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No Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival This Year

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Our financial situation did fall short of expectations last year, but that was not the driver for this decision. We have multiple options to explore, including different financial models to fund our work.
—Bettye Wilson
By Patricia Myers

Financial problems cited, 'angel' or sponsor sought

There will be no Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival this year, said Bettye Wilson, president of the board of directors, citing the one-two punch of the economy and less income from last year's weeklong presentation. “The decision was based on whether the current economy would sustain the festival, which would have been our 28th."

Wilson said she has been encouraged by reaction from the jazz musicians' community. “We've had local musicians want to pitch in to get the work done, and nationally known musicians who were willing to waive their performance fees to come, so we were close to putting a festival together.

“And who knows, if an angel comes through the door with the money right now..." she said, leaving the sentence unfinished, referencing the festival's $150,000 budget.

“We have had a national group helping with sensible planning, an eclectic group of people using their influence. But to a person, all were saying that festivals and jazz radio stations are in crisis. So many jazz festivals and societies have gone dark--San Diego, Santa Fe, JVC in Newport Beach. And WBGO jazz radio in New York-Newark is in financial trouble. All of that says to me that there are dark clouds on the horizon and we have to be aggressive. Telluride (festival) was saved by US West, and Portland by Alaska Airlines. We hope to identify and engage a presenting sponsor," she said.

“We are going to use this hiatus to rethink and regroup, restrategize, maybe even reinvent Sedona Jazz on the Rocks, with the full intention of bringing the festival back in 2010," she said.

“Our financial situation did fall short of expectations last year, but that was not the driver for this decision. We have multiple options to explore, including different financial models to fund our work."

She added that all 2008 bills were paid, and operational costs cut by 80 percent, including eliminating the paid director's position. “We are working to strengthen our financial footing, and are now all-volunteer with no paid director, with a terrific group of hands-on and committed people. Last year's expansion was about bringing more local and statewide jazz groups into the festival, a grand experiment."

The 2008 festival expanded to six days of performances, increasing from the previous three public events: a Friday night concert, all-day Saturday festival and Sunday jazz brunch.

“We used 2008 festival income to send some students to the summer program at Berklee (College of Music), but not as many as in the past. Since 1979, our goal has been to send 20 students each summer." She said the camp costs $7,000 per student, providing five weeks of living on campus and working with major pros. “It's a phenomenal program, and the students come back strutting their stuff."

Wilson emphasized that cutbacks or elimination of school arts programs have increased the need for supplemental music education. “We will be working this year to fund some scholarships. We have had a fourth grade program, and hope to be positioned in the fall to do some music clinics."

Wilson said the focus during the hiatus would be to keep jazz alive and available for the next generation, “to interest young people in jazz, to find a way, a hook to engage their interest. We may need to re-engineer JOR, find what we need to do differently to broadened the interest in jazz to get to the young people because the older fans are 'leaving' us.

“Every year, I go to major jazz festivals in another part of the world and see enthusiasm; they love jazz like nobody's business," she said.

Her final statement was, “Sedona Jazz on the Rocks is not going away; we are resilient and creative."

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