If you’re a jazz fan, you have to feel like a kid in a candy store during the 2005 Rochester International Jazz Festival. Great names in jazz and world music from several continents. The streets are filled with people. Rochester seems like the center of the jazz world. More about that in a minute.
I got reassigned last night to the Montage Grille, rather than Kilbourn Hall. That was fine with me — although it meant that I missed the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, founded by one of my faves, Kahil El Zabar. Instead, though, I got to see two sets by one of the biggest draws of the festival: the Lew Tabackin Trio. Lew played two sets of mainstream jazz, led by his tenor and flute and featuring Boris Koslov on bass and Mark Taylor on drums. The crowd ate it up like it was the last show they’d ever see. Completely sold-out houses for both sets.
I also took in the first half of the movie Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue. This film focuses on Miles’ 1970 performance at the Isle of Wight festival. The first half of the documentary features interviews with the musicians who played with Miles in that era — Dave Liebman, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Pete Cosey, Airto Moreira, Dave Holland, and many more — and others who were inspired by him, the most interesting of whom was Carlos Santana. The film also features the usual cast of characters — led by Stanley Crouch — taking potshots at electric Miles. I had to leave before the concert footage came on, but the film is out on DVD, so I’ll get a chance to check it out. It was very capably introduced by my friend Erik Telford, the host of Miles Radio on Jazz90.1.
Now back to the impact the festival is having on the city of Rochester.
I’m not privy to too many insider stories, but from where I sit, I think the city is really missing the boat when it comes to this festival. Let’s face it, folks: Rochester’s manufacturing days are over. Say it with me one more time: Rochester’s manufacturing days are over. If this town has any chance of regaining a slice of its former glory, it needs to turn to other sources of attracting people and revenue. Forget High Falls, where no one lives and no one could live, and focus on things like the Rochester International Jazz Festival.
As an example, just look at Montreal. In 2004, the Montreal International Jazz Festival drew 1.9 million people. That’s right, nearly 2 million jazz fans went to Montreal from all over the world, injecting millions upon millions of dollars into that city’s economy. “Sure,” you may be saying, “but that’s a big city.” Folks, don’t kid yourselves. The Rochester International Jazz Festival is one of the top 10 festivals in the U.S. already, in just its fourth year. Can you even imagine the impact on our city from Montreal-level tourism? If even 10% as many people each spent $100 here, that’s $19 million into Rochester’s coffers. (By the way — Monroe County is $19.5 million in the hole. I’m just sayin’.) And that’s completely achievable — but only if the city takes a much more active role in subsidizing the festival, advertising the festival, and integrating the festival into Rochester’s core image.
Yes, it will cost some money. Yes, it will take some vision and initiative. But it’s worth it. Rochester could be one of the centers of the jazz world. And that will benefit all of us. Let’s make it happen.
UPDATE: For more festival reviews and commentary, check out Erik Telford’s excllent Miles Radio site.