Kenton charts. During college he perfected his craft as a timpanist with the University of Michigan Orchestra and drummer in a jazz quintet that featured future star tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, then enrolled in Detroit's Wayne State University.

Weber gigged throughout college, but as graduation neared, his faced a fork in the road. One path led to a career in jazz, with all its precariousness. His other option was medicine, a field that —no surprise — carried his parents’ blessing. Weber agonized over the choice. Finally a letter from Dave Brubeck, his mentor and frequent dinner guest at Weber’s parents’ house, steered him to his future. “Dave wrote that being a jazz musician was a very difficult and precarious life," our Hero remembers, "except for a scarce few players. If given an opportunity to study a profession such as medicine, [Dave said] I should take it and I could always have music as a wonderful avocation without the anguish. Of course, he was right. That’s pretty much what I did.”

Weber became a respected neurologist in the Fort Lauderdale area (he has since retired), but his passion for jazz hadn’t waned a bit since his college years. It’s in large part due to largesse and guidance such as his that South Florida continues to attract top-notch jazz talent, nurturing students seeking to learn the craft, professionals eager to share it and listeners who benefit from it all. While Dr. Ronald B. Weber may view his endeavors as natural outcomes of his love for jazz and dedication to its perseverance, we see them for what they are: Heroic.

— Brian Zimmerman

Ed Krech

2020 Hartford Jazz Hero

For nearly 50 years, Ed Krech owned and operated a record store in Wethersfield, Connecticut that served as a source of information and inspiration for generations of jazz fans and students from the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the Hartt School of Music and also provided a venue for emerging artists on the Hartford scene to showcase their craft and gain experience performing in front of live audiences. On January 11, 2020, Integrity ’N Music closed its doors for the final time.

In his farewell address to patrons at a closing ceremony featuring performances by trombonist-educator Steve Davis, his guitarist-son Tony Davis, pianist-composer Andrew Wilcox, saxophonist-vocalist Matt Chasen and others, Kerch said: “You have enabled me to live my dream of having a successful record store specializing in jazz. I’ll miss seeing all of my customers and presenting live jazz. I’ll especially miss the conversations about music and so many other topics. It has been a pleasure helping everyone find the music they were seeking, and hopefully, opening your ears to other styles of music.”

A former computer programmer at The Travelers insurance company, Krech opened Integrity ’N Music in 1972 in a storefront at 800 Silas Deane Highway that he rented for $175 a month. Originally a fan of R&B music (his first purchase was a Flamingos record he bought at Al Smith’s Record Bar in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana), he was turned onto jazz as a junior in high school. “From that point on, jazz was my thing,” he recalled. And while the record bins of his store contained all facets of jazz, Krech developed a particular taste for New Orleans' music, regularly visiting the Crescent City for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Jazz Festival and the French Quarter Festival.

A trip to Integrity 'N Music was a rite of passage for students at the Hartt School of Music and The Artists Collective (such as saxophonists Wayne Escoffery and Jimmy Greene, guitarist Sean Clapis, trumpeter Elliott Bird, alto saxophonist Dakota Austin, bassist Conway Campbell Jr., drummers Joshua Leslie and Jonathan Barber) -- they all built their jazz cd and vinyl collections from choice items they picked up there. As customer Ken Sarges told the Hartford Courant, “In Ed we have an expert who knows his music and can give you an explanation. The man has a passion for this. He knows his history and you could easily talk to him for hours. It’s a lost art, really. This place is old school. I’m heartbroken that it’s closing.”

“I’m going to miss it for sure,” said the 75-year-old Krech. “I haven’t really made any profit over the past few years but I’ve been doing it for the love of music, really…that’s what this whole place is about.” Ed Krech has long been a Jazz Hero, deserving recognition and thanks.

Bill Milkowski

Albert Coleman

2020 Indianapolis City Jazz Hero

Club owner, musician and businessman Albert L. Coleman (b. August 18, 1927), is a child of Alvia and Helen Brown Coleman and of Indiana Avenue. He''s been a witness to and participant in the jazz life of this famous, musically fertile stretch, with memories spanning almost a century.

A 1945 graduate of Crispus Attucks High School, Coleman also attended McArthur Conservatory and the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music at Butler University. Jazz historian David Williams has written that he was an accomplished drummer even in childhood, turning to the drums after his father whipped him for secretly selling his saxophone to another talented Indianapolis youngster, Jimmy Coe (who later toured with Jay McShann's band while Charlie Parker was in it).

