Friday, December 09, 2005

Jazz lover's gift gives festival greater measure of stability

Mack Avenue Records owner also takes control from Music Hall, which will still participate.

The financially troubled Detroit International Jazz Festival got a new lease on life Thursday when Music Hall, the festival's longtime presenter, and Gretchen C. Valade, owner of jazz label Mack Avenue Records, reached an accord that will shift the event's operation and financial responsibility into Valade's hands.

Valade, an ardent jazz buff and major financial supporter of the Detroit festival in recent years, will provide an outright endowment gift of $10 million to the festival through the newly created Gretchen C. Valade Endowment for the Arts. That stake will guarantee $500,000 a year toward the festival budget, which amounted to $1.3 million this year.

In taking the festival reins, Valade said she decided to step up and virtually guarantee its future because "I love the jazz festival and didn't want to see it fail."

Whether the free Labor Day weekend extravaganza was at the point of failure might be a matter of perspective. The 2005 festival, expanded from its traditional setting on Hart Plaza to include performing venues on Woodward Avenue and at Campus Martius Park, and blessed with ideal weather for its entire 3 1/2 -day run, netted a $100,000 profit, according to Music Hall president Sandy Duncan.

But that was after the three festivals from 2002-04 had lost a total of $1 million. Those losses had to be made up from Music Hall's general operating budget.

Besides relieving Music Hall of financial responsibility for the festival, the new arrangement also calls for Valade's foundation to sponsor a series of jazz concerts at Music Hall during the winter season. Music Hall will remain involved with the festival through its educational programs. Each year, some 400 Metro Detroit school children perform on the festival's academic stage.

The growth potential of the Detroit International Jazz Festival, the largest free event of its kind in North America, was demonstrated in dramatic terms this year when a crowd estimated by Detroit Police at 1 million -- nearly double the attendance in recent years -- turned out for jazz and a new infusion of Detroit "roots" sounds such as gospel, blues, funk and soul.

Still, Music Hall had good reason to welcome Valade's bid to take over. Issues like the faltering economy, which made corporate support increasingly difficult to secure, and the perennial chance of rain had made the event a risk and frequently a burden.

The 2006 festival, Sept. 1-4, will re-create the scope, look and style of this year's event, with stages on Woodward Avenue and at Campus Martius Park spotlighting a range of Detroit sounds and the four traditional stages at Hart Plaza offering strictly jazz. Frank Malfitano will continue as the festival's artistic director.

Lawrence B. Johnson / The Detroit News

Technorati tag:

No comments: