Bley, Corea, Schneider Top Critics Poll

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Carla Bley, the critics’ choice for the DownBeat Hall of Fame

(Photo: Mark Sheldon)

The 69th Annual DownBeat International Critics Poll delivered a warm blanket to a jazz community shivering through the vestiges of the COVID pandemic. From loving tributes for jazz icons to highlighting the best of today’s artists, the poll offered a snapshot of what happened in jazz during the past year.

At the top of the icon list were Carla Bley, the critics’ picks for Hall of Fame, and Chick Corea, who passed away in February, being named Artist, Pianist and Keyboardist of the Year.

“What were the chances in the 1950s that a teenaged girl from Oakland, California, would land smack in the middle of New York’s vibrant jazz scene, much less emerge as one of its most lasting compositional voices? Bley, who turned 85 this year, enters the DownBeat Hall of Fame after more than six decades of writing, recording and performing,” writes critic Suzanne Lorge in the August issue.

“I’ve been moved to try new things in music by the ever-changing world around me,” Bley said in accepting the honor. “I’m strongly impacted by what I hear. And I almost always write for specific musicians. I’ve moved through many communities of players, and I’ve tried to provide each one with the perfect setting for his or her voice. This has led to some drastic shifts in idiom, but I think the sound of my own voice, like the color of my eyes or the way I walk, has endured through all the twists and turns.”

The Veterans Committee also voted saxophonist Yusef Lateef and trumpeter Booker Little into the Hall of Fame.

In a massive show of respect, the critics marked the passing of Corea with a triple crown of honors.

“A true historical giant such as this can never truly be gone from us, certainly not in the recent aftermath of his absence, which is why it was probably a foregone conclusion that Corea would be once again atop the 2021 DownBeat Critics Poll,” wrote critic Gary Fukushima. “DownBeat’s critics undoubtedly would have also voted Corea to the DownBeat Hall of Fame if they hadn’t already done so back in 2010.”

If those artists represented where the music has been, then composer, arranger and bandleader Maria Schneider shows where it is now with her Album of the Year, Data Lords (ArtistShare). Schneider also earned multiple category honors. The Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra was named Big Band of the Year and she was named Composer and Arranger of the Year, honors she has received many times.

As for the future, the poll provided plenty of promise. First-time winners included trombonist Michael Dease, vibraphonist Joel Ross and cellist Tomeka Reid in the established artist categories, and the Rising Stars categories delivered an array of voices leading this music in new directions, highlighted by pianist/composer Gerald Clayton receiving honors for Rising Star Artist and Group of the Year.

The complete list of winners can be found below. The complete poll can be purchased here. Last year’s poll winners can be found here. DB

2021 DownBeat Critics Poll

Hall of Fame: Carla Bley

Hall of Fame: Booker Little

Hall of Fame: Yusef Lateef

Jazz Artist: Chick Corea

Jazz Album: Maria Schneider, Data Lords (ArtistShare)

Historical Album: Thelonious Monk, Palo Alto (Impulse!)

Jazz Group: Charles Lloyd & The Marvels

Big Band: Maria Schneider Orchestra

Trumpet: Ambrose Akinmusire

Trombone: Michael Dease

Soprano Saxophone: Jane Ira Bloom

Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa

Tenor Saxophone: Charles Lloyd

Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan

Clarinet: Anat Cohen

Flute: Nicole Mitchell

Piano: Chick Corea

Keyboard: Chick Corea

Organ: Dr. Lonnie Smith

Guitar: Mary Halvorson

Bass: Christian McBride

Electric Bass: Steve Swallow

Violin: Regina Carter

Drums: Brian Blade

Percussion: Zakir Hussain

Vibraphone: Joel Ross

Miscellaneous Instrument: Tomeka Reid (cello)

Female Vocalist: Cécile McLorin Salvant

Male Vocalist: Kurt Elling

Composer: Maria Schneider

Arranger: Maria Schneider

Record Label: Blue Note

Producer: Manfred Eicher

Blues Artist or Group: Shemekia Copeland

Blues Album: Shemekia Copeland, Uncivil War (Alligator)

Beyond Artist or Group: Rhiannon Giddens

Beyond Album: Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra (Luaka Bop)

Rising Star Categories

Rising Star–Jazz Artist: Gerald Clayton

Rising Star–Jazz Group: Gerald Clayton Trio

Rising Star–Big Band: Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (led by Orbert Davis)

Rising Star–Trumpet: Adam O’Farrill

Rising Star–Trombone: Samuel Blaser

Rising Star–Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Escoffrey

Rising Star–Alto Saxophone: Immanuel Wilkins

Rising Star–Tenor Saxophone: Nubya Garcia

Rising Star–Baritone Saxophone: Alex Harding

Rising Star–Clarinet: Angel Bat Dawid

Rising Star–Flute: Shabaka Hutchings

Rising Star–Piano: Nik Bártsch

Rising Star–Keyboard: Jacob Collier

Rising Star–Organ: Cory Henry

Rising Star–Guitar: Nir Felder

Rising Star–Bass: Reuben Rogers

Rising Star–Electric Bass: Jeff Denson

Rising Star–Violin: Tomoko Omura

Rising Star–Drums: Tomas Fujiwara

Rising Star–Percussion: Richie Flores

Rising Star–Vibraphone: Ches Smith

Rising Star–Miscellaneous Instrument: Brian Landrus (bass clarinet)

Rising Star–Female Vocalist: Thana Alexa

Rising Star–Male Vocalist: Jacob Collier

Rising Star–Composer: Melissa Aldana

Rising Star–Arranger: Stefon Harris

Rising Star–Producer: Kris Davis/David Breskin



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    Carla Bley, the critics’ choice for the DownBeat Hall of Fame

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    Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi


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August 2021
Carla Bley
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