Jazz Fest Preview: Christina Langston Interview

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[Christina Langston is the Public Relations Director at the City of Jacksonville’s Office of Special Events. In recent years, the OSE has taken up the task of running the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, which is being held May 27-30, 2010 in the “Heart of Downtown”. As part of my usual routine of covering the festival, I traded some questions with Langston, whose answers help illuminate the logistics of what has long been (with all due respect to Harvest of Hope and the Florida-Georgia Game) Northeast Florida’s leading cultural attraction.]

1) First, who’s involved in organizing the festival through the City? You, Tiffany [Valla], Teresa [O’Donnell]–who else contributes via SOE? And what role does Mayor [John] Peyton play in the process?

This festival is produced by the City of Jacksonville with sponsorships from community partners.  The entire office works on pieces of the festival and other city departments are involved as well such as Public Works, Recreation and Community Services, Volunteers, and Public Safety.

 

2) Logistically, the festival looks very similar to last year’s, as far as the focus on downtown. What lessons did you take away from seeing the plans take shape?

Moving the festival to the heart of downtown created a street festival which was extremely appealing and accessible to those attending.  Last year the festival realized more than 50,000 people in attendance, many of whom were visiting from all over the world. 

 

3) What changes were made to this year’s festival after the experience last year? Is there anything that stands out as simply not having worked?

Some changes have been made to this year’s festival to accommodate the construction on the Laura Street Corridor and we have added more venues.  As a result of the festival incorporating additional venues, we have added trolleys for this year. Additional VIP components have been added this year as well. 

4) How intensely has the national jazz press (Downbeat, Jazz Times, NYT, Village Voice, etc.) been lobbied to cover the festival? Have any of these outlets made any comment on plans for this year?

They receive information and updates throughout the year and we keep their calendar listings updated.  Jazz Times does not have the budget to come to Jacksonville, however they will be previewing the festival in their online version.  Still waiting to hear back from Downbeat and New York Times has the info.  I appreciate the info on Village Voice, and I have forwarded the release to them as well. 

5) What role have budget issues played in planning the festival? How much does COJ spend on it?

We have been extremely diligent in our ability to attract quality talent to this festival.  Certainly the help of sponsors and partners enable us to fund portions of the festival, but to give an overall figure at this point would be very premature.  There will be revenue coming in from merchandise and beverage sales, food vendor booths, sponsors, art in the heart participants, Experience Jazz package sales, day passes, wine down tasting tickets, etc.

 

6) Even though you adjusted to the rain well last year, are you worried about the weather?

Not at this point.  There are numerous options for festival attendees.

 

7) Who, specifically, is in charge of selecting the musicians who play the festival? Elaborate a bit on that process.

The Office of Special Events works with numerous promoters and entertainers.  We receive packages from entertainers throughout the year, and work to procure different types of jazz genres which appeal to even the most finicky jazz enthusiast. 

 

8.) [As always, with every festival, it’s hard to please all tastes. Some people over the years have criticized the festival’s booking, saying there’s too much of a focus on certain styles, with less attention paid to others (particularly young, hip artists). Jazz is an extremely diverse art form, though.] What can musicians, fans, customers, etc. do to “lobby” for the inclusion of favored artists? Who should they contact, and on what grounds should one make their case?

Information should be sent to our office.  We catalogue all entertainers, and go through every package. 

9) Is the City open to having other venues, that maybe aren’t directly affiliated with the festival directly, promoted alongside the official events? How important have groups like Downtown Vision, the Chamber of Commerce and JEDC been for all this? We are very aggressive with outreach efforts to downtown businesses or those that might benefit from being involved with the festival. 

There are many partners and supporters of the festival including Downtown Vision, Visit Jacksonville, Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, MOCA, The Jacksonville Landing, Riverside Arts Market, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, St. Johns River City Band, Farah & Farah, JAA, and more.

10) Finally, and generally, I’d appreciate having as much info as can be provided about the festival’s economic impact. I was struck by the fact that the festival drew money to the city, even during a recession. I’ve always felt that the community’s investment in its jazz scene has been a decisive factor in growing the city and its reputation, so any numbers or anecdotes I could use to reiterate such points would be great.

