IAJE 2003 – Impressions

Impressions from IAJE 2003
by Mark Ruffin

Anita Baker and Wynton Marsalis have found a home together. A record label home, that is. That tidbit of information was just a small part of the buzz at the 30th annual International Association of Jazz Education convention, held earlier this month in Toronto, Canada.

For a forecast of what’s happening in the jazz industry, or a summary of what happened, nothing beats the IAJE. When 7,000 jazz musicians get together for four days, it becomes an incredible, continuous jam session and party where someone’s always playing, singing, networking, spreading news, gossiping and/or separating truth from fiction.

On the record side of the jazz business, vocalists and dead artists still rule the roost. Of the top ten selling jazz artists from 2002, nine are vocalists; the other is the late great John Coltrane, who posthumously earned his first gold record last year. With that trend in mind, it’s no wonder that concerts and seminars at the IAJE that featured singers were well attended.

Record companies trotted out their stars for what could be called the auto show of the jazz world. Nancy Wilson, Nnenna Freelon and Abbey Lincoln were all very visible at the convention, to go along with their stage appearances. But most of the buzz surrounded newcomer Lizz Wright, who Verve Records and legendary producer, Tommy LiPuma, are banking on becoming the next big jazz vocal star.

Miss Wright’s set was stunning as she covered ground from Billie Holiday and Betty Carter, to Flora Purim and the overlooked jazz heroine, Terry Thornton. At 23, Wright is the real deal; respectful of her heritage, but also with a modern, almost neo-soul flair. She has a lot in common, texturally, with fellow Atlanta singer, India Arie

Miss Wright’s new record is just one of a number of vocalists with records due out this year. Her debut, Salt, will hit this spring, while other vocalists including Diane Reeves, Freddie Cole and Kevin Mahogany, among others, had representatives at the IAJE touting their upcoming 2003 projects.

As far as record companies, hands down, it was Blue Note that made the most splash at this convention. While most of the major labels all had booths, including Verve, Concord and Warner Brothers, no other label head was more visible than Blue Note president, Bruce Lundvall. His staff was also very active, and while none would talk about it on the record, Blue Note staffers did confirm that the label has snagged two of the most desirable free-agent names in adult music in Anita Baker and Wynton Marsalis.

It turns out that half of the rumors that’s been floating out of Detroit, concerning Baker were true. Word of a comeback was confirmed with her unique test-the-water-can-my family-handle-it, three-city holiday tour that included New York, Chicago and Houston. One rumor had her making her own album and selling to the highest bidder. The other rumor was that after hearing her sing jazz on a Cyrus Chestnut album, Lundvall had talked Baker into making a jazz record.

She did indeed executive produce her own record, and Blue Note is the winner. But it’s not a jazz record. To quote a label source, “why would we want her to make a record that’s not her?”

As far as Marsalis and Blue Note, the marriage truly seems to be a no-brainer, considering their individual histories. Despite the upcoming historic album by the collective Marsalis family, recorded for the very first time by Branford Marsalis’ new record label, the rumor that Wynton was joining his brother’s venture were off. One joke going around the IAJE that probably had more than an ounce of truth in it was that Branford couldn’t afford his younger brother.

The most surprising development from an established jazz star comes from the camp of Roy Hargrove. While he wasn’t at the convention, his popular manager, Larry Clothier, and representatives from his record company, Verve, were positively glowing with the news that the trumpeter’s long awaited jazzy hip-hop record is finally coming out.

Hargrove, who stunned both the jazz and hip-hop world with his innovative contributions to D’Angelo’s Voodoo album and tour, has formed a group called the RH Factor. They won’t be playing your favorite be-bop club anytime soon, and chances are you won’t be hearing them on your favorite public radio station.. The record, which Verve let a few insiders hear, includes Erikah Badu, Common, Q-Tip and D’Angelo also returns the favor to Hargrove.

What’s up in the record biz is only a very small part of this huge annual schmooze fest. There are non-stop conferences and seminars for every level of jazz participation, from dedicated fan to serious musician. The on-going performances feature the best in high school and college bands, and well-known stars and jazz legends. In addition to that continuous activity, there’s a 70,000 square foot exposition hall with over 300 exhibits.

The IAJE is a jazz lovers’ paradise and more and more people are making sure to have a weekend free every January to experience this unique convention. Next year it’s in New York. If they want to know what’s going on jazz fanatics shouldn’t miss it.

For some great IAJE2003 pictures, check out the Dr.Jazz Website Photo Section!