Jazz Festivals Facing Tough Times

Given the nation’s economic woes, this news comes as no surprise: Jazz festivals, in Florida and elsewhere, are facing tough times.

The long-running Jacksonville Jazz Festival (which I played, in the early ’80s, with the UF Jazz Band), allegedly was already suffering from money troubles when the City of Jacksonville, the fest’s sponsor since 2003, agreed to bump the event from its scheduled date — first weekend in April — to a later time.

That decision, reportedly, was made solely so as not to conflict with the Springing the Blues festival, held in nearby Jacksonville Beach.

Why wasn’t the younger blues festival asked to make way for the long-established jazz festival, which over the years has been home to first-rate performances by everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to (last year) Cassandra Wilson?

In defense of the blues fest, though, THAT event has been held on the same weekend for 18 years.

So why not just switch the jazz festival, traditionally held in Metropolitan Park on the waterfront in downtown Jax, to another weekend in spring?

“Metropolitan Park, which has long been the central venue for the jazz festival, is heavily booked through the spring, and the city is reluctant to boot out another event to make way for jazz, she said,” Matt Soergel wrote in a story posted Jan. 3 on Jacksonville.com (affiliated with the Florida Times-Union newspaper).

The “she” is Theresa O’Donnell, the city’s director of special events.

Not sure if O’Donnell is the one to blame for this mess, but why would anyone originally have scheduled the jazz fest on the same weekend as a blues music fest likely to draw some of the same audience, sponsors and vendors?

And, secondly, now that city officials’ poor decision making has led to this situation, why WOULDN’T they feel okay forcing another event, one that’s younger and offering less cultural significance, to get out of the way of the jazz festival?

Why is the city treating the jazz festival like a second-class citizen, in terms of regularly bumping it around on the calendar? After all these years, and so many great performances, ought not the festival be treated like a local cultural gem?

A date, other than “spring 2009,” has yet to be posted on the official festival site. Stay tuned.

(Thanks to jazz critic James Hale’s blog for the alert about this situation).

The JVC Jazz Festival Miami is likely NOT returning this year, according to a story published online at Ticketnews.com. That’s due to “huge losses” suffered by promoter Festival Network, which bought George Wein’s Festival Productions in 2007. The Miami festival’s site hasn’t been updated since the 2008 fest (the event’s 9th edition).

According to the story, Festival Network could be shutting down several of its festivals in 09, including Martha’s Vineyard Festival (MA); Jackson Hole Music Festival (WY); Festival Au Desert – Essakane (Mali); JVC Jazz Festival Chicago (IL); San Francisco Music Festival (CA); Whistler Music Festival (BC); JVC Jazz Festival Los Angeles (CA); Slow Food Rocks (CA); and JVC Jazz Festival Paris (FRA).

Closer to (my) home, the first edition of the modestly scaled St. Petersburg College Jazz Festival opens this Thursday, with performances by Brooklyn-based saxophonist Sue Terry and others. Here’s John Fleming’s piece on the fest, published in the St. Petersburg Times.

The swing-oriented Sarasota Jazz Festival takes places March 1-7 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Holley Hall and other locations around Sarasota.

The bill includes pianist Dick Hyman; saxophonist/flutist James Moody; the Bill Allred Band with guest John Allred (father-son trombonists); and trumpeter Barrie Lee Hall’s Ellington Alumni band, featuring bassist John Lamb and trombonist Buster Cooper.

And all’s well, or so it seems with the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, slated for Oct. 15-18 in Coachman Park. Here’s hoping that the Clearwater fest puts together an especially impressive lineup — Sonny Rollins, anyone? — for its 30th anniversary edition.

I don’t have updates on the other jazz festivals around Florida, but here’s a list of links to those events.

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