The economic impact of the jazz festival was $20 million.  Hotels were at capacity and downtown businesses and restaurants were thriving.  If you would like to talk to someone about his experience as a hotelier downtown, I would suggest calling the General Manager at the Omni, Paul Eckert.  I have pasted numerous comments which can also be found on our website www.jaxjazzfest.com below:

My wife and I spent Friday and Saturday savoring the wonderful offering at this year’s Jazz Festival. We’ve often attended jazz festival in Breckenridge, Colorado and found your event first-class. Thanks for all the time, effort and energy you put into making this an exceptional event. – Phyllis and Tom, Gainesville, Florida

Thank you to the city of Jacksonville for organizing and hosting the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. Congratulations, it was great! I was so proud to live in Jacksonville. Downtown was welcoming, interesting, beautiful, easy to access and well-organized. The vendors, albeit disappointed with the weather, were kind and generous. And, of course, the music was fabulous. For those of you who missed it this year, you missed a fun and special event for the whole family. We had a ball! I hope the city plans to hold the festival downtown again next year. -Letter to the editor, Florida Times-Union

On behalf of the St. Johns River City Band staff, musicians, and volunteers, kudos to the city of Jacksonville and Theresa O’Donnell Price and her staff for their unbelievable efforts to keep the Jazz Festival going throughout the rain and wind.It is the 25th anniversary of the St. Johns River City Band, and it was an honor and pleasure for us to perform with Dave Brubeck and his son, Chris, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet. We’ve performed with many great artists, but this will probably be one of the most memorable.A big thank you to the people in attendance Friday night for their admiration and respect for this legendary man.I think he was truly humbled and appreciated the audience’s response. And thank you for your appreciation of our wonderful band. As a non-profit organization with the same struggles as everyone else in this economy, we savor every chance we get to represent Jacksonville and to meet our mission of keeping jazz and American music alive.Things may not have been perfect, but the venue changes and hustling behind the scenes were incredible.The show went on and it seemed like most people were going with the flow and having a great time. Most importantly, I know that the city staff will take lessons learned and make next year’s event even better. Make a Scene Downtown! -DIANTHA GRANT, Executive Director, St. Johns River City Band

This year’s festival was fantastic. My friends and I are still talking about it. Thanks to everyone is the S.E. dept. for putting together a great lineup, as well as coming up with new location…this was a great opportunity to forget your worries and enjoy the pleasures of the beautiful music by such wonderful artists.
-Regards, TanyaOur city has a wonderful tradition in The Jacksonville Jazz Festival. For three days, the city hosted some of the most celebrated jazz musicians, showcased downtown and came together as a community and left with our spirits lifted. I applaud Mayor John Peyton and the city’s Special Events Office for their tireless efforts to make this event extra special this year. Staging the Jazz Festival in the streets of downtown not only provided opportunities to host music on multiple stages, but also catered to the jazz aficionados who enjoy small venues. Downtown is rich in history, and opening the Snyder Memorial Church was wonderful for all to appreciate. Many restaurants and retailers reported terrific business and had the opportunity to engage the festival attendees as new customers. It was exciting to see so many people experience downtown for what it is – the vibrant cultural and entertainment center of the region. -TERRY LORINCE, executive director, Downtown Vision Inc.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to say how much I truly enjoyed myself at this year’s Jazz Festival. In the 30 yrs I’ve been living in Jacksonville, this is the first time I’ve gone. This year I could not pass up free. I took my granddaughter to the Suns baseball game Saturday, when we left I found a parking space on the street, and we walked to the Swingin’ Stage, to see Roberta Flack. Fantabulous!!!  Sunday we went back; walked to the Landing to the Jazz for the Juniors. Then we went back to the Swingin’ Stage and caught the last 30 minutes of Preservation Jazz Hall, they were great.  I really wanted to see Chris Botti, after seeing him on PBS; even my 9 yrs old grand enjoyed it. The camaraderie was awesome and everyone was enjoying each other. I appreciated the different vendors and variety.  I hope this is the beginning of something new. I’m going to convenience my out-of-town family to come to Jax next Memorial weekend for this great event. All I can say is Well done!!!! Well done!!!! Thank you for a great weekend. -Rosalin

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival 2009 was awesome! The convenient layout, the location and the venues were all superb. I showed up on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. I enjoyed everything thoroughly. To see the Hall of Fame Band performing together was Super! They were electrifying. It would be great to see the Hall of Fame Band become an integral part of The Jacksonville Jazz Festival in the future. -Yours truly, Mary

Whooh! I’m still recovering from one of the best Jacksonville Jazz Festival’s ever, in spite of the rain. I have been going since the first one, “Mayport and All That Jazz”. So, when I say this was a great one, in my opinion, it was a great one. What a lineup! Two things stood out this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the downtown venue. It added a “feel” to the festival that was missing. It sort of felt like being back at Mayport again. Secondly, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Hall of Fame Band. Whew! Those cats had the joint jumping. Thanks to Von Barlow for the vision and Theresa O’Donnell for making it happen. There was a third highlight (besides Noel and Renee, “So What” Band featuring Jimmy Cobb [love Miles Davis music], New Orleans Preservation Hall Band, Joe Sample and Patti Austin, Roberta Flack, Chris Botti, etc.) and that was the induction of my friend, Joyce Hellman Bizot, into the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Hall of Fame. It is an honor beyond well-deserved. See you next year! -Frances

