Jazz comes home to city

Baltimore chosen to host national music festival slated for August

February 01, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Baltimore will revisit its jazz roots this summer when the city hosts a three-day, music festival that its organizers predict will draw 40 acts and pump millions of dollars into the economy.

The event, which will feature concerts at venues in the Inner Harbor and throughout the downtown area, is scheduled for Aug. 9-11 and sponsored by PAETEC, a New York-based communications company.

"Jazz has an ... enduring legacy in our city," Mayor Sheila Dixon said at a news conference yesterday at City Hall. She alluded to such Baltimoreans as composer-pianist Eubie Blake, drummer Chick Webb, singer Billie Holiday and big-band leader Cab Calloway, and added that she could think of nowhere more suitable than Baltimore for the festival.

John Nugent, a Toronto-based tenor saxophone player and concert producer, and trumpeter Marc Iacona will produce the festival.

Nugent and Iacona are responsible for the nine-day Rochester International Jazz Festival, which has featured Aretha Franklin, Dave Brubeck, Tony Bennett and Woody Allen. Last year, the event added $10 million to the economy of Rochester, N.Y.

"If we don't make a $10 million impact in three days in Baltimore, we'd be very disappointed," said Nugent. "But we're looking to bring $20 million to the city."

Baltimore was chosen over Charlotte, N.C., Providence, R.I., and Jacksonville, Fla., as the festival site. Its proximity to Washington, New York and Philadelphia, as well as the relative ease with which people can get to its downtown venues, made it attractive, the producers said.

Nugent and Iacona, who is also president of Simcona Electronics, have experience as jazz event producers. Last year, the five-year-old Rochester festival drew more than 80,000 people. For the past seven years, Nugent has also overseen the Stockholm Jazz Festival in Sweden, which annually draws a crowd of more than 50,000. After those successes, Nugent became interested in establishing music festivals in other cities. He secured sponsorship with PAETEC last year, and he and PAETEC chief executive Arunas A. Chesonis, a Baltimore native, considered several East Coast cities. In addition to Baltimore's convenient location, the two also took into consideration that PAETEC generated $40 million in sales regionally last year and that last year's HFStival, the area's biggest rock-oriented event, pulled in $6.1 million.

"We checked all the cities on the East Coast where PAETEC has a footprint," Nugent said. "It's all sorts of serendipity how all things came together."

Henry Wong, owner of An die Musik, a music store and concert venue on Charles Street, welcomed the prospect of another festival. He said he hoped the jazz festival would extend beyond the Inner Harbor to other neighborhoods and venues and become an annual event.

"People will make it a pilgrimage: `We have to mark off those days to come to Baltimore,'" he said. "Or, if you live in Baltimore, you would say, `This is when we will invite people to come stay with us.'"

Beyond the possible economic impact of the jazz festival, some predict that it will reinvigorate interest in the city's jazz scene. Baltimore musician Tamm E Hunt said she had been in contact with Nugent and Iacona about performing at the PAETEC festival.

"This is something that has been long-awaited by the jazz community here," Hunt said. "It's a wonderful thing that it will only expand the understanding that Baltimore was the cr?me de la cr?me of the jazz circuit at one time. The city's an unsung mecca of jazz and blues. We need people to know about our reputation for America's indigenous music."

Respected local jazz vocalist Ethel Ennis says she's surprised that such a large, corporate-sponsored festival would focus on jazz these days.

"I hear so much rock and rap stuff around here, you know," she says. "I wonder how much support it would get. It would be educational. I think [the mayor] is on the right foot with this one."

Although no specific names were mentioned, the producers plan to bring in major acts whose music expands the jazz category. The complete artist lineup, schedule and ticket sale details will be announced in May; a new Web site, paetecjazz.com, will also contain information.

"If it's creative and improvised," said Nugent, "you can present it at a jazz festival."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Carolyn Peirce contributed to this article.

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