Albert played with Coe and also Duke Hampton (who led a 14 piece band featuring the four Hampton Sisters), the Montgomery brothers (Buddy, Monk and Wes), trumpeter Freddie Hubbard on his way up and bassist Leroy Vinnegar. Coleman's reputation soared and spread when he convened Henry D. Cain on piano and Will Scott on bass into a trio known as The 3 Souls. In its 50-year career, the group caught gigs at the Cactus Club, Cotton Club and A Place to Play, and had several hits on the Argo label (prior to Chicago's Three Souls trio, which also recorded on Argo).

But gigging didn't fulfill all his ambitions. Coleman operated several businesses, including a vending machine company. He formed a partnership with Robert Smith in 1969 to open up a local motel, Cole-Smith Manor, which he eventually ran as a family business. That same year he purchased the British Lounge, a night club on Indiana Ave., which he reopened as Al’s British Lounge.

"As soon as the ink dried on the contract, I immediately renovated the entire place and made it a class-A establishment," Coleman remembers proudly. As historian Williams has documented, Coleman was a "never-say-die entrepreneur . . .determined to impede the Avenue's march to the graveyard."

That venue's renown has endured despite its relatively short six-year run and the wanton demolition of its street. As photographer Mark Sheldon says, “ It was the hip place to be, back in the day.”

Coleman was married to Anna Dunlop for 62 years (they had two sons, James and Arvine) and in 1978 co-founded the Jacer Inn Family Retreat and Conference Center in Roachdale, Putnam County, initially with one double-wide mobile home and three large tents on 71 acres. The country retreat helped provide inner city residents with life skills, and offered many services, including jazz performances and culture in its programs.

In May 2005, when his 3 Souls bandmate Cain died, Al Coleman laid down his drumsticks forever. But he’s still committed to jazz, attending live performances when possible and compiling a historical list of Naptown musicians begun by the late Willis “Brushfire” Kirk.

“He started with a list of 40 musicians," says Coleman, "then he passed it to me. Now he’s gone, I’ve added Willis himself to the list. David Williams and I are up to 400 musicians now, a few I knew only by nicknames, like “Skillet.” He's also deposited manuscripts and folders of photographers in the Albert and Anna Coleman Collection of the Manuscript and Visual Collections department of William Henry Smith Memorial Library, at the Indiana Historical Society.

As Jazz Hero Albert Coleman anticipates his 93rd birthday this year, he offers this recipe for a long life. “I quit smoking and drinking in the 1980s, and moved out in the country for fresh air,” he reflects. “But I’m never giving up jazz.”

—Leslie Lynnton Fuller

 Billy Mitchell

2020 Los Angeles Jazz Hero

"Pianist Billy Mitchell Uses Music To Save and Enrich Our Youth" was the title of my April 2015 feature article in LAJazz.com about the amazing musician, producer, composer and arranger now being honored by the California Jazz Foundation and the Jazz Journalists Association as a Jazz Hero. Billy’s consistent determination to give back to his community and to inspire young people endears him to all of us.

Born in Tarrytown, New York and raised in Buffalo, his father was a minister and community activist and his mother played and taught piano. So Mitchell was encouraged early on to be concerned about his community and to love and appreciate music.

But he was a late bloomer when it came to playing the piano. Billy first got serious about music during time spent as a student at Morehouse College. While pursuing a political science degree, he joined a local jazz band and was soon playing gigs in and around Atlanta, Georgia. He was gifted enough to play by ear and he could always strike up an appealing groove on the piano. He's said he was inspired by Ahmad Jamal and his super popular 1958 album Poinciana, and enamored of pianist Gene Harris and The Three Sounds, Horace Silver, organist Jimmy Smith and the great Oscar Peterson. Having absorbed the lessons of such icons by listening to them as a young player, when Billy moved to Los Angeles in 1970 he was able to get gigs backing up singers such as Gloria Lynn, Esther Phillips and Randy Crawford.