On behalf of Chieli, Karen and the Lao Tizer band, I just want to say THANKS for allowing us the opportunity to perform at this years festival… Everyone really enjoyed it and in spite of the iffy weather, it seems all came together really well and the sun even made an appearance!  I hope that everyone was pleased with the outcome and this will be the beginning of a new tradition with the new downtown venues…  For those of us who were there on Fri night we really enjoyed the diverse programming too!  That’s what I think a ‘jazz’ festival should be all about, with many flavors, all of them great…  So thanks again and I hope we’ll all have opportunity to work together again in the future…  Kudos on a very cool event! -Lao Tizer

This was by far one of the best events hosted by the City of Jacksonville.  Please continue to schedule events like this in the downtown area. The area surpasses Metro Park in terms of its expanse, ease of access and general feel. Thanks so much for a fantastic weekend! -SheilaWe just wanted you to know that we thought the Jazz Festival was fabulous. It could not have been better……great seats, great talent and nice people everywhere. Thanks! We hope you keep this venue as it allows you to go to all stages and enjoy everything. -KathyOn behalf of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, I  applaud the City of Jacksonville’s sensational Jacksonville Jazz Festival this past weekend.  One can’t help but admire the planning it took to move this year’s event  to downtown from its long-standing venue at Metropolitan Park. The new  location worked well for introducing – or reintroducing – thousands of festival goers to downtown Jacksonville. The event is a model that  hopefully will be built upon in the future. In addition to bringing thousands of people downtown, the city brought us an impressive line-up of jazz talents. With world-class musical acts, art exhibits and the surroundings of historic downtown, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival was a full-blown cultural experience. Of course, like many of us, the city paid close attention to this past weekend’s weather forecast and weighed the potential effects of rain on the mostly outdoor event. Festival planners took all the proper “Plan B” precautions and made necessary adjustments in a timely fashion, including keeping the public well-informed. The City of Jacksonville continues to move in the right direction when it comes to marketing downtown and providing residents and tourists with rich entertaining experiences. This type of foresight brings enthusiasm to the people and a vibrant energy to downtown. I was thrilled to attend this year’s festival, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the 2010 event. Following this year’s notable change in venue and phenomenal talent line-up, I’m confident the Jacksonville Jazz Festival will just keep getting better. – Michael Stewart, Jacksonville Aviation Authority

Thank you for making Chops a feature of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival and for all you did to make the screening and the events surrounding it such a success.  We all had a great time and I thought the audience did too… I couldn’t have asked for more. The kids all played great and were clearly appreciated by the audience. Even the Jazz Talk elicited lively reactions. In spite of the rain, downtown Jacksonville looked, tasted and sounded fantastic. Bruce Broder, Chops directorIt was our first <Jazz Festival> (new to FL) and it was fantastic. We were at events every days except the Thursday opening. We loved the downtown setting and felt so excited and honored that our city would lead or facilitate the way for this to happen. We hope it remains downtown and continues to “pack the stage” with such rich and diverse talent as this year’s line-up.  We have even purchased lounge-chairs for next year! -Phillip

Good afternoon! I just wanted to take a moment to say what a wonderful event the Jacksonville Jazz Festival was this year. I am a native of Jacksonville and was visiting from the San Francisco Bay Area after many years and was pleasantly surprised to see such a happening event.  In speaking with some of the people at the event, it seems to be getting better and better every year. I also want to comment on the great lineup of talent, there was something for everyone. I especially the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Hall of Fame Band! AWSOME!  The venue was perfect for band, very intimate. It was simply stunning.-Veronica

Just a note to say how much I enjoyed the festival this year. I think moving it downtown was a good idea, even though I liked the venue at Metro Park, it supports the city and helps business grow for the downtown area. The line up was first-class and through the years I have attended many jazz festivals all over the country: Monterey, Newport, Chicago, Clearwater, etc. When I moved to Jacksonville six years ago I was very impressed with your festival, it is one of my favorites. I love living in Jacksonville and have retired here so I will be rooting for you and your staff till the end. The highlights for me were Dave Brubeck, Marcus Roberts, Dave Valentin, Jimmy Cobb and the Jacksonville Jazz Hall of Famers. Through my travels finding jazz in Jacksonville, I have met most of the members. They are a great group of guys. -Keep up the great work, Wayne

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