Reflections on the National Jazz Awards by Stanley Fefferman

April 9, 2008, Palais Royale, Toronto.

Congratulations to Bill King and the NJA crew for bringing in this elegant seventh edition of an event that generates recognition and the warmth of social connections in the jazz music community.

The light of recognition that the NJA beamed at the work of jazz pioneers in Canada was reflected onto the ‘next generation’, who added their own radiance. Foremost among them was Nikki Yanofsky. She sang, “When you wish upon a star,” and left no doubt in my mind that among the many brilliant artists in the room, she was ‘the’ star. When she belts out a tune, her energy, virtuosity and taste just take you away.

Brandi Disterheft, just Junoed and still young compared to fellow nominee, bassist Dave Young, led her Quartet and guests through the chores of house band, but made some really new music with their opening number. They managed to generate a big band sound while vocalist Sophia Pearlman and Chris Gale on sax wailed an African chant with a complex multi-percussion line jolting in the background and under that the groaning rumble of Brandi’s bass. Music from the gone world.

There was a tribute to three recently late greats: Doug Riley, Jeff Healey, and Oscar Peterson. The musical tribute to Healey was a version of the 1928 standard” If I Had You,” played by guitarist of the year Reg Schwager. Quiet, unassuming, like the man himself, this performance seemed magically touched by the greatness of the late Lenny Breau.

The most interesting moment of the evening for me was the closing line of Geoff Chapman’s speech acknowledging his sixth consecutive win in the ‘Journalist’ category. He said, “Don’t get me wrong: next year, choose somebody else.”

There is indeed a sense that the nominees selected in each category by a committee of industry leaders constitute a ‘chosen few’, and that the awards tend to circulate or stagnate in the pool of these ‘chosen’ despite a wide and expanding public balloting system. It may be that this apparent anomaly will fix itself over the years as we cultivate more big fish in this country’s jazz pool. It may also be that the whole NJA process will naturally become a bit less GTAcentric.

Click here for a list of the winners of the NJA 2008 Awards

Wasn’t it that icon of jazz broadcasters and perpetual award winner Ted O’Reilly who used to close his radio show “The Jazz Scene” with the words “Think good thoughts.” Well, I like to think about the thoughts expressed by Céline Peterson and Ben Riley: that their late, great, honouree fathers, Oscar and Doug, “were looking down on us” with a grin. This is what I’m talking about.

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