Thursday, November 20, 2008

St. Louis Jazz & Heritage Festival
goes "on hiatus" for 2009

Cultural Festivals, the organization that produces the Saint Louis Jazz and Heritage Festival, announced today that the event would be "on hiatus" for 2009. From the press release:
"Cultural Festivals, the not-for-profit organization that produces one-of-a-kind events such as the Saint Louis Art Fair, the Big Read, and the Saint Louis Jazz and Heritage Festival, announced that the Jazz Festival will take a one year hiatus in 2009.

Cultural Festivals has produced the Saint Louis Jazz and Heritage Festival in Clayton’s Shaw Park since 2001. The one-day event featuring top local and national performers in jazz, blues, roots, rhythm & blues, is the only event sponsored by Cultural Festivals that does not offer free general admission. Ticket prices have ranged from $20 per person to $75 per person for access to the VIP hospitality tent and preferred parking.

“The Jazz Festival has been enjoyed by many people and the Board of Director’s decision to take a hiatus was a tough one to make. Cultural Festivals is currently in midst of conducting a search for a new executive director and is reviewing the organization’s structure. Unfortunately, we do not expect the new executive director to be hired and the organizational review to be completed in time to plan and book performers for a 2009 event,” said Laura Miller, who has been acting executive director since last June.

Miller added that the decision take a year hiatus with the Jazz Festival does not impact plans for the 16th annual Saint Louis Art Fair scheduled for September 11, 12 & 13, 2009 or the 4th annual Big Read festival scheduled for October 10, 2009.

The Sheldon Concert Hall and Jazz St. Louis, two original presenting partners of the Saint Louis Jazz & Heritage Festival, have had preliminary discussions to consider ways to collaborate on a jazz event in the summer of 2009. Whether Cultural Festivals will play a role in this event has yet to be determined."
This unfortunate news will take some time to fully digest, but it's worth noting what the release doesn't say - that the jazz festival was reduced from two days to one a couple of years back, in part due to reductions in funding from key sponsors; that attendance hasn't grown much over the event's lifetime; and, with bad weather a contributing factor, the crowds even have fallen off a bit the last two years from the peak four or five years ago.

It also occurs to yr. humble editor that "on hiatus" seems to be the current term of art used by the broadcast TV networks when they cancel a show forever, but, for whatever reason, don't want to just come out and say they're canceling it. Here's hoping that's not the case with the Jazz and Heritage Festival. However, assuming the event does come back after the hiatus, I'd also hope that the organizers will use the time off to make some changes for the better.

What sorts of changes should be made? Well, that's a subject that's been extensively discussed here at StLJN in the past - just plug the words "St. Louis" and "jazz festival" into the search engine at the top of the page, and you can see some of that discussion - and, given today's development, probably will be the subject of a future post.

The gist, though, is that I think the festival needs programming that is more musically substantive, diverse and distinctive. The event also could do more to explicitly celebrate St. Louis' rich musical heritage, and to involve more constituencies from within the community, thus becoming a real city-wide festival instead of just a nice day of music in the park.

I'll also be trying to find out more about the potential summer 2009 event mentioned in the news release, as that's certainly of significant interest. But in the meantime, what do you think? Please use the comments to add your thoughts on the jazz fest going on hiatus, and on what ought to be done in the future.

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