Jazz has a few big nights, but they’re scattered like rumors, relegated to Sunday afternoon at the Grammy Awards, or the occasional jazz legend honored by the Kennedy Center.  There’s the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters event in the spring, and there persist some amazing festivals: Newport, Monterey, the North Sea, Marciac, New Orleans, Detroit, and Five Points. There’s International Jazz Day annually on April 30.  But now we have what’s being billed as “the biggest night in jazz,” the Jazz Music Awards, founded in 2022 by Wendy Williams, general manager of the jazz radio station in Atlanta, WCLK, affiliated with Clark University.

Last Saturday night at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center was dedicated entirely to the art form of jazz, a star-studded affair with NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater and actor Delroy Lindo as emcees, and Terri Lyne Carrington as musical director.  Performers at the inaugural event included Dianne Reeves, Kenny Garrett, Ledisi and Lizz Wright, as well as Award nominees Jazzmeia Horn, Somi, Lindsey Webster, Brian Bromberg, The Baylor Project, Brandee Younger, and Orrin Evans.

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Wayne Shorter.  The late piano genius McCoy Tyner was awarded the Jazz Legend Award, accepted by his son Dean Tyner.  Longtime Atlanta music educator Dr. James H. Patterson received the Jazz Impact Award.  Three “Awards of Distinction” went to:

Jazz Innovator Award                       Ambrose Akinmusire

Jazz Composer Award                      Henry Threadgill

Jazz Educator Award                        Dr. Lenora Zenzalai Helm Hammonds

Here are your winners:
Best New Artist: Samara Joy, “Samara Joy”

Best Contemporary Artist: Ragan Whiteside, “Off The Cuff” (single)

Best Mainstream Artist: Christian McBride & Inside Straight, “Live at the Village Vanguard”

Best Vocal Performance (Tie): Somi, “Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba” and Stacey Kent, “Songs From Other Places”

Best Duo, Group or Big Band: Christian McBride & Inside Straight, “Live at the Village Vanguard”

Best Contemporary Album: Bob Baldwin, “The Stay at Home Series, Volume 1”

Best Mainstream Album (Tie): Orrin Evans, “The Magic of Now” and Kenny Garrett, “Sounds from the Ancestors”

Song of the Year (Fan Vote): Norman Brown, “Back at Ya” (single)

SOURCES: Jazz Music Awards and Instagram Jazz Music Awards

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