JJ 05/89: Jazz awards

Steve Voce on the awards business. Part of the column It Don't Mean A Thing, first published in Jazz Journal, May 1989

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L-R: Steve Voce, Ruby Braff and Max Jones at Manchester Sports Guild, 1965. Photo by BSL Gray

I saw a copy of The Melody Maker for the first time in many years. Not a pretty sight these days, and even worse to read. Max Jones must feel sad when he sees things such as I encountered in one of their record reviews: ‘DO NOT ENCOURAGE THIS SHAPELESS, LIFELESS SHIT IN ANY SHAPE OR FORM’. Their capitals.

I abhor the lack of vocabulary and imagination, but suspect that if the writer was referring to most of the so called popular music of the last 30 years, he should be encouraged in his unrestrained condemnation of it. The Melody Maker, for several decades in the vanguard of British writing about jazz, has been given over to the dirty toenail brigade these many years.

In truth you can count the number of contemporary British jazz magazines on the fingers of one fairly badly chopped up hand.

A couple of the newer magazines seem to think that they need a jazz equivalent of Page Three in The Sun to draw the attention of an otherwise less than hysterical readership. They call it British Jazz Awards and take it upon themselves to name what they allege are the ‘best’ musicians of the year on behalf of all the rest of us.

This is the same cynical formula that is used by the European Song Contest and is of course of comparable intelligence. It has always been known that such polls are nonsense and give mild offence to musicians and followers alike. They are either embarrassing or mean very little to those who win. Should Brian Lemon be grateful for being instructed that he is the best pianist? Should Alan Barnes worry because he is bottom in the clarinet poll behind Sammy Rimington, John Crocker and Ian Wheeler? Is he remotely comparable to those three? Is Digby Fairweather (2nd) a better jazz trumpeter than Kenny Wheeler (9th)? Again, are they even comparable? Courtney Pine didn’t get into the top ten tenor players, although Tony Coe and Alan Skidmore managed to scrape in at 9th and 10th.

In one of these polls only five alto players received votes in a ‘best of ten’ classification (seemingly assuming that Nigel Hitchcock, one of the finest alto saxophone players that Britain has so far produced, doesn’t actually exist). The same situation occurred when the five voters (presumably that’s all there were) chose only five guitarists and five baritone sax players. As is now the extraordinary manner in these polls, readers are given four musicians already chosen in each category on their voting forms, thus locking out another four the hapless form filler might prefer.

The clincher in these thoroughly undemocratic and nonsensical elections, is that none of the voting figures are ever published. This glaring fact needs no comment or explanation.

The hundreds of thousands of votes in this column’s British Jazz Awards for 1989 are now in, and, while they haven’t been counted, it is thought appropriate to publish the results in certain categories where the voting papers have been thrown away or inadvertently mislaid. You are invited to fill in your own choices in the categories where no results are given (originally I filled these in myself with smart answers but, given the climate of the times, I decided not to emulate the soon to be smoked Salman). You will notice that no attempt has been made to fill the rest of the magazine with related advertising of the ‘Jim Godbolt Uses Only Venus Pencils’ or ‘The manufacturers of Palmolive would like to congratulate Go Go Gloria . . .’ type.

Best small trumpet player: Jack Sheldon.

Best trumpet player: Jack Sheldon.

Best band made up of married musicians over 45 years old with families: Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Worriers.

Best British girl washboard player over 45:

Best most self-effacing trombone player: 1. Roy Williams; 2. Jimmy Knepper; 3. Carl Fontana; 4. Urbie Green.

Best British jazz musician not here any more: Danny Moss.

Best completely forgotten trad clarinet player most deserving of further obscurity: see Rushdie reference above.

Best trad clarinet player to turn into a wailing jazz all-rounder: Acker Bilk.

Best curmudgeon of the year: Jim Godbolt (Bill Colyer says can he have his books back).

Best baritone sax player’s wife: Pat Barnes.

Best jazz benefactor: Jack Sheldon for his social work with Go Go Gloria.

Best Australian jazz musician: Danny Moss.

Best trad drummer: voting in this category restricted to drummers. How many fingers am I holding up?

Photogenic jazz personality with widest smile: Bill Ashton.

Best scrambler of jazz into Urdu: the man in charge of the amplification during the recent tour by the Stan Tracey Orchestra.

Best close-in raconteur: Bill Colyer.

Best gold fillings: Bill Ashton.

Best really long announcements in between concert numbers: Stan Tracey.

Best hanger for crumpled jazz sweat shirts: Eddie Cook.

Best baritone sax player: Pat Barnes’ husband.

Best picture of Kid Ory with Will Hay: Jazz Journal, March 1989, page 2.

Best most persecuted jazz writer: 1. Richard Palmer; 2. Stanley Dance; 3. Jim Godbolt; 4. Steve Voce.

Jazz Personality of whom most photographs published: Bill Ashton in NYJO newsletter.

The Doc Daneeka (of Catch 22) Award for the best alto player who doesn’t actually exist: Nigel Hitchcock.

Best alto player completely ignored in other polls because he comes from up here and everybody knows there are only 5 alto players in Britain: Dave Mott.

Best Jazz social worker: Go Go Gloria for her work with Jack Sheldon.

Best ghost band: Harry Gold & His Pieces of Eight.

You might worry about who Go Go Gloria is. She used to travel with Woody Herman’s band and had a band uniform I serially made for her. According to Sheldon her lower lip is very, very long, but this doesn’t matter because her upper lip covers it. When Jack first met her she was sitting on the Golden Gate Bridge, dangling her legs in the water. ‘Are you free tonight?’ he asked, thinking to date her. ‘No,’ she answered, ‘But I’m reasonable.’