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Jazz Artists Revel in Year's Successes - 2003-12-24

This story is part of VOA's 2003 in Review series

Thanks to some fine vocal albums, well-publicized reunions and anniversaries, and record-breaking attendance at outdoor festivals, jazz enjoyed one of its best years ever in 2003. VOA's Doug Levine tells us more about the year in jazz, which included a best-selling album by an all-star baseball player.

His team didn't win the World Series but off the field New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams hit a home run with debut his album, The Journey Within. Who even knew Williams played jazz guitar? Bernie first studied classical music in his native Puerto Rico. He began playing electric guitar after high school, and quickly mastered blues and jazz. As if playing baseball and jazz guitar weren't enough, Bernie also composes music, including the salsa-flavored Desvelado.

From baseball superstar to aging rock star, 2003 was the year Elvis Costello had his share of the jazz spotlight, in more ways than one. With the release of his number one jazz album North,Costello proved why he's considered one of today's best ballad singers and songwriters. He describes North as an album about "melody, harmony, mood and emotion mostly emotion." An emotional Elvis also made news when he married jazz singer Diana Krall in December, a match some say was made in musical heaven.

From North, Elvis Costello with When It Sings.

Mrs. Elvis Costello, better known as Diana Krall, had her own share of musical success in 2003 with her album, Live In Paris, winning a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

You don't have to look any lower than number one for singer Norah Jones who maintained that coveted ranking on Billboard's Jazz Albums Chart with Come Away With Me. Of course, taking home eight Grammy Awards for everything from Album and Record of the Year to Best New Artist will be a hard act to follow. Congratulations, Norah.

Singer, pianist, composer and arranger Peter Cincotti took a break from his studies at Columbia University to launch a jazz career in 2003. And what a career it is: Already a best-selling album, network television appearances, concert tours in the United States and Europe, magazine covers, and roles in two upcoming feature films. Cincotti indeed had a very good year.

Fans and critics also applauded country singer-turned jazz stylist Susie Boggus for her album Swing, as well as new collections of standards by vocalists Aaron Neville and Steve Tyrell.

In the year's jazz reunion department, three original members of The Crusaders joined forces for a new album and world tour. It seemed like old times when pianist Joe Sample, saxophonist Wilton Felder and drummer Stix Hooper brought back their trademark blend of jazz, R&B and soul. Some fans who may not want to show their age, remember the group when they were known as The Jazz Crusaders in the 1960s.

The Crusaders took the audience down memory lane at the 46th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival which drew a record crowd in 2003. Monterey also boasted an all-star vocal summit led by Jon Hendricks, the premiere of a new work by Ralph Towner and Gary Burton, a dizzying display of high school jazz bands, and the debut of a new film by Clint Eastwood in honor of "The Year of the Blues."

And it was the year of Concord Records. The Northern California jazz label with a catalogue of over 10,000 song titles celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2003.

Jazz flutist Herbie Mann was a world music pioneer, fusing American jazz with the rhythms and harmonies of Africa, India, Cuba, the Middle East and Japan. He was open to any style of music and even recorded pop, disco, bossa nova and reggae. After a long battle with cancer, Mann died in 2003 at age 73. Sadly, the music world also said goodbye to two more jazz giants: Bandleader Benny Carter and Latin percussionist Mongo Santamaria.

Looking ahead to 2004, plans are in place for the Glenn Miller Centennial celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary jazz bandleader Glenn Miller. Remembered for such swing era hits as String of Pearls and In The Mood, Miller was only 40-years-old when he died in a plane crash over the English Channel in 1944. The Glenn Miller Centennial will include new releases and coast-to-coast tribute concerts and radio broadcasts.