Hosted by the charming Dave Koz and co-hosted by the dean of jazz publications, Michael Fagien, the gala event was underscored and musically directed by keyboardist Jeff Lorber, whose newest release "Kickin' It" was played as segments changed during the evening. Lorber, notable master in the trade backed up the greatest in some of the best session playing heard in years. With a brief history of the famous publication, Jazziz reviewed for the audience and noting the many contributions of Michael and Laurie Fagien, the evening started off with the award for Best Guitarist.
Euge Groove and Bob James presented this year's award to the lyrical and popular Peter White much to the delight and roar of the crowd as they heard his name announced. White in a most gracious acceptance speech, thanked his strong management team, his fan club and most humbly gave homage to the gentlemen alongside him in the nominations, with emphasis on George Benson and Larry Carlton, "pavers of the road" for this now five-time Oasis winner.
Kick starting the music for the evening came Slim Man's own Bona Fide with their major-league hit "X-Ray Hip". Rightfully due, they received the Prism award later in the evening for Best New Artist. With more music then coming from the smooth sax of Paul Taylor, the audience started to realize that this was the most incredible jazz concert that could be attended. After awards to Rick Braun for Best Brass, Best Keyboard to David Benoit and then sprinkled with the incredible sounds of Euge Groove and Marion Meadows, the crowd was on the magic carpet ride! With the incomparable duo of Rick Braun and Boney James promised to other obligations and not able to receive their two awards for "Grazin In the Grass" (Collaboration and Best Song), step in Peter White to accept. The ingenuity of White soared as he called Rick Braun on his own cell phone at the podium and announced the award to him! Still not enough, White held up the phone to the microphone for the entire audience to hear as Braun's voice rang loud and joyously! Leave it to Peter!
When everyone thought they could no longer name an artist that wasn't there lending their talent and/or wit, Bob James appeared to play with Keiko Matsui in one piece from their "Four Hands/One Piano" tour which left the audience in perfect silence and spellbound. The technical expertise witnessed by this writer was bar none the equivalent of that seen at the Tschaikowsky awards. Their charm at the podium in presenting and accepting awards (Matsui for Best Female Artist) was a highlight to their performance.
Brian Culbertson, backed up by saxman Jim Reid on his chart topping single "Do You Really Love Me" absolutely had the house rocking and when Jeff Kashiwa gave it his all in "Hyde Park" smiles and swaying were the order of the evening. The perfect musical partnering of Peter White and Brenda Russell charmed the audience in Brenda's "She's In Love", and later the Best Guitarist winner asked his good friends Steve Cole and Dave Koz to join him in a major break-down and blow-out of "Midnight In Manhattan", no doubt reminiscing the previous year's peak performance and remembering Grover, once again.
Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to icons of the industry, Messrs. Joe Sample and David Sanborn. Sample appeared to the delight of the audience and spoke of his early years, of the "piano player's pain" developing into a one-in-a-thousand noted artist. With graciousness he granted us that "He'll keep going until it's over". The queen of R&R, Ms. Carol Archer was also honored with the First Annual Oasis One Light Award (established last year in honor of the late Grover Washington, Jr.). Archer has worked tirelessly throughout the industry reporting and rating and establishing her opinion as benchmark in music. Besides this ambassadorship that she brings, she has given of her own personal time and expense in the effort to fight AIDS, both in South Africa and her own community in the Bay Area. An award well deserved.
And back to all the music?how could you go wrong? Steve Cole in his own performance of "Got It Goin' On", Russ Freeman honored with two awards, Bob James and Larry Carlton in a dreamy blues offering that just wouldn't stop (and no one wanted it to), Jeff Golub combined with the talents of a jamming Lorber and Kashiwa in his "Dangerous Curves" single, the atmosphere was ripe and poised to feel the most sense of accomplishment and emotion for the evening's host, Mr. Dave Koz.
Dave Koz walked away with four awards this year?and it was high time! For Artist of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, Best CD and Best Sax, this gentleman of the industry deserves these accolades and many more. He was most humble, gracious and cool, remembering his fans and dedicating his Best CD award to them. Quick witted and poised, he remembered Peter White last year with the same amount of awards and recognized the achievement, yet the humility that accompanies such an honor.
Representation from the industry's most influential and brightest gave the credibility to this year's gala that is well deserved. Due to be aired in August on BET on Jazz, the show's VP of Programming and New Media was quoted as saying "We're going to get our audience completely immersed into Smooth Jazz with the power of this show." A notable boost for the genre, credibility and consummate promotion lent to the promoters, the annual event is here to stay and bringing new levels of awareness to the talent that lies both on the stages and behind the scenes in the heart of this jazz sound. With commendation due to and a Best Smooth Jazz Station award given to Chicago's WNUA 95.5 (who sponsored the event), this will be nothing less than the highlight of the year and catch the attention of higher levels in the recording world demonstrating the force behind the resonance of Smooth Jazz.