Monday, April 27, 2009

R.I.P.: JVC Jazz Festival NY

Curtain Falls on JVC Jazz Festival New York
by Charles J. Gans
Associated Press, April 27, 2009

NEW YORK -- The curtain has fallen on the JVC Jazz Festival New York, and the Big Apple will likely be without a flagship jazz festival until new sponsorship emerges.

A spokesman for the Japanese electronics company said it would not be sponsoring any jazz events in 2009, ending what he called "a productive and successful relationship" dating back to 1984 when JVC first attached its name to the New York festival.

"JVC is proud of its association with the Jazz Festivals, but the marketplace in which JVC competes today has changed dramatically, and so JVC has chosen to take our promotional activities in a different direction, and one that will no longer include jazz event sponsorship," Terry Shea, a spokesman for the Wayne, N.J.-based JVC U.S.A., said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

Jazz impresario George Wein, who arranged the original JVC sponsorship deal, called JVC "the best sponsor anybody ever had."

Instead of a festival, the 83-year-old Wein is producing under his own name three concerts at Carnegie Hall in late June, when the JVC event usually takes place. He chose performers he was confident could fill the costly venue: British singer-pianist Jamie Cullum and Diana Krall.

"I booked artists that I knew I could do on my own without a festival, without a sponsor, and at least not get hurt," said Wein in a telephone interview from his Manhattan home.

Last year's two-week JVC Jazz Festival New York featured nearly 40 concerts including 11 in Carnegie Hall's two main performance spaces with such artists as Herbie Hancock, Chris Botti and Joao Gilberto plus nearly 200 additional events at clubs, schools, museums and other venues.

In 2007, Wein sold his company, Festival Productions whose lineup included the JVC-sponsored festivals in Newport, R.I., and New York to the Festival Network, which retained Wein in an advisory capacity.

But Festival Network ran into financial trouble. Wein said he had stopped working with the group and earlier this year, Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management terminated Festival Network's contract to present the Newport jazz and folk festivals because of late payments. Wein put up his own money and obtained a license from state and local authorities to produce the two festivals this summer.

Wein said he felt a less pressing need to put on a festival in New York, where in any given week there are dozens of jazz events in clubs and other venues.

"Going back to Newport was a much more personal thing for me because Newport was something I founded in 1954," said Wein, who launched the country's first jazz festival in the Rhode Island seaside resort.

New York City still has one June jazz festival, the modestly budgeted avant-garde Vision Festival XIV at an arts center on the Lower East Side, but founder Patricia Nicholson Parker said it would be "kind of foolish to see it as a replacement" for the more mainstream JVC event. In upstate New York, three long-running jazz festivals will take place in June in Rochester, Syracuse and Saratoga Springs.

Chris Shields, executive chairman of Festival Network, insisted in an e-mail that his company "has every expectation of producing another outstanding NYC Jazz Festival in 2009. Announcements and details will be forthcoming."

But several jazz industry insiders said they were not aware of any plans for such a festival. Spokespersons for two leading jazz labels, Blue Note and Concord, said they did not know of any of their artists participating in a New York City jazz festival this summer.

"We are having no dialogue with them (Festival Network) about any of our artists for any events that they are producing or affiliated with in any way," said Jack Randall, vice president of A&R for Boston-based Ted Kurland Associates, a leading booking agency which handles dozens of jazz artists including the Marsalis family, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman.

Wein first launched a major jazz festival in New York in 1972. JVC became the festival's main sponsor in 1984.

Wein said he has already reserved dates at Carnegie Hall for June 2010 in hopes that he will be able to present a full-fledged festival next summer if he can line up new sponsorship: "I would like to keep the festival alive."

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