Two further influences on Mitchell: blues and gospel singer Linda Hopkins and blues bassist-songwriter Willie Dixon. Hopkins taught him how to be a good road warrior, while Dixon told Mitchell to "play music for the common ear, so that anyone can understand what you’re saying.” The pianist took such advice to heart. His seamless versatility have gotten his recordings high on the jazz sales and radio-play charts, whether aimed at straightahead, bebop, or smooth jazz audiences. His refusal to limit himself creatively has earned him respect across musical communities. He recorded, for instance, with r&b singer Charlie Wilson and his Gap Band on their historic first release.

He currently heads Circle of Friends, a Los Angeles based jazz group of outstanding musicians from the local scene, and he's a member of the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited, which has been headed by guitar legend Kenny Burrell. He's performed at international music festivals and countless clubs, been in films (notably, Clint Eastwood’s Bird), has related his clinician lessons in his book, The Gigging Musician (Backbeat Books), and published articles in Gig Magazine.

Billy has long worked with youth underserved by the arts. In 1999, America West Airlines presented him with the ‘Jazz For The Next Generation Award’ for his efforts in that sphere, and in 2002, Billy Mitchell founded SAPPA -- the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy -- designed to increase participation by inner city students in music and arts scholarship competitions. In 2010 founded the Watts-Willowbrook Conservatory (WWC) and Youth Symphony, a workshop designed to transform the lives and minds of youth in communities-of-need through music training and personal development, in partnership with SAPPA.

These satellite projects provide high quality free music classes and exposure to the arts to students ages six through 18, building self-esteem, discipline and creativity among participants who attend one-hour afterschool sessions twice weekly. Designed to establish the network that forms the core of the Watts-Willowbrook Youth Symphony, they comprise young people from South-Central L.A. and the Watts/Compton communities.

The WWC program is sponsored and supported by the Herb Alpert Foundation, the Ayrshire Foundation, California Community Foundation, the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, Southern California Edison, the Colburn Foundation, the California Arts Council and the Jerry & Terri Kohl Foundation. These philanthropies have endorsed Mitchell's continuing efforts, and so do the California Jazz Foundation and the JJA. We join to salute an educator, community activist, musician, journalist -- and I'm proud to say, my friend – Jazz Hero Billy Mitchell.

– DD McNeil

Patty Peterson

2020 Minneapolis Jazz Hero

Patty Peterson is a dynamic vocalist, radio personality and inspirational speaker, with a long-standing commitment to teaching and nurturing the next generation of jazz leaders and an equal history of support for Minneapolis-St. Paul's veteran jazz musicians.

Noted in numerous articles as a world-class jazz and r&b singer, she's been a mainstay, too, of the jingle and voice-over industry and an actress. But as an example of her devotion to the greater local jazz community, she hosts an annual two-hour “Tribute To The Elders” live-in-studio concert featuring artists in their 70s, 80s and even 90s who are still performing, heard on her regular station, KBEM Jazz88. Turning to youth, she's immersed in teaching students enrolled in KBEM’s radio curriculum, applying her characteristic depth and enthusiasm.

Patty was born into a first family of Minnesota music. Her late parents were bandleader, booking agent, and pianist Willie Peterson, who died on the opening day of the Minnesota Twins' 1969 season, and Jeanne Arland Peterson, who, having established herself as a big band and self-accompanying singer/pianist on Minnneapolis-St. Paul radio and tv stations, took over her husband's place playing organ for the Twins' home games, and also his booking agency.

Patty and her mother worked as a jazz duet at the Dakota in the early '90s, and recorded Wish together in 1992; her sister Linda and brothers, Billy, Ricky and Paul are all recording artists who've been involved in the international music scene.

She had begun singing at concerts and recording sessions as a child. In the course of her career Peterson's released six solo albums (most recently Count Your Blessings), and has performed in Los Angeles venues as well as Twin City spots such as Crooners Lounge as well as the Dakota. She's received the coveted Minnesota Music Award seven times, as best vocalist and for best jazz recording, and in 2019 was inducted, along with her siblings, into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.

Jon Bream, reporter for the Star Tribune, wrote under the headline “Patty Peterson Is A Musical Chameleon" that "She can cover anything from Chaka Khan to Cole Porter with equal authority, exhibiting star quality and drive!” A critic in a recent issue of JazzTimes opined, “She stretches her voice to accommodate wrenching emotions and brings it all off with class." Patty Peterson is a class act all the way, with her focus on future jazz artists rooted in her embrace of her immediate family, her own predilections and her city's culture, present and past. To the JJA and music lovers in Minneapolis-St. Paul, she's a Jazz Hero.

