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2004 Another Solid Year for Jazz


It was another solid year for jazz in 2004. There was the 50th anniversary of the granddaddy of all jazz festivals in Newport, Rhode Island; the opening of a new home for Jazz at Lincoln Center; and lively recorded tributes to the Great American Songbook. VOA's Doug Levine has more on these and other highlights of the year in jazz.

Paying one's respects to the great composers of the American pop standard is nothing new in jazz. But, in 2004, there was an unusually high output of recordings by singers and instrumentalists who wanted to give something back to those immortal songsmiths whose simple, catchy melodies keep getting better with time.

Pianist and vocalist Harry Connick, Junior, had one of the best-selling jazz albums of the year with his collection of pop classics, Only You.

Albums by Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Al Jarreau and Anita Baker also fared well in 2004.

Jazz stars were shining bright in Newport, Rhode Island, where the 50th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival was celebrated with as much fanfare as a presidential inauguration. Harry Connick, Jr., previewed his Only You tour at Newport, and there were standout performances by Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, Ornette Coleman and many more. Perhaps the brightest star was the festival's founder and producer George Wein, who over the years brought some of the biggest names from modern jazz, big band, Dixieland, fusion and gospel to the Newport stage.

Wein was one of seven recipients of the 2004 Jazz Master Fellowships presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. The other honorees were Shirley Horn, Artie Shaw, Slide Hampton, Paquito D'Rivera, Jimmy Smith and guitarist Kenny Burrell.

Speaking of prestigious awards, the winner of the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition was 28-year-old vocalist Gretchen Parlato. Congratulations, Gretchen!

Congratulations were also in order for Jazz at Lincoln Center, which opened its new home, the Frederick P. Rose Hall, at Columbus Circle in New York City. The new center houses three stages, including the Rose Theatre for jazz and other performing arts; the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame; an education center, a foundation studio and the Louis Armstrong Classroom.

The jazz world mourned the loss of some very special musicians in 2004, including Ray Charles whose musical mastery touched millions of fans around the globe. Also gone, one of the so-called "Great Guitarists" Barney Kessel; be-bop drummer Elvin Jones; saxophonists Illinois Jacquet, Steve Lacy and Robin Kenyatta; and trumpeter Mark Ledford.

Singer Dinah Washington was remembered in 2004 on the anniversary of her 80th birthday. Discovered by bandleader Lionel Hampton at age 19, Dinah pursued her craft like no other, turning her love for blues and gospel into one of the most successful recording careers in pop and jazz history. Long after her death in 1963, Dinah is still considered the "Queen of the Blues."