After the post here the other day about the lineup for the 2010 Old Webster Jazz and Blues Festival, I got a Facebook message from Jennifer Bellm, who runs Webster Records and is in charge or programming the music for the OWJ&BF.
Bellm took exception to several aspects of the post, and though she asked that her words not be shared publicly, she raised some points that, in the interest of clearing the air, need to be addressed here.
Her first objection was to a sentence near the end of the post suggesting that the booking process for the Old Webster festival seemed to be guided by "a combination of local politics, favor-trading, and ill-advised pandering.” She felt that this unfairly implied that there was something untoward or sleazy going on, impugning the integrity of the organizers, and looking at the passage again, I think she was right to complain.
That particular sentence contains some very bad, hasty writing, and doesn't get across what I actually meant to say. I’ll see if I can do better in just a moment, but first, let’s just stipulate that I don’t think there’s anything nefarious or crooked going on with regard to the Old Webster festival booking process. I sincerely regret any such implication, and apologize to Bellm and the other organizers.
Second, she felt that I shortchanged Curt Landes by not categorizing him as one of the event’s jazz acts, and she was right about that, too. Here's what happened: Landes gigs a lot and plays many different kinds of music - jazz, blues, rock, pop and probably several other genres, too. In this case, the information available to me at the time didn't indicate anything about what style of music he'd be playing at the Old Webster event. Bellm says she's asked Landes specifically to do a all-jazz set for the fest, which will indeed boost the event's total amount of jazz content. So, apologies to Curt Landes and to you, O reader, for the misunderstanding and misinformation.
Now, back to that very bad sentence. The reference to "local politics" was a clumsy attempt to convey the notion that a local community-based event, such as the OWJ&BF, is likely to look first for talent close to home. In this case, that means booking the Webster Groves HS jazz band, the jazz faculty members from nearby Webster University, and a group representing the local music spot Robbie's House of Jazz. It's entirely appropriate that all three be represented at the fest, but that does leave fewer slots available for other musicians or groups, and hence affects the overall composition of the lineup.
"Favor trading" is a loaded phrase that implies something underhanded, but it's certainly possible for people to trade favors in a benign, beneficial way. When putting together a large event, there are inevitably a lot of personal and professional relationships that come into play, and trying to describe that with snarky shorthand doesn't increase anyone's understanding of the situation.
As for "ill-advised pandering" - it's a bit harsh, granted, but I think it's the one part of the sentence I have to stand by. From what I gather, the OWJ&BF organizers see the fest's encore tribute to the late Johnnie Johnson and the musical presence of TV weatherman Glenn Zimmermann as genuine expressions of appreciation for their past roles in helping the festival grow. I tend to see these two aspects of the event as representing the triumph of marketing over music. Based on my exchange of messages with Bellm, I don't see either one of us budging much from our respective viewpoints.
That said, I must also thank and commend Jennifer Bellm for being willing to confront criticisms directly, without getting nasty, personal or dismissive. I wish she had allowed me to publish some of her words here, because she had some interesting things to say, but perhaps she can be coaxed into doing a guest post at some point in the future.
In the meantime, as a result of our exchange she's actually asked yr. humble StLJN editor to make some suggestions about musicians for future editions of the Webster fest, which seems like a remarkably classy gesture under the circumstances. More on that at some point in the future...in the meantime, if you, dear reader, have anything to say about this whole mishegas, the comments are, as always, open.