– Janis Lane-Ewart

Roberta Alloway

2020 New York City Jazz Hero

Roberta Alloway is a native New Yorker, born and raised on Manhattan’s Lower East side. During a few exciting visits to Harlem, seeing live shows at local clubs and going to the Apollo Theater, she knew Harlem was the place for her to be.

Once Alloway moved to Harlem, as she fondly recalls, she became a jazz groupie. “In the early 1990s there were still a few jazz spots in Harlem and I frequented all of them so much that I became friends with many of the musicians.” One who befriended her was the critically acclaimed cornetist, singer, composer and blues/ jazzman Olu Dara. He suggested she find a bar where musicians could play on a regular basis, weekly. Little did she know that one suggestion would be the path to her becoming a widely acclaimed jazz promoter.

Over the last 25 years Alloway has become the preeminent jazz presenter in Harlem. She began her career in at Mark IV (on St. Nicholas Avenue) with all-star cast local favorites: Saxophonist Patience Higgins, keyboardist Les Kurtz, drummer Eli Fountain and the late bassist Andy McCloud III. In 1993 she moved her "Monday Jam Sessions” across the street to St. Nick’s Pub, turning it into the place for players aspiring and established alike to come in and burn. She named the house band at the Mark IV “The Sugar Hill Jazz Quartet.”

Two of the first to attend St. Nick's on a regular basis and who soon made a splash in the bigger jazz pond were vocalist Gregory Porter and saxophonist James Carter. Almost instantly the Pub became a music haven. Alloway continued earning her stripes by hosting an impressive, Harlem-centric array of artists including vocalists Vanessa Rubin, Rome Neal and Ghanniya Green; tap dancers Savion Glover and Buster Brown; the late baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, keyboadist-singer Donald Smith, trombonist Craig Harris, drummers Greg Bandy, Dave Gibson and Dennis David. Even Wynton Marsalis showed up to play in the wee hours.

Roberta has produced live jazz at Harlem spots such as LaFamille Restaurant, Wells, Carl’s Off the Corner, Birdland (when it was at to 105th St. and Broadway), and Showman’s, which continues to present jazz on weekends. She's currently presenting jazz Monday and Friday Night Jam Sessions at Patrick’s Place (151st St. & Frederick Douglass Blvd.) and on Wednesdays at Ainsworth on 45th St., in the hustle and bustle Times Square area

In recognition her perseverance and success presenting music in more that 50 venues in Harlem and other Manhattan neighborhoods, Alloway was proclaimed “Queen of Harlem” in 2017 by New York City Councilman Bill Perkins (9th District). Now it's the JJA celebrating her reign. She takes it humbly.

“I’m trying to preserve the spirit of Jazz and keep Harlem residents and the international audience involved in the music,” Roberta Alloway says with a big smile. Thanks for that, Jazz Hero!

– Ron Scott

Anthony Tidd

2020 Philadelphia Jazz Hero

A Philly transplant, and the child of Trinidadian parents, Anthony Tidd was born and raised in London, England. Over the next 18 years, Anthony attended the Newham Academy of Music (London), Guild Hall (London), Thurrock College of Music (Grays), and Goldsmiths University (London). He released his first critically acclaimed album with Quite Sane, The Child of Troubled Times, in 2002. But (in his opinion) his true music education took place during his 24-year (and counting) stint with jazz alto saxophonist and MacArthur Fellow Steve Coleman.

Anthony moved to Philadelphia in the late 1990s and immediately became a vital contributor to music and education throughout the city. He served as the Jazz Artistic Advisor to the Kimmel Center and helmed their popular concert series Sittin’ In. He is now a master lecturer at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, and his work as an educator has uplifted and empowered hundreds of Philadelphia’s schoolchildren. He's the mind and impetus behind the Creative Music Program (formerly of the Kimmel Center) and Jazz Camp of Philadelphia, as well as the curator of Meet the Masters. His students have benefited immensely from his influence and his work to bring in his professional colleagues to partner in his music education efforts.

