Organizers seek funding sources to keep the event free and accessible
NORTHAMPTON – Facing the loss of a major sponsorship, the founders and organizers of the Northampton Jazz Festival are looking to the community for financial support so that September’s full slate of offerings can continue to be held free of charge.
This year’s festival is slated to begin Tuesday, Sept. 2 with various events held each day of the week, leading up to the Saturday, Sept. 6 main festival event from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. in downtown Northampton. Musicians on tap will include some of the “most cutting-edge players, mostly from the New York scene,” said Tom Reney, host of WFCR’s Jazz a la Mode jazz radio show.
Rick Gifford, a founding member of the board of directors and director of the 12-Mile Meal portion of the Sept. 6 event, said the cost of the festival is about $35,000 per year: $15,000 for the musicians and another $20,000 in maintenance and set-up costs.
This year, the festival lost an annual $10,000 sponsorship from a large corporation due to a change in its funding priorities. Gifford and fellow festival board members are hoping to close the gap with new business sponsorships as well as private donations, which they are seeking from the community at large for the first time.
“We’re determined to continue to make it a free concert for participants,” Gifford said. “All of the music that is supported by our sponsors and patrons of the arts is designed to allow people of any walk of life with an interest in jazz to come to the jazz festival and not worry about buying a ticket.
“Northampton is all about inclusion,” he added. “That is the mission of the Jazz Festival, too.”
To help close the gap, organizers held a private fundraising party on June 4 in Northampton, raising more than $3,500 and bringing the total needed down to $11,500.
“Supporting the festival is supporting the vitality of the region. I am committed to do what I can to continue to keep free and open jazz alive in this Valley,” said Allen Davis, founder of the Davis Financial Group, LLC, in Hadley and a patron of the festival.
Willie Hill, director of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said, “We must dig as deep as we possibly can to support jazz and pass it on to our children and the next generation, or it will die as an American art form.”
Gifford said the Northampton Jazz Festival offers the community a great cultural experience.
“Jazz comes out of the struggle of immigration, slavery, racism, poverty,” Gifford said. “The American art form of jazz and blues is telling that story, so it has historical significance from a cultural-historical perspective. People need to experience that by having a jazz concert to go to.”
He said the festival is a vital part of the cultural renaissance ongoing in Hampshire County, and it has also proven to be a tourist attraction for the city.
Events begin Tuesday, Sept. 2 with a performance by vocalist Giacomo Gates at the Northampton Jazz Workshop at The Loft at the Clarion Hotel at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3 and Thursday, Sept. 4 are Jazz and Food Nights at Popcorn Noir in Easthampton and Sierra Grill in Northampton, starting at 6 p.m., and Friday, Sept. 5, “The Northampton Jazz Strut” will give music lovers a chance to explore different venues across downtown Northampton and hear a number of local and regional jazz performers.
At Saturday’s signature Northampton Jazz Festival event, featured performers will be: Etienne Charles & Creole Soul, the Steve Davis Quintet and the Champian Fulton Quartet, the Seamus Blake Band, FlavaEvolution, the Miro Sprague/Marty Jaffe Group and Hendrik Meurkens/Scott Mullet with the Green Street Trio.
The festival will also feature the 12-Mile Meal event (12milemeal.com), a battle between three local chefs who are given locally raised ingredients and must cook a dish on the spot with those ingredients.
Participating in this year’s challenge will be Chef Xavier Jones of Viva Fresh Pasta of Northampton, Brian Graham of Johnny’s Tavern in Amherst and Chef Casey Douglass of Galaxy Restaurant/Lounge in Easthampton.
Board members for the Northampton Jazz Festival are: Bill Collins, Steve Campbell, Gifford, Jesse Adams, Alan Blankenship, David Picchi and John Kane. Paul Arslanian and David Picchi are co-artistic directors, and Ruth Griggs is media and marketing director.
For more information, visit NorthamptonJazzFestival.org or contact Gifford at 413-582-7925. Contributions can be sent to Northampton Jazz Festival, P. O. Box 641, Northampton, MA 01060.
Featured photo courtesy of Sebastien Letellier via Flickr