Jun 26, 2009 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Festival director Frank Malfitano reflects on the current crises
If sponsors step forward, the Syracuse Jazz Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2012. Late last year, its artistic director, Frank Malfitano, signed a four-year contract extension with the festival board.
“If I’m asking the county, corporations and the community to all make a commitment to the festival, I have to make a commitment too,” Malfitano said.
The former director of the Detroit International Jazz Festival, Malfitano, 63, now works as a booking consultant to Utica’s Stanley Theatre and to the Arts Across Campus program at OCC, where the festival has been staged since 2001.
He recently shared his thoughts on problems now plaguing the jazz industry.
Q: JazzTimes, a 38-year-old glossy magazine with a 100,000 circulation, suspended publication on June 8. What does this mean for the jazz industry?
A: First it was the dissolution last year of the International Association for Jazz Education, then the cancellation of the Newport and JVC Jazz Festivals and now the suspension, and arguably the permanent ceasing of publication for one of the longest-running jazz publications in the world, which is following on the heels of the recent elimination of Wire, Coda and many other major jazz magazines, coupled with the ongoing systematic removal of NPR jazz programming and many Clear Channel smooth jazz radio formats, not to mention the cutbacks and near-elimination of Leo Rayhill’s long-running jazz radio program on WCNY-FM.
Is anyone seeing a trend here? Is anyone really all that surprised?
Q: Who’s responsible?
A: The purists and jazz police, not the economy, have damn near killed this art form because of their stubbornness and their failure to grow and evolve, primarily because of their collective inability as an industry to develop a protective trade organization umbrella akin to that of the 1/4ber-successful CMA, which has been a safe haven for classic country, bluegrass and several other disciplines that have fallen under the umbrella of country music.
Q: For three decades, you’ve worked on jazz projects in New York City, Detroit, Syracuse and other Northeast burgs. Did you anticipate the present crisis?
A: I’ve always hated I-told-you-so types, but many of us have seen this coming for the past 20 years but were powerless to prevent it because a very small but vocal group of hipper-than-thou diehards opposed to the popularization of jazz for a mass audience did everything they could to keep jazz a best-kept secret. They’d freeze jazz in a time warp in the 1950s and ’60s instead of taking steps to ensure its health, growth, well-being and survival.
Obviously, these are some of the same cats that gave Weather Report a one-star review in Dead Beat.
While I greatly respect the tradition as much as the next cat, somebody needs to tell the jazz necrophiliacs out there, who are hopelessly stuck in the past, that this ain’t no damn museum piece. The tradition evolves and the music continues.
Q: What do you think the future holds for jazz?
A: Expect more bad news and fatalities down the road and soon. This snowball is just starting to roll down the hill, and it shows no signs of stopping.
Major jazz festivals across the nation have been canceled. It could happen here if the community at large and festival stakeholders do not actively rally around those major festivals in Central New York that continue to matter to residents, visitors, the region and to the local economy.
Q: What about the Syracuse Jazz Fest, now in its 27th year?
A: Lest I sound like the harbinger of doom, I need to thank all those who’ve helped keep the Syracuse Jazz Fest alive and thriving when all around us are failing and faltering. Whatever success we have had, and whatever success we will enjoy again this June 26 and 27, it is all because of the many sponsors, partners, stakeholders, musicians and audience members who support this mission to keep the music alive.