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Album Sales, Revamped New Orleans Festival Mark 2006 in Jazz

It was a year of anniversaries in jazz, including a highly touted 80th birthday celebration for singer Tony Bennett. Also in 2006, jazz album sales were swift, the Jazz and Heritage Festival made a heroic return to New Orleans, and Thelonious Monk received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. VOA's Doug Levine has more on these and other highlights of the year in jazz.

What better way to celebrate your birthday than with close friends? And, what a lineup of close friends to celebrate with: James Taylor, Celine Dion, Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Diana Krall and Barbra Streisand who, among other music celebrities, dropped into the studio to appear on Tony Bennett's album, Duets - An American Classic. Fans were also treated to an hour-long television special, "Tony Bennett - An American Classic." Taking it all in stride, Tony was honored at a star-studded birthday tribute at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

2006 marked the 40th anniversary of Milestone Records, the jazz label that produced landmark recordings by Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson and Jimmy Smith.

Also in 2006, trumpeter Miles Davis was remembered on the anniversary of his 90th birthday; pianist Tigran Hamasyan from Armenia took home first prize at the 20th Annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition; and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrated its 40th birthday with a tribute to musical traditions of the Gulf Coast, and in particular, New Orleans jazz.

Many wondered if the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival would ever return after Hurricane Katrina, but in the true spirit of bringing music to the people, Jazz Fest commenced without a hitch at the new and improved Fair Ground's Race Course. The festival was promoted as a homecoming for New Orleans musicians and residents displaced by the hurricane.

Among the winners of the 90th Annual Pulitzer Prize was be-bop pianist Thelonious Monk. He was awarded a Special Citation for his impact on the evolution of jazz. Monk was the first jazz musician and composer to receive the award since Duke Ellington was honored in 1999.

One of the top-selling albums of 2006 was a re-issue of Thelonious Monk's Riverside sessions of 1957, featuring saxophonist John Coltrane. Fans continued to stick with the tried and true, snapping up new releases of vintage recordings by Nat "King" Cole, Louis Armstrong, Bill Evans and Ray Charles.

The world has Atlantic Records to thank for signing Ray Charles, as well as rhythm-and-blues vocalist Ruth Brown. With her many hits like "I'll Wait For You," "Teardrops From My Eyes" and "Oh What A Dream," Atlantic became known as "The House That Ruth Built." Sadly, Ruth Brown died on November 17 at the age of 78.

2006 also saw the passing of vocalists Anita O'Day and Lou Rawls; trumpeter Maynard Ferguson; saxophonists Jackie McLean and Dewey Redman; pianists John Hicks, Duke Jordan and Hilton Ruiz; and "The Godfather of Latin Jazz," drummer Ray Barretto.

Jazz singers were all the rage, a trend that bode well for Canadian crooner Michael Buble. Surpassing the two-million mark in sales, his album It's Time dominated the jazz charts in 2006.