The L.A. Jazz Society held its 28th annual awards dinner Sunday night, which I was pleased to host…but chances are you didn’t read or hear about it, in spite of the presence of Quincy Jones, Arturo Sandoval, and other musical heavyweights, along with such music fans as Andy Garcia and Beau Bridges. It’s further evidence that jazz has been marginalized by the mainstream media; you won’t find it on the Grammy Awards telecast or in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, which no longer officially covers it.
That’s both sad and ironic, because jazz and Los Angeles’ home-town industry of moviemaking have had a long and rich relationship, which was very much in evidence at the Sunday soiree. In presenting the 2011 Jazz Vocalist award to Monica Mancini, Quincy Jones recalled how Monica’s father Henry went to bat for him when—
—he was hired to write his first major-studio movie score—for Mirage, in 1965—and Universal was horrified to discover he was black. That act of kindness cemented a bond between Quincy and the entire Mancini family that endures to this day. (Monica then performed two songs, including an uptempo version of her father and Johnny Mercer’s Charade, which of course was a movie theme.)
Drummer Ed Shaughnessy, who played for years with Doc Severinsen on The Tonight Show, gave a cash prize to a promising young singer named Maddie Petersil. He called it The Cinderella Award after his late wife, Ilene Woods, who was the voice of the title character in Walt Disney’s animated classic Cinderella.
Andy Garcia bestowed the evening’s ultimate award on Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, whom he portrayed in the HBO movie For Love or Country. Sandoval gave a heartfelt speech—reciting the lyrics he’d written to a song in honor of his mentor, Dizzy Gillespie—and then blew the roof off the house with an hour-long set in which he played with an all-star big band. In fact, he didn’t want to get off the stage. He performed a beautiful piano solo, teamed up with ace trumpeter Wayne Bergeron on Gordon Goodwin’s two-trumpet feature “Maynard and Waynard” and had the band join him for an improvised blues. (Incidentally, Arturo has a recent movie credit: he’s featured on the soundtrack of Rango.)
The tribute also honored veteran trombonist and teacher Ira Nepus and the annual Lifetime Achievement Award went to the prodigiously talented saxophonist Jeff Clayton, who performed with his equally gifted bass-playing brother John. Their partner in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, master drummer Jeff Hamilton, presented the Shelly Manne New Talent Award to a 14-year-old sax prodigy named Max Lesser, who played an impressive set with some of his schoolmates.
Jeff told me he enjoys being associated with an award named after the late, great drummer Shelly Manne, who was one of the first jazzmen to break into the Hollywood studio world. In fact, he lived a double life for many years, playing on soundtracks of movies and TV shows by day and jamming in clubs (including his own) at night—yet another aspect of the Hollywood-jazz connection. Shelly’s ever-youthful widow Flip is the heart and soul of the L.A. Jazz Society. (To learn more about their activities, and watch some great video clips, click HERE.
Yes, jazz was alive and well at the Society’s soiree, which I’ve hosted for the past eight years. Since the Society supports students and up-and-coming professionals with its school programs, scholarships, and a hugely important mentorship program involving the city’s top professionals, I know this music has a bright future as well. If more people had been able to hear Arturo Sandoval and a blazing 16-piece band as I did Sunday night, they might be downloading jazz tracks along with the latest pop hits.
MORE PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT