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Tributes Marked Jazz Releases in 2008

The jazz world celebrated a variety of tributes in 2008, many of them dedicated to its most influential players.

One of the year's best-selling jazz albums, by veteran keyboardist and composer Herbie Hancock, proved a hit among pop fans as well. His tribute to Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters, featuring vocalist Norah Jones and others, received three Grammy Awards in 2008, including one for Album of the Year. It's only the second jazz album ever to take that title.

Singer Michael Buble topped the Jazz Albums chart for most of 2008 with Call Me Irresponsible. Not far behind, were albums by saxophonists Kenny G and David Sanborn, trumpeter Chris Botti, and the dazzling new bassist Esperanza Spalding.

Unusual jazz-country collaboration

The 1970s fusion group, Return To Forever, reunited for a sold-out tour and the release of a compilation album. On one of the most unusual pairings in years, jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and country singer Willie Nelson teamed up for the Number One album, Two Men With The Blues.

Wynton Marsalis has never been accused of being predictable. His Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra closed out the year by joining forces with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre for a month-long celebration of Ailey's 50th anniversary season at New York City Center.

Thelonius Monk, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis remembered

Jazz tributes began rolling out as early as January with a concert honoring the 90th birthday of the late pianist Thelonious Monk. Singer Billie Holiday was remembered with the release of a new biography; a Miles Davis photo exhibition was unveiled in New York to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the trumpeter's landmark album, Kind Of Blue; and there were tributes to the late "King Of The Vibes" Lionel Hampton on the anniversary of his 100th birthday; to swing guitarist Django Reinhardt by the "Young Lions Of Gypsy Jazz;" to trumpeter Clifford Brown during a three-day symposium, titled "Brownie Speaks;" and to "Old Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra, who was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with the release of his very own postage stamp.

Washington, D.C. hosts Duke Ellington Jazz festival

It's safe to say that Washington, D.C. has regained its reputation as one of the world's leading destinations for jazz. This year alone, the Nation's Capital hosted the 4th Annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, the 7th Annual Jazz Appreciation Month, and a nine-day celebration of the history of jazz in Washington from the early-1900s - 1968.

2008 marked the passing of legendary jazz and soul organist Jimmy McGriff, as well as clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, pianists Dave McKenna and Gerald Wiggins, guitarists Joe Beck and Hiram Bullock; bandleader Bob Florence, and big band singer Jo Stafford.

Benny Goodman tribute planned for 2009

Gone but not forgotten is "The King Of Swing" Benny Goodman, with celebrations already under way for his 100th birthday on May 30, 2009. The Chicago Jazz Ensemble marked the beginning of the centennial with a performance honoring the 70th anniversary of Goodman's famous Carnegie Hall concert.

Blue Note Records will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2009, and Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker has been tapped to direct and star in a film based on the life of Louis Armstrong called What A Wonderful World.