As an international touring bassist, Tidd has had the pleasure of working with a diverse roster of celebrated names, from Greg Osby, Ravi Coltrane and Vijay Iyer to Meshell N’degiocelo, Common, De La Soul, David Byrne and Frank Ocean, among others. He is an accomplished composer/band leader and has written and recorded works for everything from small ensembles to big bands and full orchestras. He's also a Grammy Award winner, having recorded and produced records for multiplatinum artists including The Roots, Macy Grey, Zap Mama, Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, Fergie, Pink, Jill Scott, Ursula Rucker, etc. He's composed scores for major film and television projects, including, most recently, Jay Z’s Paramount/BET docuseries, Rest in Power – The Trayvon Martin Story.

As an educator and long-standing member of the M-BASE collective, Anthony has taught and presented masterclasses at many prestigious institutions including Philly's Temple University and outside the U. the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, Denmark's "folk high school" Engelsholm, The Pavorotti Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Durban University, Paris Conservatory, the London South Bank and the Royal College of Music. But having recently completed construction of a new studio, our Philadelphia Jazz Hero is spending a bulk of his time playing, composing and recording, with thoughts all the while on up and coming jazz generations.

– Mark Christman 

 Ron Steen

2020 Portland OR Jazz Hero

The jam session is at the heart of the jazz tradition. While high school and college jazz programs have proliferated in recent decades, there is no substitute for the knowledge gained by sharing a bandstand with one’s elders and peers in an exposed and competitive setting. Since 1983, Portland drummer Ron Steen has hosted regular weekly jam sessions, often on multiple nights of the week, including in recent years his singer’s showcase at Produce Row Café.

A Portland native, Steen himself learned to swing by sitting in with the older musicians in the African-American-owned clubs on Williams Avenue. In the early 1970s, when he was barely out of his teens, Steen went on the road with saxophonist Joe Henderson for three years. Back in Portland, he formed a trio called Emanon with pianist Tom Grant and bassist David Friesen – both of whom enjoyed national touring and recording careers – that helped launch a Portland jazz renaissance. It peaked, arguably, in the 1980s, but continues to this day, in part thanks to the attentions Ron Steen has invested in it.

In addition to hosting his weekly jam sessions, throughout the '80s Steen led the house trio at the jazz bar Delevan’s. That band backed dozens of major touring solo jazz artists as well as sharing the stage with the best local players.

For the past 50 years, Steen has been a paragon of integrity and consistency in the Portland jazz community. As a jam session host, he is congenial and supportive, giving everyone a chance, at least once. As a bandleader and hired gun, he can rise to any creative challenge the music has to offer, with fierce intelligence and finely honed chops.

As Ron Steen told Lynn Darroch in the book Rhythm In the Rain: Jazz In the Pacific Northwest, “I feel blessed. My whole life has been fortunate. I just love what I’m doing.” That kind of love is a sure mark of a Jazz Hero.

—Rick Mitchell

 Jay Thomas

2020 Seattle Jazz Hero

The tag "Jay Thomas, jazz hero” elicits an “Of course,” and brief smile of acknowledgement from the Seattle jazz community at large. Everyone familiar with the history of jazz in the Pacific Northwest has recognized, and indeed experienced, Jay’s impact on the music here over the past 50 years.

He’s one of the few remaining links to Seattle’s storied jazz past, having performed as a teenager during the mid-’60s in clubs such as the legendary Jackson St. basement spot the Black & Tan. He’s had personal experience with virtually every historic, iconic figure on the local scene for decades. He connects to our future through the students he has mentored, many privately, in the truest sense of the oral tradition, a practice ever-more threatened by academia. And he has built a bridge with jazz music from Seattle, a city with a large and historic Japanese community, to Japan itself, shedding light for us on the music’s vibrance and intense following there.

Thomas did not come to music through academia. He showed early promise as a trumpeter, winning DownBeat “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” attention when he was 17. Next came stints with Machito, James Moody, Harold Land, Cedar Walton and George Cables. But Thomas didn’t walk through some of the doors of opportunity open to him early on, as drug addiction ran like a shadow in the background of his life.

Fortunately, he became sober in 1985, and restarted his career. His remarkable talent can be heard on numerous subsequent recordings, most recently his collaboration with German composer/arranger Oliver Groenewald’s nine-piece Newnet, I Always Knew (Origin, 2018), which can well be described as career-defining.

Thomas is one of the few musicians in jazz history to be a virtuoso of both trumpet and reeds. At times he’ll probe a piece with flugelhorn, then migrate to tenor saxophone. His versatility is a remarkable feat of expression, and has impressed young players of all persuasions.

