Friday, April 21, 2006


6th Annual Jammy Awards @ Theater at Madison Square Garden

Last night's 4-and-a-half hour Jammy Awards was a non-stop affair. With bands shuffling on and off the stage at breakneck speed, you could barely catch your breath.

But this is par for the course for the Jammys, now in it's 6th year. It's a particularly inventive awards show, with unusual musical pairings the glue that holds it together. Where else could you see jazz pianist McCoy Tyner playing wih banjo picker Bela Fleck? Or '70s icon Peter Frampton matched up with alt-rockers Guster? Or Jane's Addiction drummer Steve Perkins joining forces with jam-guitar virtuoso Steve Kimock? Or, for that matter, two Marley brothers (Stephen and Ky-mani) jamming on, um, "Jamming"?

Richie Havens opening the 6th Annual Jammy Awards with his famed "Freedom" was a a stroke of genius. The grey-bearded Havens leapt in the air as the song ended showing that this wily Woodstock veteran still has some pep in his step. The highlights that followed were many, including a smokin' "New York Prophesie" and "Magic Carpet Ride" (with Bettye LaVette) from jam-band war horse Blues Traveler; Kimock, Perkins, Joe Satriani and newcomer Grace Potter (her band won the New Groove award) taking a page out of Miles Davis' electro-jazz book; moe. doing the dub thing to perfection with Mad Professor; and the night's piece de resistance, the Frank Zappa tribute led by his son Dweezil.

During the latter segment, co-host Mickey Hart called Zappa "probably the craziest guy I ever knew" and Chick Corea, who presented the Lifetime Achievement award to Zappa, observed, "He confronted the oppression of freedom of expression." Keyboard whiz Corea sat in with Dweezil's band, which performed 15-minute versions of "Inca Roads" and "Florentine Pogen." You could hear how Corea's famous fusion-jazz ensemble Return to Forever was influenced by Zappa. The long Zappa jams were also reminiscent of Funkadelic.

Guitars are the stars of the Jammys. Despite stellar performances by Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, Willie Waldman on trumpet and a tap-dancing Savion Glover, the night belonged to 6-stringers conjuring the deep roots of jam-band history with their magic axes. Duels abounded: Dweezil Zappa and Umphrey McGee's Jake Cinninger; Frampton and Guster's Adam Gardner; Little Feat's Paul Barrere and blues legend Hubert Sumlin; Kimock and shredder Joe Satriani.

On the awards side, it was a big night for former Phish bassist Mike Gordon, who's collaboration with Leo Kottke Sixty Six Steps took Studio Album of the Year honors. He also accepted for Archival Live Album (Phish's Live at Madison Square Garden, New Year's Eve 1995 - an appropriate choice considering the show's location). Live Performance of the Year went to moe. for their tsunami-relief benefit at Roseland Ballroom, and String Cheese Incident's Big Summer Classic was rightly named Tour of the Year. A best fest award would be a good addition.

Another modest suggestion: How about scheduling an intermission so people can stagger out to the concession area and compare notes before heading back for the second set. Just a thought, but it might ease the Jammys' overall frenetic pace.

The oddest moment of the night had to be former NBA player Manute Bol towering over Relix publisher Steve Bernstein as they presented the world-music award to Senegal's Baaba Maal.

Produced by Peter Shapiro and Relix, the Jammys remains the jewel in the crown of the sprawling improv scene spawned by the Grateful Dead and other vintage bands. Long live the Jammys!

The lengthy Jammys commenced an even lengthier schedule of events under the Green Apple Music & Arts Festival banner that begins today. For more info: CLICK HERE


Studio Album of the Year: Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon's Sixty Six Steps
Live Album of the Year: Widespread Panic's Live at Myrtle Beach
Song of the Year: Tea Leaf Green's "Taught to Be Proud"
Tour of the Year: Big Summer Classic (String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Yonder Mountain String Band, Umphrey's McGee, New Monsoon & Xavier Rudd)
Live Performance of the Year: moe., Tsunami Relief Benefit, Roseland Ballroom, NYC, 2/10/05
DVD of the Year: Bob Dylan, No Direction Home
New Groove: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Lifetime Achievement Award: Frank Zappa
Global Rhythm World Music Award: Baaba Mal
Jammys Industry Award: Larry Bloch, Wetlands Preserve founder

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