It was a little bit like Thanksgiving dinner. You plan for weeks, prepare for days and it’s all over in about an hour. But oh, is it worth every bite! In the case of the Fifth Annual JAMM Tribute, the planning was months, the preparation weeks and it was there and gone in about three hours. But yes, indeed, was it worth every morsel!
On February 9, 2014, the chosen honorees, Ron Newman and Sunny Wilkinson made their way through a crowd of admirers and well-wishers to take their seats to watch the Tribute unfold. MC Mike Stratton read letters and emails from friends and former students. Others there in person spoke from the stage, telling deeply felt stories, with love and emotion, about their friends and colleagues, Ron and Sunny. And of course, incredible live jazz was the soundtrack as the event stretched on through the joyful afternoon.
The House Band played first, then JAMM scholarship recipients James Heinlein, Noah Frankforter and Alex Mejia treated the crowd to an example of what young folks are doing to keep this genre alive and well.
Next, the agenda moved to the presentation of JAMM awards. These consisted of Volunteer of the Year, Jeff Shoup, Jazz Fan of the Year, Douglas “DJ” Carlton and Jazz Supporter of the year, which went to The Avenue’s owner, Colleen Davis. Once the house band returned to the stage, attendees heard a rarefied level of expertise and ability from Jeff Kressler, Joe Lulloff, Ed Fedewa and Larry Ochiltree. Graciously acting as the core group for the day, one by one, other artists joined them. (Some were listed on the schedule, some a total surprise and shock to Sunny and Ron.)
Current and former vocal students, secretly tucked into a “hiding place” on the second floor, began, individually or in groups, to pop out of the stairwell and onto the stage, giving back to their mentor, Ms. Wilkinson, what she’d so brilliantly given to them as her pupils.
Besides friends and colleagues like Ken Bloomquist and Arlene McDaniel, some of the nicest words about Mr. Newman came from his own gorgeous wife before they began their performance. She spoke lovingly of Ron as basically, a shy “Midwestern boy,” not always comfortable as the object of this kind of praise. For everyone in the room, it was obvious how much he’d earned every bit of it!
It was a big decision for JAMM to choose paying tribute to two people at the same event. As we sat watching and listening to this brilliant and loving couple, though, it was clear there was no reason to separate them when it came to saying, “Well done, both. Thank you for everything!”
Text by Candice Wilmore, Photos courtesy Mark Sullivan and Beth Cafagna