Jazz in Albuquerque: Down But Not Out
June 23 was hardly a red-letter day for Jazz here in Albuquerque. To be honest, doomsday could be a more apt description, for that was the day on which Ed Ulman, executive director of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop, had to make the "toughest phone call of his life. The recipient of that call, in Tucson, AZ, was saxophonist Bud Shank, and its substance was to let him know that the Bud Shank Jazz Workshop, scheduled for July 17-24 at the University of New Mexico, was being canceled. Needless to say, Bud was about as pleased to hear the news as Ed was to have to deliver it. Just like that, months of hard work and planning were washed down the drain, leaving the NMJW with nothing to show for the effort but a spate of red ink and a number of unhappy campers who'd cleared their busy schedules to serve as Workshop faculty.
What went wrong? That's hard to say, but the agonizing decision to cancel was based purely on economics. Ulman reckoned they'd have to enroll at least 120 students in the Workshop to break even or come close to that; with less than a month to go before Shank and his instructors were due to arrive, the number of enrollments was about halfway there with virtually no chance of going much higher, as everything that could be done to draw students had already been tried. "It was quite disappointing, says Ulman, who had made a pitch for the Workshop at IAJE conferences in Long Beach, CA, and Waco, TX, and sent flyers and literature to schools and educators in a wide area around Albuquerque. "We had one student enroll from Tucson, where Bud lives, and only two from UNM, which was to host the event. That's not going to get it done.
While no one has said so, I suspect that there simply wasn't enough time to organize an event of that size, especially in a place where Jazz is far from the hottest ticket in town. Shank hosted his last Centrum Workshop in Port Townsend, WA, a year ago this month, and the decision to move to Albuquerque following his callous dismissal after twenty-two years as director there wasn't made until several months afterward, toward the end of the year. Ulman, a tireless worker on behalf of Jazz and Jazz education, saw the Workshop as an opportunity to lend the music the sort of visibility and credibility it had never had in Albuquerque, and indeed it could have been. Ulman and a handful of helpers bequeathed their time and resources to the enterprise, but in the end the best efforts of everyone involved weren't enough to make it happen.
Also scrapped was the three-day Southwest Jazz Party, which was to have been held in connection with the Workshop to feature performances at various venues by faculty and students as well as appearances by Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana; quartets led by Shank, trumpeter Bobby Shew, trombonist Steve Turre and vocalist Stephanie Nakasian; and an all-star big band directed by Grammy Award winner Maria Schneider. As all of these events were heavily publicized in local newspapers and magazines, it may take quite some time to restore the Jazz community's loss of credibility. As setbacks go, this one was by no means trivial. The New Mexico Jazz Workshop will no doubt recover, but not anytime soon. However, given the circumstances that existed last year, I'd still say, "Go for it. Success and failure are two sides of a coin, and no one wins or loses without tossing that coin. In theory, bringing the Jazz Workshop to Albuquerque was a great idea; in practice, it proved unworkable, especially in light of the time constraints, but giving it a shot was better than doing nothing. I hope the musicians, who were understandably disheartened, appreciate how much everyone in the Albuquerque Jazz community wanted the initiative to bear fruit, and what a serious setback this is to their hopes and dreams for the future of Jazz in this city.
R.I.P. Tom Talbert