Back Bay resident and JazzBoston Executive Director Pauline Bilsky was named “2012 Boston Jazz Hero” by the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) Wednesday during an awards reception at Wally’s Jazz Cafe in the South End.
The Back Bay-based nonprofit jazz advocacy organization honored Bilsky, who was part of the group that founded JazzBoston in early 2006, for her role in shaping the group into a unifying force and powerful advocate for Greater Boston’s entire jazz scene. She has been deeply engaged in the arts on a pro bono basis since the 1980s, and her life has revolved around the jazz scene – first in New York and now in Boston – for more than 20 years. Bilsky was nominated for the JJA award by Boston jazz impresarios Fred Taylor and Dayla Arabella Santurri, dean of New England jazz radio Eric Jackson and venerable journalist and “Boston Boy” Nat Hentoff.
“I see this award as a validation of JazzBoston’s efforts to keep jazz central to our city’s cultural life and bring it into the lives of people of all ages,” Bilsky said. “Besides, it’s great to get an award for working with a group of dedicated, creative people to do something you love.”
The reception was hosted by Santurri and Don Carlson, who serves as vice chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) and chair of NABB’s Crime Committee. It featured a performance by Synergy, a band formed for the occasion consisting of Arni Cheatham, Bill Lowe, Kevin Harris, John Funkhouser and Mike Connors.
While the attendees enthusiastically acknowledged Bilsky’s contributions, the topic on everyone’s mind was the news that broke earlier in the day of the sweeping cutback in jazz programming at WGBH-FM: No more jazz on weeknights.
Eric Jackson’s show will move to Friday – Sunday night from 9 p.m. to midnight, a reduction in Jackson’s total airtime from 18 hours to nine, and Steve Schwartz, who currently has the Friday night slot, will no longer host or produce at the station. (Jackson and Schwartz are members of JazzBoston’s Advisory Council, and Jackson was part of the group that nominated Bilsky for the JJA award, along with Tayor, Santurri, and Nat Hentoff).
Addressing the news from the stage, Bilsky had encouraging words from iconic journalist and Boston native Nat Hentoff. Although he decamped for New York more than 50 years ago, Hentoff cares deeply about the Boston jazz scene and was one of the group that nominated Bilsky for the Jazz Hero award. He had called, she explained, to find out what was going on.
“Nat said to tell you that this is your chance to show the nation how alive jazz is in Boston, and he’ll help in any way he can to get the story out,” Bilsky said. “He thinks it would be nice to stage a big demonstration with a band, like the old days.”