News / Arts & Entertainment

2011 a Milestone Year for Jazz

Doug Levine

2011 was a milestone year in jazz.  It was a year filled with special birthday celebrations, anniversaries, recordings and awards.

Esperanza holds the Grammy Award for Best New Artist
Esperanza holds the Grammy Award for Best New Artist

Jazz history was made at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards** when singer and bass player Esperanza Spalding was named the year’s Best New Artist.  It was the first time that a jazz artist took home the award.

Spalding’s third solo album Chamber Music Society was an overwhelming success, landing at Number One on the jazz chart. Following her Grammy win, it climbed into the Top 40 on the Billboard 200 pop albums chart.  It was one of the best-selling jazz albums of the year, behind Joy To The World by Pink Martini, three albums by singer Michael Buble: Hollywood: The Deluxe, Crazy Love and Christmas, and, at Number One, Tony Bennett’s Duets II.

Tony Bennett's "Duets II" CD
Tony Bennett's "Duets II" CD

Bennett’s follow-up to his 2006 release Duets: An American Classic marks the first time he’s reached the Number One spot on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart.  Tony Bennett, who turned 85 in August, is the oldest living artist to debut at Number One.  He shares his love for the Great American Songbook with Norah Jones on “Speak Low,” as well as Lady Gaga, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Willie Nelson and a dozen more.

It’s not too late to wish Wynton Marsalis a happy birthday.

Wynton Marsalis' "Swinging Into the 21st" CD
Wynton Marsalis' "Swinging Into the 21st" CD

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis celebrated his 50th birthday with a series of concerts at Lincoln Center.  To coincide with the festivities, the nine-time Grammy winner, and the **first jazz artist to win a Pulitzer Prize for music, released an ambitious collection of his works from 1999 and 2000 titled Swingin’ Into The 21st!

While there was plenty to celebrate in 2011, it was also a time for remembrance.  Sadly, the jazz world bid farewell to pianists George Shearing and Ray Bryant, trumpeter Snooky Young, drummer Paul Motian, bassist Charles Fambrough, guitarist Cornell Dupree, and vocalist and poet Gil Scott-Heron.

Gone but not forgotten is saxophonist John Coltrane who would have turned 85 years old in September.  Coltrane’s 1961 album Africa/Brass is part of the commemorative box set First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the House That Trane Built, Impulse Records.

**We earlier said the 54th Grammy Awards instead of the 53rd, and that Wynton Marsalis was the only jazz artist to win a Pulitizer Prize for Music, VOA regrets the error.

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