Ron Gill was involved in the first Jazz Weeks as a member — and eventually president — of the Jazz Coalition. A host of WGBH's Jazz Gallery program since 1988 and an indefatigable jazz-community activist, he also happens to be one of the most beautiful jazz singers you're likely to hear, bringing scholarship and deep musicality as well as a warm, high baritone to everything from Billy Strayhorn to Stevie Wonder.
Next month marks a turning point for Gill as a years-long project comes to fruition: the induction ceremonies for the Jazz Hall of Fame created by the New England Jazz Alliance, of which he is the president. It also marks his departure from Boston.
But first things first. NEJA was founded in 2001 by jazz fans Brent Banulis and Leo Curran. As a historical society, NEJA has focused on education, documenting the lives of players who are from New England or have spent a significant part of their cereers here. Following Banulis's move to Indiana in 2006, Gill became president, and he made it his goal to create a Web presence for the Hall of Fame as well as a follow-up to the first induction ceremony in 2001.
This year's Hall of Fame induction — which will honor Max Kaminsky, Dean Earl, Joe Gordon, and Jimmy Mosher — takes place May 17 at the Cambridge Y, with a concert to benefit a scholarship fund named for Curran, who died last year. The performers will include sax wunderkind Grace Kelly, trombonist Tony Lada, keyboardist Michael Renzi, bassist Marshall Wood, and drummer Bob Tamagni.
The Hall of Fame itself is a traveling exhibit available to schools and other institutions. Its focus, like that of the Downbeat Hall of Fame, is on past masters: eligibility requires, in part, that the inductee have been dead for at least five years. Does Gill worry that this feeds the old concern about jazz's becoming a museum piece.
"You know what? I don't have a problem with that argument." We're chowing on an Indian lunch buffet on Mass Ave in Boston. "What's the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? When you've been around for 40 or 50 years, you have a history." Besides, he says, in a typical Gill contradiction that isn't, "jazz is not a museum piece, because jazz is alive and kicking. There are wonderful musicians out there making music just as creative as anything anyone's ever done."
As for popularizing the genre: "I'm under the belief that jazz is never going to be what we want it to be. But it's gonna be there. So you have to educate people."
Ron is heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, to live closer to his children and grandchildren. I'll miss his exuberance.
JAZZ WEEK | various locations | April 25–May 3 | www.jazzboston.org | NEW ENGLAND JAZZ ALLIANCE HALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONY | Cambridge YMCA Theatre, 820 Mass Ave, Cambridge | May 17: 3-6 pm | $12; $10 students | 671.567.6354 or www.nejazz.org.