Indeed, Thomas has left an indelible mark on three generations of Seattle students. The city is known for its award winning high school and middle school jazz programs, but he offers students lessons from the jazz life, having paid his dues on the bandstand. Students may receive the tools to succeed in academia; Thomas leads them to apply those tools in the real world, with a viewpoint from artistry on how to create an actual sound.

His sound has carried him far, with plentiful returns. In 1997, when “looking for a good flute” in a music store in Nagoya, Japan (about 200 miles southwest of Tokyo), Thomas met tenor saxophonist Yasuhiro Kohama. A session that evening at the Nagoya jazz spot Star Eyes cemented a musical bond between the two that persists to this day. Since then, Jay estimates he’s flown to Japan 45 times, resulting in much musical interaction. He’s introduced new, exciting Japanese players to us, including recently 20-year-old piano prodigy Yuki Hirate.

Earshot Jazz bestowed Jay Thomas the honor of serving as the Artist in Residence for the 2019 Earshot Jazz Festival -- now it’s the JJA’s turn to celebrate his heroism. At nearly 71 years of age, he’s playing better than ever, thoughtfully, patiently and with welcome for all. For 50 years he has embodied the spirit of Seattle jazz. May he continue to do so, expanding on his legacy and that of the city which raised this Jazz Hero.

—Paul Rauch

Gene Dobbs Bradford

2020 St. Louis Jazz Heroes

Gene Dobbs Bradford has spent the last 21 years leading the non-profit organization Jazz St. Louis as it advances its defined mission: “…to lead our community in advancing the uniquely American art of jazz through live performance, education and community engagement.” Under his direction, Jazz St. Louis has become one of the premiere jazz performance presenters in the U.S. — as well as building education outreach events that have affected hundreds of thousands of students.

Bradford grew up in Columbia, Maryland, and was inspired by his high school music teacher Lewis Dutrow to pursue a career as a double bass player. He went on to attend the famed Eastman School of Music in preparation for becoming a professional musician, but at Eastman discovered a music-related passion. He found that he enjoyed making music events happen even more than performing in them himself.

Gene’s primary teacher at Eastman, professor of double bass James VanDemark, encouraged his interests in music management. After earning his degree in double bass performance, he entered a fellowship program through the League of American Symphony Orchestras, then went to work in the classical field with the Baltimore Symphony and the Honolulu Symphony Orchestras before being named Director of Operations for the St. Louis Symphony in 1994.

Upon the passing in 1998 of Barbara Rose, who directed the Jazz at the Bistro series and had moved it to Grand Center in 1995, Gene was named her successor. Gene's outgoing personality, ever-present smile, seemingly tireless energy and experience in the non-profit arean helped create the freamework for the growth of the club into new areas. He strategized building a larger audience for the club's jazz performances and expanded educational and community engagement efforts under the organization’s new name - Jazz St. Louis.

After Gene’s extensive fund-raising efforts such as Worldwide Technologies, Jazz St. Louis was able to build the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz, with rehearsal rooms, a recording space, more office area and a jazz lounge added to its footprint in Grand Center. He led the reconstruction of the venue under its new name, the Ferring Jazz Bistro, a state-of-the-art, 220- seat concert room that opened with a performance by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in fall 2014. Now Jazz St. Louis runs a year-round schedule balancing both national and area musicians. The Bistro appears regularly in DownBeat magazine’s annual list of “Best Jazz Clubs.”

Jazz St. Louis’ educational programs includes clinics at local public schools and lunchtime sets for the students by almost all the nationally touring players who perform at the Bistro at night. And Jazz St. L’s JazzU program puts talented middle and high school students into combos that meet weekly at the organization’s rehearsal space.

The JJA is proud to present its 2020 St. Louis Jazz Hero Award to Gene Dobbs Bradford. He has expanded upon the foundation created by Barbara Rose at the original Jazz at the Bistro to create a world-class venue presenting world-class music in St. Louis on a weekly basis. Without performing a note on his double bass, he has shored up the Jazz St. Louis organization that anchors our scene, rolled along with the changes, and raised the bar for performance, education and community engagement to new levels in the metro area.

