Last week amid the million-dollar homes along Los Angeles’ Mulholland Drive, Vibrato Grill & Jazz hosted ASCAP’s Jazz Awards. There was a little dining, some music and a lot of schmoozing.
Trumpeter Herb Alpert owns the lavishly decorated venue, filigreed with his paintings and sculptures. The Wednesday ceremony moved seamlessly from act to act. Almost too seamlessly; it was over in an hour.
Early in the evening Paul Williams, ASCAP chairman of the board, made a joke from the stage that former president Marilyn Bergman’s success in extending the length of copyrights ensured that “my grandchildren can waste my money for an extra 20 years.”
It was a charming and fatalistic joke that was right on the nose.
Bergman, an 87-year-old, three-time Academy Award winner, sweetly received the ASCAP President’s Award. She accepted the award from her seat, alongside her writing partner and husband Alan, and spoke quietly. The entire room hushed and slowly sneaked in on her, surrounding the table as she gave thanks.
Verbose musicians are the exception to the rule in jazz. And both performing award recipients spent their time at the podium making succinct remarks, with little fanfare.
Pianist Gerald Clayton was the recipient of the ASCAP Vanguard Award. Pianist Matthew Shipp introduced him with kind remarks and Clayton spoke briefly before sitting at the piano, alone. He worked a mid-tempo pulse into a strident bounce, his hands calmly working in opposite directions. The reflective performance followed a boisterous display from trombonist Mariel “Spencer” Austin’s septet. Clayton played one tune, clasped his hands together in thanks and then rejoined the audience. It’s likely that he spent longer waiting for the valet at the end of the night than he did on the piano bench.
The VIP for the night was a man who never said a word on the microphone. Instead, Quincy Jones sat at the Bergman’s table, greeting visitors and taking selfies. When Ben Barson’s raucous costumed band (mariachi garb, a gold-leaf blazer, a tunic), accompanied by an operatic background vocalist, finished its one tune, Jones audibly let out a long “Ohhhhkay.”
Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell was the recipient of the ASCAP Founders Award; his speech, too, was to the point. His essential message: “I am committed to what I am hearing.”
Then with Shipp on piano, bassist Junius Paul and drummer Vincent Davis, Mitchell hit the stage with a soprano saxophone. The band blazed hard; there was no build-up. Davis was a barrage of reverberating crashes and thumping drums, killing any light conversation in the room. The group finished its one tune, and then someone approached the podium to announce, “Enjoy your desserts.”
Regardless of how much time was granted to presenting the actual artistry, ASCAP only can be commended for focusing a spotlight on generations of great jazz players.