Festival Network principal Chris Shields, purchaser in 2007 of the production company headed by George Wein which staged June jazz concerts at major mid-town Manhattan venues for 37 years, blames the economy and his own over-ambitious plans for the suspension (if not demise) of events which kept New York the focus of the jazz world, first with name sponsorship from Newport and Kool cigarettes and for 24 years as the JVC Jazz Festival-New York. The NY jazz fest was one of a baker’s dozen jazz fests supported throughout the U.S. each summer by JVC-America. The company says it is “has chosen to take our promotional activities in a different direction,
and one that will no longer include jazz event sponsorship.”
JVC’s withdrawal of jazz fest sponsorship was reported in Crain’s New York Business on April 27. Although Shields still claimed in that article to be planning a 2009 New York Jazz Festival, the word among musicians, managers and booking agents was that no talks were in process scheduling performances. In years past, JVC top executives had proudly proclaimed their close personal relationships with George Wein.
Wein will himself produce pop-jazz in the Big Apple in late June, presenting pianist-chanteuse Diana Krall and British pianist-singer Jamie Cullum in three concerts scheduled for Carnegie Hall. This is a far cry, though, from the 40-some performances the JVC Jazz Fests put on or affiliated with in 2008, and dismal in comparison to the celebrations of jazz Wein spun in the ’70s and ’80s, during which 52nd Street was sometimes turned into a pedestrian mall with free music pouring forth from multiple stages simultaneously. Wein is also producing under his own auspices, without corporate sponsorship, the Newport Jazz Festival — which he founded in 1954, and Newport Folk Festival, which he started in 1959. Wein says he has reserved dates at Carnegie Hall for a fuller-fledged jazz festival that he hopes to produce in 2010.
The JVC Jazz Festival-NY in the past decade have been important launching pads for major touring jazz acts, which have typically followed their June concerts in New York by traveling to similarly organized fests in Canada (especially Montreal) and Europe. Besides filling Carnegie Hall, the Danny Kaye Playhouse and various theaters in Lincoln Center, the JVC Jazz Fest offered ticket buyers discounts at diverse NYC jazz venues and often ran free concerts at Bryant Park. It has been a major tourist attraction, drawing thousands of attendees from around the world.
While it is unclear if the absence of a New York jazz festival means that jazz artists requiring high fees and substantial production will bypass New York completely in 2009, players in the local jazz scene were sardonic about Chris Shields’ inability to sustain the long-standing summer series. One musician/record producer suggested that the Jazz Journalists Association give Shields a Jazz Award for “fastest tanking of major jazz cultural institution…..1 year!”
Visitors to New York in search of jazz will still have a multitude of choices this summer, with the 14th annual “avant-jazz” Vision Festival running from June 9 through 15 and a variety of genres presented free of charge by Central Park Summerstage, the River-to-River Festival, Celebrate Brooklyn! and of course the famed city-wide jazz club and performance space circuit (for the most detailed schedule, I advise perusing AllAboutJazz-New York). But there is no doubt that the JVC Jazz Festival-New York will be missed. Has its “suspension” changed your travel plans?