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As we move through summer, jazz festival season is in full bloom. Some of the best names in the genre will perform on stages all over the world. But jazz artists won’t be the only ones performing at these festivals named after America’s only true art form: R&B artists will also perform and in many cases, outnumber the jazz artists.

This is nothing new. In fact, I’ve seen some of the oldest and most established jazz festivals include R&B artists for quite some time. On the one hand, more familiar names will attract more people and make more money for the organizers and sponsors. On the other hand, many established and up-and-coming jazz artists won’t have the chance to be heard because there’ll be no room for them on the line up.

So the questions become, why include so many non-jazz artists on a jazz festival? And why don’t they just call it a music festival since other genres are included? Based on my knowledge, I’m going to attempt to navigate through these choppy waters.

As I alluded to earlier, booking familiar names in R&B will undoubtedly bring in people who care little or nothing about jazz and that’s a much bigger audience. At the same time jazz audiences will be able to enjoy artists from another genre that they already listen to anyway. It kills two birds with one stone.

So why not just call it a music festival?

It’s a marketing thing. Promoting a festival under the description of jazz allows organizers to target a certain type of audience: people with discernible income that will pay for a weekend of music and fun. Jazz is synonymous with intelligence, sophistication, class…..just a certain standard of life. Those are the type of people organizers and sponsors want. While marketing an event as a music festival could do the same thing, it’s been proven for years to work with the term jazz.

So where does this leave the jazz artists who are seeking a slot on a jazz festival occupied by a non-jazz artist?

Out in the cold basically. But there’s some hope. One option may be for an artist to play with a pick up band which is usually some musicians assembled by the organizers in that city. Even though their sound is compromised, they do get an opportunity to be heard. Another option can be to ensemble a group of artists as a package and present that to festival organizers. The last possible option is to be part of a festival in the beginning stages, a local one most likely.

This is an extensive topic requiring lots of discussion and I’d love to read your comments about it.…whether you’re an artist, promoter or a festival goer. But the bottom line for me and other recording artists in today’s musical climate is we have to be more creative and forward thinking in getting our music to the masses. Jazz festivals, as wonderful as they can be, are limited and should only be part of the equation. How we market ourselves on and offstage will determine a great deal of our success.

And the band played on…

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