Bill King announced via Facebook this week that he is discontinuing the National Jazz Awards program that he began in 2002 (picking up from the earlier Jazz Report Awards that he ran with his then-business partner Greg Sutherland). King says that his team lacks the time to beat the corporate bushes to make up for the shortfall caused by the withdrawal of the awards program's funding through the Canadian government's FACTOR grants.
Although it struggled in its early years to expand its online voting base beyond Toronto—and a fairly conservative Toronto voting base at that—the National Jazz Awards caught on mid-decade and was well on its way to recognizing the achievements of jazz artists and industry workers across the country. (Full disclosure: I was the winner in the National Jazz Awards Journalist of the Year category for 2009, and served on the program's nomination committee in its early years.)
King was tireless in promoting and organizing the awards (last summer, he grimaced in pain from a back ailment as he scrambled around on the night of the ceremony) and while the process had its flaws he was never less than idealistic about his desire to recognize excellence in Canadian jazz.
Ironically, as the NJAs falter this week, the nominations for the Juno Awards (Canada's equivalent of the US Grammys) are being announced. The Junos have the advantage of focusing on popular music (I can't recall jazz ever being showcased on the national TV broadcast) but have neither the depth of the NJAs nor the ability to reflect the input of those who consume artists' work.
These awards programs are thankless (I've also been intimately involved in the Jazz Journalists Association's Jazz Awards over the years) but the recognition does mean a lot, and the ability for members of the industry to come together to celebrate their achievements is important, too. Whenever I think of the NJAs and the Jazz Report Awards I reflect on a speech that saxophonist Jane Bunnett made at one of the awards ceremonies. Looking out at the assembled artists and guests and still chuckling at some of the remarks that had been made by awards recipients, she said: "What a crazy bunch of people we are."
We need more opportunities to realize and express those thoughts.