Thursday, June 16, 2011

Life Support and Drastic Measures

In my last post I outlined some of my frustrations with the Hartford Jazz Society.  In this follow-up article I thought it would only be fair to offer some ideas as solutions.

Ideas For Attracting Younger Audiences:
  • Throughout his career, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson was continuously engaged in audience development, through performing in high school auditoriums, rather than in prestigious concert halls.  He collaborated with school band directors who got their students and Band Parents Associations excited and selling tickets.  By bringing the music to them, these kids often became fans for life.
  • Have family-friendly events.  Good music geared towards children (and their parents).  Jazz versions of children's songs.  Matinee performances at affordable prices.
  • Like the Boston Symphony Orchestra, offer and publicize discounted seats for people under age 40.
  • Actively develop a strong base of hard-working, organized volunteers, and offer them incentives (like a co-op) such as free or discounted concerts in exchange for successfully completed tasks such as online marketing, telephone solicitation, website updates, writing newsletter articles and desktop publishing.
Lowering Overhead Costs:
  • Stop relying on grant funding to break even at concerts!  I've seen the figures. It is absurd that the funds from a sold out audience could not exceed or match the overhead of hiring a band, catering, a sound man, and renting a hall.
  • Stop using the (ultra expensive!) Wadsworth as a performance venue and start collaborating with school band programs, presenting concerts in their facilities, for free.  Plus give them a portion of the proceeds, thereby realizing your educational mission.
  • Stop hiring such expensive bands.  Hire a big name headliner or "front line" from NYC and then hire qualified local musicians to accompany them.  In addition to lowering your overhead, this in turn will help sustain the local music scene, as well as boosting morale with local musicians.
Fundraising Activities:

During these perilous economic times let's not be guided by nostalgia and fond memories of years past.
  • If the cruise and dance are highly effective fund raisers, by all means keep them.  If their interest is fading, abandon them and forge a new path.  Google search "fund raising" to investigate the most effective means of generating the required funds to accomplish the organization's stated aims and purposes.
Don't Be Afraid To Dream:
  • What does the Hartford jazz scene need most?  A designated jazz performance space.  The jazz society in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada did it.  Read the history of the Yardbird Suite club, which is operated entirely by volunteers.
    If they did it, you can too.  Every month a substantial amount of rent is paid for your office space in Bloomfield.  That money could go towards a mortgage payment, coupled with donor and grant funding to do something truly special, with lasting value, which could double as your office space.  [Don't say that it is impossible.  It's not.]
Change the Slogan... now!
  • It's time to ditch "Keeping Jazz Alive".  This slogan concedes that jazz is on life support and is on its way out.  This is the wrong message to convey.  I propose "Sharing The Joy Of Jazz".
So... those are my thoughts and suggestions.  I'll be bringing this post to the direct attention of the HJS's Board of Directors, so if YOU have ideas to share as they ponder the organization's future direction, by all means, leave a comment (preferably on the blog rather than on my Facebook page.)
Ever up and Onward.


  1. Having a performance space that students could use would be fantastic. I bet you could fill it 6 nights a week (albeit making little money). UConn every Monday, Hall HS every Tuesday, etc... and a "headliner" on Friday.

    Having elementary groups play brings a lot of parents and grandparents into the space.

    A dynamic website is essential. Facebook/twitter presence.

    You need a "face of the program" that gets on Channel 3, goes to Courant, etc...that people start to know.

  2. Litchfield Jazz site:

    Hartford Jazz Site:

  3. What the HJS needs is a new brand entirely. They need to hire an executive director with a background in marketing and PR. I also believe there is a great deal of potential for working partnerships with schools. Instead of catering to the older population only, we need to start propagating a whole new generation. Jazz doesn't need to be kept alive. It iS alive....very much so. And Hartford can be a destination for jazz, attracting talent from NYC and Boston. to do this requires a complete new way of thinking.


There was an error in this gadget