Sunday, June 07, 2009

Another Perspective

When I'm not writing about music I make my living in corporate and government communications—marketing, for lack of a more inclusive term. Now, for the first time since 1989, I'm bringing the two parts of my life together to take on the role of media advisor to the 2009 TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival. I served on the board of the festival during the latter part of the 1980s, during a time that I was out of journalism, and have been co-ordinating a set of panel discussions at the festival the past two years, so it's familiar ground.

This opens up some interesting blogging possibilities from now until the festival wraps up on July 5, and I plan to post here some of what I see and hear to provide some insight into what goes into making a large jazz festival run.

These are interesting times, to say the least. It seems now that the rumours about the demise of JazzTimes are indeed true, and it's anyone's guess what the future holds for jazz festivals in the wake of JVC's decision to pull out of New York and various other blows to U.S. festivals. Here in Canada, the festival circuit remains strong—thanks in large part to the ongoing sponsorship of TD Canada Trust—but we're not without a few cracks in the foundation: witness the decision by General Motors not to renew its substantial support of the Montreal jazz fest, even before the company's current re-structuring.

It is evident that a new model is in order on several fronts. In many ways, the current situation reminds me of the mid-'70s, when the popularity of rock had pretty much decimated the established jazz scene. The bloom was largely off the jazz-rock fusion movement, as the innovation of John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea,, began to give way to less-creative efforts, and the club circuit was in ruins. Commercial jazz radio had started its long death march. Things were grim; just ask any jazz musician who was trying to make ends meet back then. But those doldrums gave way to a long upward cycle, which saw the spread of the jazz festival concept to cities like Montreal and Vancouver (and Ottawa), and the rise of a new generation that included the people who grew JazzTimes into a slick publication that could hold its own with anything else on the newsstand.

So, I'm holding out for another upward swing, which will bring a new model for many parts of our industry. What format will those things take? I don't think we can safely guess, any more than we might've predicted 15 years ago that digital, broadband technology would mean the destruction of the music industry as we knew it then. We'll just have to wait and see. But, meanwhile, stay tuned, and I'll take you backstage at one of North America's largest jazz festivals, where we'll likely hear a lot more about where we are and where we might be headed.

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