But I’ve decided that when he applies sloppy reporting to the Chicago Jazz Festival – an event that I have helped plan and produce for more than three decades (and for which I currently serve as chair of the Programming Committee) – it would be nice to have the actual facts on record, in case anyone down the line would care to check. I previously posted about his fictional claim that the Jazz Festival has had a steadily declining budget. Now that he’s again rewriting history – in order to support a long-waged campaign against the festival’s programming – I feel compelled to again set the record straight.
The Tribune’s report that the Jazz Festival will move all performances from Grant Park to Millennium Park includes the statement that “this festival’s ancient formula has long contributed to its decline, an event that once stretched seven days having shrunk to four.”
The math is right; the history is not. The programming philosophy of the Chicago Jazz Festival has never been the cause of cuts in the schedule.
To set the record straight: The Jazz Festival began in 1979 as a seven-day event. It shrank to five days in 1983, and then to four days in 1989. In each case, the decision to compress the festival was purely economic. But don’t take my word for it. Ask Penny Tyler, who ran the festival for its first 25 years. (Getting the actual story is something you’d expect a major newspaper’s reporters to do, rather than make up their own theories of cause-and-effect.)
"In 1982 the Kool Cigarette company became a major presenting sponsor [of the festival],” Tyler told me. “They were willing to offer more money than we had ever received, and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events approved the contract. I knew this was limited to just that year; Special Events was informed of this also. We all knew that money would be needed to replace Kool for 1983, which was the responsibility of the Special Events.
“But they never found another sponsor of that size, so the Festival had to be cut. That cut had nothing to do with the programming selections for the Festival. It was all about money,” Tyler said.
When the Jazz Festival shrank from five to four days in 1989, it again had to do with economics. In order to save production costs, the city cut both of its large musical festivals (Jazz and Blues) by one day each. “Same reason,” said Tyler: “Money. All the production expenses went up and not much sponsorship money was coming in; even office staff was cut.”
That’s how the Jazz Festival, over the course of its first decade, went from seven to four days. It has remained four days ever since – which begs the issue of why the programming format, assumedly growing more “ancient” by the year, hasn’t reduced the event even further.
The Tribune jazz critic is certainly entitled to his criticism of the Jazz Festival’s format and programming (and over the years has taken full advantage of that entitlement). But he doesn’t get to revise history in order to spin that criticism into a false causality.
He also shouldn’t get to propagate the equally false equivalency, stated a sentence later, that compares shrinkage of the city-sponsored, admission-free Chicago Jazz Festival to the expansion of paid-admission festivals in Montreal and San Francisco. In case we really need to conduct remedial lessons in apples-and-oranges, just consider this:
In order to hear just the headliners that Chicago audiences enjoyed for free in 2012 – including groups led by Roy Haynes, Ambrose Akinmusire, Billy Hart, Jerry Gonzalez, Dianne Reeves, Matt Wilson, Steve Coleman, and Allen Toussaint – and multiple performances by Artist-in-Residence Ken Vandermark – a ticket-buying aficionado in San Francisco would have had to spend (conservatively) $375. That’s for the cheapest seats; double the price for the seats up front. And double it again if you wanted to bring a date.
Anyone who thinks this makes for a fair comparison between the Chicago Jazz Festival and paid-admission events, raise your hand.
Thanks, sir; you can put your hand down now.