—Terry Perkins

 Jan and Mark Publow

2020 Tallahassee Jazz Heroes

B Sharps has been presenting jazz performances in Tallahassee for over 12 years now. It’s been both incredible and heartbreaking; wonderful when the 40 seats are full and wrenching when they are not. Every performance here is special, showcasing incredible talent, local and international. One of the consistently positive factors of the whole project has been the dependable presence of two patrons: Jan and Mark Pudlow. Every venue needs a base of support. The Pudlows are anchors of B Sharps Jazz Society.

I remember their first time at a show, about a decade ago. I had not started selling tickets on the Internet yet, so the Pudlows were standing in line, waiting to come in. When Jan got to the head of the line, she said, 'Oh, please tell me you have room. It’s my birthday.”

I turned to look at the room and there was an available two-top right in the front. Relieved. I said, “Yes! That table up front is waiting for you!!” Jan was so happy. That front table has been theirs, all through the 2010s. We’ve celebrated their other birthdays together since then, and Jan and Mark have attended many, many performances. They are patrons who buy season tickets, and if they have a scheduling conflict they send their friends in their stead. In many cases they’ll bring their friends with them.

Both Jan and Mark have had journalism careers. She spent many years as a reporter and editor for the Tallahassee Democrat, then became a senior editor of the Florida Bar, from which she retired. Mark was a reporter for the Democrat, too, eventually becoming a spokesperson for the Florida Education Association, now retired for several years. Asked about his interests outside work, he says music is his love, and mentions pianist Marcus Roberts, longtime professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, as one of his favorites.

Through out the past 12 years B Sharps has closed twice, moved out of town and rented a building, always trying to navigate a path that’s unchartered and/or a maze. The Pudlows are staunchly with us. They understand the difficulties of keeping a jazz club open. They always stand with us, offering encouragement. They’ve been the backbone of our efforts, and they so love the music.

Over the years they've have become not just audience members but also advisors. I’m not sure what the Jazz Society would be without them. Thank goodness I don’t ever have to know! We honor the steadfastness of Jan and Mark Pudlow in their appreciation of the listening room we’ve created and the music that's made in it. They are truly Tallahassee’s 2020 Jazz Heroes!

Gerri Seay

Sunny Sumter

2020 Washington, DC Jazz Hero

Sunny Sumter is executive director of the D.C. Jazz Festival. In that capacity, she is a presenter, publicist, educator, preservationist, activist, advocate, and—in her own description—jazz champion. She is also a vocalist, formerly a staple of the Washington, D.C. jazz scene. However, it has been in her work since leaving the stage in that Sunny has achieved the title of Jazz Hero.

A native of Washington D.C., Sunny grew up singing in the church, learning about jazz from her grandmother: She marks the first hearing of Sarah Vaughan’s “Lullaby of Birdland” as the moment that made her want to sing jazz. She attended D.C.’s prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts, then matriculated at Howard University, where she majored in music business and minored in jazz vocals (studying with Geri Allen and Grady Tate). She also counts as a mentor Roy Hargrove, partly for encouraging her to forego her desire to make the scene until she had completed her degree at Howard.

At one time aspiring to live in New York, Sunny instead rededicated herself to her hometown. She maintained a popular residency at the Washington Plaza Hotel and recorded three albums, including 1998’s Sunny! (Mapleshade) with Larry Willis, Keter Betts, and Jimmy Cobb—which allowed her to tour internationally.

Sunny retired (perhaps temporarily) from performing in the 2000s to start a family. She also went to work at the Aspen Institute, giving her access to the Washington nonprofit sphere that would prove an asset when Charlie Fishman, founder of what was then the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, called to invite her to join him. Sunny developed the festival’s partnerships with major stakeholders and institutions in Washington, also working to nourish its educational component as a partner of D.C. Public Schools.

Under her leadership, the D.C. Jazz Festival (so renamed in 2009) has become one of the largest and most popular jazz festivals in the United States, a summertime destination and a permanent beacon on Washington D.C.’s civic and cultural calendar. The DCJF, and Sunny Sumter along with it, is credited with refurbishing the capital’s reputation as a center for culture and the arts.

In addition to her work with the Festival, Sunny is a fellow at the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland and a member of National Arts Strategies’ Chief Executive Program. These forums allow her to reach small jazz and arts institutes around the country and inform their business practices and affect change in their communities. Sunny Sumter's commitment on multiple fronts to broadening the horizons of jazz, culture, and community in D.C. and beyond is surely the makings of a Jazz Hero.

 – Michael J. West