[Not sure if this had been posted before. Originally written for Arbus.]
As we prepare for yet another Jacksonville Jazz Festival, it’s worth noting what a great job has been done by the city’s Office of Special Events in moving festival activity from Metropolitan Park to the Laura Street corridor. The move made things much more scenic and accessible; it also helped spread the wealth to local businesses nearby. All involved will admit, though, that no amount of success is any reason to disregard the potential for even more in the years ahead.
The suggestions below are not just this writers. They result from years of chatter with people involved in every aspect of the festival business—musicians and festival bookers here and elsewhere, journalists, fans, bystanders. Everyone has an opinion, and if you’re patient enough to listen, great insight can be had. These concepts all involved very small outlay of money, if any at all, but can quickly grow festival business.
1.) Expand the whole scope of the festival: The old saying “Less is more” does not apply to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. The huge success that it’s been in recent years should provide the impetus to make it even bigger, allowing organizers to book more artists over more days and generate even more revenue for the city, its citizens, and the jazz industry itself. The festival is already profitable, and it’s worth the money the city puts into it. But the brutal fiscal and political realities mean nobody can predict what may happen in the next few years. The Jazz Festival needs to be profitable, and there’s no reason why it can’t be. One thing we know about jazz fans, historically, is that they will pay whatever it takes to get the music they want to hear. Jazz impresarios (and their counterparts in the classical world) built the music industry as we know it—everything from mic placement to global distribution to the concept of systematized concert tours.
2.) Exploit connections to NYC, etc.: Historically, the jazz industry has been based inNew York City, ever since Louis Armstrong arrived there from Chicago in the mid-1920s. It remains so today: Most of the musicians, clubs, record labels and jazz media are there, including a literal ton of talent fromNortheast Florida. Every Jazz Festival should have a solid contingent of the hottest, freshest players from the Apple, to reestablish ours as one of the country’s great festivals.
3.) Push for more involvement from local media: As with everything involving local culture, local media remains the weak link. They need to be strongly encouraged to cover things like this, instead of constantly reaching out for negative stories. The personalities alone make for easy content, and it will probably spike ratings upward. All it takes is a few cameras roaming the area, and even visitors from other cities will instantly know that we take our jazz seriously.
4.) Reach out to the national media: Our Jazz Festival is one of the oldest and best in the country, and that point needs to be reiterated to the national jazz press, most of whom have no idea there’s a jazz scene here anyway.
5.) Scout statewide talent: As it stands, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival is the oldest and best-known in the state; we have connections in the jazz industry that the other cities can only dream of. Our festival should be a showcase for the best jazz talent in the southeast, in addition to our own and the big names from up north. By incorporating more regional talent, we will encourage more tourist traffic from those cities.
6.) Integrate the surrounding venues as part of the festival experience: The bars, clubs and restaurants of our Urban Core can play a vital role in expanding the festival’s scope. There are many fine jazz artists who may not command enough of a draw to warrant placement on the main stages, but their critical appeal is such that having them here sends a strong message about our commitment to the music. Most nights, the festival wraps up around 11pm (except for the ‘Round Midnight Jazz Jam on Saturday nights). It seems a big mistake to let those crowds die down, when we’ve got a captive audience ready to experience more of the city. Festival organizers should reach out to nightspots like TSI, Marks, Dive Bar, De Real Ting, Burrito Gallery, etc., and encourage them to do their own jazz booking for festival weekend. All that activity should be included as part of the festival lineup, with all-access passes gaining entry to these places (or, at the very least, a free drink).
7.) Make better use of the festival’s own history to sell its future: Ideally, the Jazz Festival’s history could be on permanent display somewhere downtown, like the Ritz or even City Hall.Jacksonville has hosted some of the greatest musicians of all-time, but that sterling record is inaccessible to anyone younger than a certain age. If our history was better-defined, it would be even easier to chart the city’s future.
8.) Use social media to direct traffic: Social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others cost virtually nothing, but their impact on business can be huge. Local artists and musicians, having had to develop in what amounts to a media vacuum, have already helped establish the value of such technologies; Facebook, in particular, renders local media irrelevant, as far as concert listings and such. The Jazz Festival should set up accounts with these sites and use them to direct traffic to various parts of the festival. Bret Primack’s eyeJazz.tv site is a great new resource. They want short, quickly-made videos of jazz activity, but not performance stuff; more like interviews with artists and fans and tours of venues. We’re already working on connecting with that site to show off more of the nuances of our jazz scene.
firstname.lastname@example.org; April 8, 2011