Posted by James Chism
The proliferation of jazz festivals around the world to broaden their programming into areas either tangentially related to jazz…or, in some cases, away from jazz entirely. Festivals like the one in Miami called “Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival” its upcoming artist lineup for its upcoming festival has no real Jazz artists (local or otherwise) as part of this event. Now in its ninth edition, it seems that the public is being misled–especially Jazz music fans and tourists visiting Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and surrounding areas—into thinking that the music performed will be “Jazz.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What is being billed as a weekend of festivities using “Jazz” as part of its name is a music festival composed of mostly R&B and Soul music artists, Babyface, Fantasia, Ne-Yo Monica Earth, Wind & Fire, Charlie Wilson, New Edition Najee (Smooth Jazz) Rachelle Ferrell and Mary Mary.
This event is misrepresenting Jazz and misleading the public about an art form proclaimed by the United States Congress as a rare and valuable American national treasure. I am disheartened by events like this that demonstrate no regard for the integrity and deep legacy of this art form. (Also see HR 2823, National Jazz Preservation and Education Act of 2011- Rep. John Conyers Jr. [D-MI14]) While the real Jazz music is suffering from lack of fans and very few places in the area where local musicians get to perform, “Jazz in the Gardens” has managed to attract big money sponsors using “Jazz” as part of its Brand—including the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB, The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Shula’s Hotel and Golf Club, Macy’s, Comcast, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, American Airlines, the Miami Dolphins, the Fairmont Turnberry Resort, and others.
We are constantly in the trenches educating kids about Jazz heritage and helping build the next generation of Jazz musicians and fans; and here we have this event that is miseducating children on what Jazz is really about. This event shows no respect for the heritage of Jazz and the people who went through great pains to pass this art form onto us so we can enjoy the fruits of their hard labor—including: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, and many others.
As a destination attraction, “Jazz in the Gardens” is sending a negative signal about Miami and Fort Lauderdale to people around the world that enjoy this art form. Those who believe that a jazz festival stops being a jazz festival the minute it introduces any non-jazz into the program are advised to stop here. One suggestion, from those who have a problem with broader programming, is to pare back (“get back to your roots”) and become smaller, niche festivals.
In practical terms, that simply isn’t possible. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, they say, and festivals would have a near-impossible challenge of selling funders with the premise that “we’re going to become a smaller, more focused festival, and appeal to a smaller, more select audience. Now, how about some money?”
As is usually the case in a world driven by bottom lines, even artistic pursuits like festivals are expected to grow—to become bigger and better. “Shrinking” sends a bad message to just about everyone, and will do absolutely nothing to support the solicitation of funding, sponsorship and other critical forms of partnership that help festivals with everything from nailing down venues and getting instrument support to paying travel expenses to bring in artists from abroad.
In closing, I understand why they call it a Jazz Festival because it’s easier and more importantly less expensive to underwrite/ insure. If you have a rap, R & B, rock etc festival it simply cost more to underwrite/insure. They understand with Jazz you have a more educated, mature and average age crowd of 45 and over group ergo there’s less likelihood of the potential for something to happen. The solution is to support Jazz organizations that put on real jazz festival like Jazzonian, Gold Coast Jazz Society, South Florida jazz, Jazz Arts Music Society of Palm Beach and many others in South Florida. It should be noted that this is a worldwide pandemic for Jazz. We must all work together to keep Jazz viable.
James Chism – Vice President & Executive board member for Jazzonian;a non-profit group that preserves the integrity and legacy of Jazz by providing training,scholarships and performance venues for youth and budding musicians in the South Florida community.http://www.jazzonian.org/main.html