The Arizona Republic recently announced that the Sedona Jazz Festival will not take place this year and that its board of directors will be discussing how to reinvent the festival for 2010. The article states that "declining attendance and revenue at the festival could be due to insistence on focusing on traditional jazz, which appeals primarily to older listeners."
Charles Bell of Phoenix, a board member for four years, says, "It may not be a conventional-jazz festival. We may bring in a group like Kool and the Gang, acts that have a broader appeal."
Unfortunately, it is not just diversity in programming or sticking to traditional jazz. In my mind, the issue is about draw vs. artist fees... and the corresponding ticket prices.
As a former jazz programmer, I was shocked at how much many younger artists on non-indie labels wanted for an artist fee. One artist on the MaxJazz label wanted twice as much money as some of the older legends.
These artists are reviewed often in industry magazines like DownBeat and JazzIz, but outside of their homebase they don't really have a huge draw. In the meantime, there are several local bands that have great draws and substantially lower fees, especially because air travel and hotels are not necessary.
Festivals that are tight financially should hire local jazz bands and feature them like headliners. Festivals can make stars; however, many local acts also tour nationally, have national press, and are regarded as good names or stars outside their locale. Instead of using the money they save hiring local to offset the lack of profits hiring more expensive out-of-town acts that have little draw, festivals can reduce the ticket prices or make their festivals free. Many people were complaining that the Sedona ticket prices were too high.
Last year's Sedona Festival had a only one big-name headlining artist with a really good draw: Bobby Hutcherson. Although I love Tony Monaco and Giacomo Gates, they aren't as well known. I am not surprised Sedona lost money. There are only a few jazz artists (traditional or non-traditional) left that have the drawing power to entice non-local ticket buyers to a jazz festival: Diana Krall, Jane Monheit, Herbie Hancock, Nancy Wilson, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, etc...
If you are in trouble financially, it is not simply just a question of hiring non-jazz acts like Kool and The Gang (or Mavis Staples) to add diversity. It is about hiring the jazz artists who draw: big names and popular local acts.
Read the Arizona Republic article here