Last Word on our “Jazz” festival (till next year)

Well the Jazz fest is over and the organizers are declaring a victory. It “was a huge success with 25 sold out shows” Well it’s very hard to figure out that math with only 10 formally ticketed events to sell out and 2 of those for sure did not sell out (Robert Plant ‘the big draw non jazz money maker’ and, unfortunately,  Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra) I guess they are padding that number with attendance for acts from the club series. In these cases people either paid full price ($12-$25) for one set, the wrist band ($75) that got you into any and all of the 39 club events or the laminate (that all volunteers and performers get) which got them in for free to those same 39 events. Though the much promoted rock band Blonde Redhead was sold out on its own but I got more emails,invites twitter and Fb feeds about that group then I got for all the jazz combined. Kinda disingenuous to say the jazz doesn’t sell when you don’t bother to sell the jazz.

So when they say the 2011 festival “seems to be one of our most successful” they have set the bar kinda low with only 1/3 of the shows ‘selling’ out, with maybe only 2 (Gary Burton and Trombone Shorty) of the concerts sold out (and not the ones they were counting on) and have the balance of that number be made up of club acts that had a mix of people paying everything from full price to nothing. I am pretty open but calling any of those club acts sold out when a huge number could have gotten in for free, is just spin of a highly specious nature. Insert the phrase ‘well attended’ or ‘SRO’ and you have some accurate reporting.

So what happened?

Well the most telling and predictable thing that happened was Jazz Winnipeg taking a bath on JATLCO.  It was so bad that they were giving tickets away so it wouldn’t look so dire. So who’d they give tickets to?
High school music students from the inner city?
People who’d already bought tickets for that event?
People who’d already bought tickets for other events?
Sadly the tickets were given away to people connected to the inner circle. So if you knew or worked for someone associated with Jazz Winnipeg you got offered free tickets. I guess they were trying to keep this affair on the down low.

This is what happens when you book the same act twice in 3 years and spend an inordinate amount of resources trying to sell tickets to a blue grass concert the following month. (Let alone my inbox full of invites to Blonde Redhead, Shad, Damn Funk etc. sheeeesh)

The next day our FB and twitter feeds where filled with local performers promoting their gigs like you have never seen before. It’s probably just a coincidence but it sounds a lot like one of the key suggestions from my last post.  Nonetheless everyone knows FB event invites are joke. That you need to invite 12,000 people to get 100 saying yes for 2 to show up. Either way someone over at the JW office needs to learn the difference between a mere tactic and a marketing strategy.

There was the hastily thrown together jazz jam opening party (not listed on any material) it was (again) free to laminate holders but $10 for the rest of us.

As well they released for public sale their promoter holds (tickets they usually give away) for Robert Plant. It seems they were doing a lot of stuff to make up for the huge losses caused by their mishandling of JATLCO

Hopefully, on the other hand, they paid attention to the under promoted mid week concert by Gary Burton that sold out. A purely jazz artist that hasn’t been here in years (and by pay attention I mean not to try and book him back in the next 2 years but use some daring and imagination and find someone else we haven’t seen in a long time or ever Kurt Rosenwinkle anyone?) or the totally left to her own devices by promoters Kelly Lee Evans, a Canadian Jazz Singer packing the place on a Thursday night.

Oh no, not more analogies!

As some of you know my other gig is being heavily involved with Fly Fishing. Kinda like my other job that music supports.  I guide fly rodders onto fish and teach casting. It is a lot like a typical part-time musician’s career, where it makes some money but in the long run probably costs more. Anywhoooo we fly fishers are a weird bunch, we are engaged in a narrow form of the sport of fishing. The sport has its roots in roman times. To this date it uses tools that have not changed much since the industrial revolution. To be a fly fisher in times of jet boats and rampant food-chain-ism is a bit of an anachronism.

Many of us will fish the same waters as bait fishers, plug fishers, boat fishers etc. And we fly rodders will keep tabs on how well the people do fishing that way. We are always happy to do well, happier to keep up and ecstatic if we out fish them.

But we always have a fall back. That if we are over here fishing with nothing more than a hook with a feather on it and you are over there with live bait, tank tested $25 lures, a fish finder, GPS and all the latest gear and gadgets you had better be out fishing me.

So a jazz festival where the jazz represents only a 1/3 of the content and relies heavily on pop music, sponsors, donations and beer sales to make ends meet HAD BETTER be successful. In all honesty, relying on booze and pop music is workable formula I mean it works  for EVERY BAR, LOUNGE, SOCIAL & LEGION IN TOWN!

Really though, having Rock bands and beer as a revenue source for a jazz festival is just plain lazy and unimaginative.


I have had much positive, a little neutral feed back and zero negative for the last post and have encountered many jazz fans and musicians who are passing the word around.  It has opened up conversation with others unhappy with the festival’s pandering to anyone other than jazz fans. Unfortunately it has mostly been of the private, email, bandstand in hushed tones type of support so without public and consistent discussion things will not change and soon so this festival with 2-4 international jazz acts in it will eventually have none.

That’s it for me on this subject till next year and  I’ll return to my usual light lessons, music ramblings and other nonsense soon.