Jazz Alliance History
Brent Banulis was the founder and first president of the New England Jazz Alliance. He was succeeded by Ron Gill in 2005, and he in turn by Ed Bride in 2009. Here is a brief look at Gill and Bride.
2005: Ron Gill Elected NEJA President
The NEJA Board of Directors opened a new chapter in the organization’s history at its annual meeting in Worcester on May 21, 2005. By unanimous vote, the Board elected Ron Gill NEJA’s new president, succeeding Brent Banulis in that office.
How does he view his new job? Gill sees the president involved in numerous activities—education and communication being two important ones. But the first role the NEJA membership may see Gill fill is that of organizer. "I intend to be visible, talking about jazz and educating people about it. But education takes many forms, and in the coming months I will call on all the members to join me in making NEJA a known entity in the jazz community. Our slogan will be, "I Am a Jazz Advocate." It will be more than a slogan, though. It will also be a real effort to make each member an important voice for jazz."
If anyone has credentials for this position, it is Ron Gill. He has deep roots in the Boston community. Except for a hitch in the U.S. Army, Ron has lived in the Boston area since 1946. Hes been singing since his early teens in the 1940s. Hes hosted the "Jazz Gallery" on WGBH radio since 1988. And he has "relevant job experience" earned through his tenure as activist in, and later president of, Boston’s Jazz Coalition in the early 1980s.
Gill established himself as a local singer/performer in his teens, singing at local dance halls, private parties and when he was finally old enough, in local night spots. He performed and recorded with the Calypso Rhythm Boys, headlined by "The Charmer" for Tico and Monogram Records.
In the mid-fifties, Gill joined the U.S. Army. When he returned to Boston, he started a family, and gradually rejoined the local music scene, singing in clubs and at venues like Elma Lewiss Playhouse in the Park in the sixties.
In 1968 he formed a group with his teenage friend and accompanist, Manny Williams, and Reid Jorgensen on drums. This is the nucleus of a group that still plays together today.
Gill toured New England in 1974 with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, led by Mercer Ellington. But more involvement with Ellingtonia lay ahead. "In 1977, Ran Blake asked me to sing "Day Dream" in concert at Jordan Hall. After that performance I was hooked on the music of Billy Strayhorn, and it took twenty years for me to complete my investigation of his work and perform it." Concert appearances in 1997 led to the release of his CD, Ron Gill Sings the Songs of Billy Strayhorn, in 1998. Other gigs, as both performer and producer, have continued to the present.
Gill points to his Jazz Coalition days as his real NEJA training ground. He learned to gain the support of major institutions, like the Mayor's Office Of Cultural Affairs, and to develop contacts with the local media. Having this network in place helped the Coalition’s signature activities—Boston Jazz Week, the Jazz All Night concerts—succeed. Gill is convinced that building and cultivating such a network across New England will be a key part of the Jazz Advocate campaign. Says Gill: "Jazz advocacy can’t succeed without a solid foundation. I’m looking forward to building on the strong base we already have in place."
2009: Ed Bride Assumes Presidency
As part of its May 15, 2009 meeting, the New England Jazz Alliance Board of Directors elected as its new officers Edward Bride, President; Ted Belastock, Vice President; and Barbara Bishop, Secretary/Treasurer.
Bride has been a jazz aficionado since his teens, and has for years promoted both well-known and obscure big bands as well as other mainstream groups. He is a member of several non-profit boards that advocate for jazz education including American Jazz Venues, Berkshire Jazz, Inc., and the New England Jazz Ensemble. Bride is the founder and chairman of the Pittsfield City Jazz Festival and is a founding member of the NEJA Board, having previously served as its Secretary.
Vice President Ted Belastock, of Boston, was one of the organizers of the Brockton (MA) Jazz Festival, and the publisher of Quarter Notes magazine. Longtime jazz advocate Barbara Bishop, from Winthrop, MA was one of the organizers of the Oceanside Jazz Festival in that city. Bishop also serves as the unofficial NEJA videographer.