Saturday, June 6, 2009

Economic domino effect on jazz is troubling

These are indeed troubling times for the general economy – and the spillover to the jazz world was inevitable. Just as some companies and some parts of the economy seem to be doing OK, or at least surviving, others are folding or in danger of disappearing.

I took no pleasure in reporting (see my December 31, 2008 post) the earliest word about the apparent demise of Festival Network LLC. And now fellow blogger and jazz journalism colleague Howard Mandel has reported troubling news about the ill state of health of JazzTimes.

There is a spinoff economic effect at work here – since JT seems to have been quite dependent on the revenue it received by producing and publishing JVC festival supplements in three of its issues each summer. With JVC’s festival sponsorships down the tubes, it had to hurt deeply. Read Howard’s perceptive take on it in several posts he filed this week at his blog, Jazz Beyond Jazz. This is extremely painful. I have had a relationship with JT since the early 1980s (back when founder Ira Sabin produced it tabloid newsprint style) as a writer and photographer, and still do the occasional review for its Web site. I hope someone indeed steps in to ensure its survival because of its prominent stature in the jazz community.

These turns are troubling, as were some of the perspectives in West Coast saxophonist Mel Martin’s latest Jazz and Saxophone Newsletter. Mel reported that he “played the last night at Jazz at Pearl's (in San Francisco) while they were hauling out the coffee machine and the paintings on the walls. The Jazz and Blues Store in Carmel has folded, the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles is closed at the end of May and may relocate in Santa Monica.”

Struggles go on everywhere, yet there have been some glimmers of hope. George Wein, who sold his Festival Productions Inc. organization to Festival Network two and one-half years ago only to see the new owners run its operations into the ground by overspending and expanding at the worst possible time, found a way to continue jazz and folk festivals under his own name in Newport this summer despite uncertain sponsorship.

A few other former Wein-affiliated festivals continue to operate. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, produced by Wein associate Quint Davis, never was a part of the Festival Network deal. Two other festivals that were part of the FN operation in 2007 and ’08 – Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga NY and the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, saw those contracts expire. Two other longtime Wein affiliates – Dan Melnick and Darlene Chan – now produce them (Melnick has Saratoga, Chan has Playboy).

The Montreal International Jazz Festival is preparing to celebrate its 30th annual event – expanding and vibrant despite this being the last year of title sponsorship by General Motors.

On the positive side of the California jazz club scene, Andrew Gilbert reported in the San Jose Mercury News that Yoshi’s jazz club recently ended an experiment with other forms of booking and returned with a solid lineup of stellar jazz bookings, particularly at the new San Francisco venue, in addition to its Oakland location.


  1. Unfortunately, one of the first cutbacks I made after losing my job was to cancel a couple of magazine subscriptions when they came up for renewal. My intent was/is to renew if and when I find a new job. I fear this is what has happened to a lot of folks due to the state of the economy.

    I have been a "fan" of JazzTimes since the days when they published as a newspaper and hope the best for them and for all of the writers, photographers (to get paid any money owed).


  2. Ken,
    You forgot to mention that the Detroit Jazz Festival continues full speed, celbrating their 30th Anniversay this Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 4-7. The DJF is the largest FREE Jazz Festival in the world!