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2008: A Year of Jazz Tumult, Controversy and Achievements

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The demise of one of the world's premier jazz advocacy organizations topped the jazz world's headlines during 2008, a year that also saw several jazz festivals impacted by the worsening economy. Yet the music itself—and its makers—continue to survive if not thrive in many ways.

Here's a look at notable happenings and achievements:

IAJE: The International Association of Jazz Education, long considered the largest and perhaps most powerful jazz advocacy group, became a victim of its own success in April when it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The 35-year-old music educators' nonprofit group was best known for an annual winter jazz conference for professional and student musicians, educators, producers, record company executives and others from every corner of the jazz world. It's exhausting four-day annual gathering of seminars, concerts, workshops and musicians' hang generally attracted as many as 8,000 attendees. The tipping point was a disastrous conference in Toronto in January 2008, where the turnout was off by 40 percent. Educators and their students will miss its impact.

Economic woes: Jazz festivals are not immune to the twists and turns of the greater economy. Just ask promoters in Montreal, Oregon and Wales.

  • The Montreal International Jazz Festival announced late in the year that General Motors, one of the ailing big three U.S. automakers, will not renew its primary sponsorship of the world's largest and one of its most prestigious jazz events. Festival producers said GM Canada's 10-year involvement will run through the 30th annual festival in June and July 2009. Organizers are shopping for a new principal sponsor beginning with the 2010 edition.

  • What was here yesterday is gone today—but will be back tomorrow. That's how it seemed in Portland, Oregon in September. Three weeks after Portland Jazz Festival organizers announced their event was ceasing operations, they announced plans for a sixth annual festival in 2009 were back on, thanks to a multi-year title sponsorship agreement with Alaska Airlines.

  • The Brecon Jazz Festival in Wales closed after 25 years of operation and major losses in the summer of 2008. At year end, efforts were under way to develop support for staging a new jazz event next summer in the Mid-Wales market town.


Controversy in Denver: Jazz is all about individual expression, unless that involves tinkering with the national anthem. Singer Rene Marie got significant media attention after she performed a modified version of the national anthem at the Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's State of the City address. Marie sang lyrics to "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing"—a song that's also known as the Black national anthem - to a modified melody of "The Star Spangled Banner." "I didn't expect that singing the song would garner this kind of attention," Marie said. "I had sung the exact same song at the Colorado Prayer Luncheon earlier this year before a much larger and wider audience and there wasn't even a ripple." The singer called what she performed "a love song to her country. "The last thing I wanted to do was cause trouble for the mayor and so I have apologized directly to him for any distress that may have resulted from my singing," she said. "As for offending others with my music, I cannot apologize for that. It goes with the risky territory of being an artist."

Bringing new meaning to jazz licks: The U.S. Postal Service issues two new jazz-related postage stamps in 2008. The first, honoring singer Frank Sinatra, was initially sold in May in three cities important to his life—his birthplace in Hoboken, N.J., New York City, where his career took off in the 1940s, and Las Vegas, the home of his "Rat Pack" days. The Postal Service issued a Latin Jazz stamp in September, coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month.

Significant outreach: Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu announced that $6 million in state and federal funding will make a world-class Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans a reality, showcasing Louisiana's rich history as the birthplace of jazz. The Mint was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, but restoration efforts were completed in October 2007. At the core of the Louisiana State Museum's Music Collection is its internationally-known Jazz Collection, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the world. The exhibit has been stored since being evacuated from the storm. It will return as an integral part of the Centennial Project. The Jazz Museum is projected to be completed by 2010.

  • Minton's Playhouse in Harlem announced a massive expansion in its jazz programming and community outreach through the formation of the non-profit foundation Minton's Mentors. It also forged an international partnership with South Africa's Fort Hare University's Jazz Studies Department.

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