Financial Crunch May Force End to Charlie Parker Jazz Festival

Volume CII, No. 10October, 2002

Natasha Jackson

The tenth annual, and possibly last, Charlie Parker Jazz Festival took place at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem and Tompkins Square Park, on Aug. 24 and 25. In the past couple of years, the festival had expanded by adding a concert in an uptown location, recognizing not only Parker’s residence in the Lower East Side, but also his stomping grounds in Harlem.

This year’s festival was marked by its usual luster and impressive roster. Known widely as one of the highest quality free jazz festivals in the city, many were saddened to learn that this year could very well be the end of one of the summer’s jazz highlights.

After last September, arts organizations felt a funding crunch due to the economic slump and subsequent shortages of donations to the arts. Sam Turvey, ten-year producer of the festival and chairperson of its board of directors, said the challenges facing the festival are structural as well as financial.

“If the festival is to continue we need a better organizational situation, one that will ensure that we can continue to meet the growing demand,” Turvey told Allegro. “We also need to achieve important goals such as increasing pension contributions for musicians.” Turvey said a search for a new festival producer is underway, preferably for an arts organization with a compatible vision for the festival and presentation of jazz.

When the festival began there were few, if any, free jazz events in the city. Since then a multitude of jazz events have emerged, free and otherwise. When asked what he believes the Charlie Parker festival added to the jazz community, Turvey said it provided a means of recognizing forgotten legends, and in some cases prompted a noticeable increase in the local bookings of some performers after appearing at the festival. “I believe we helped inform how important it is to present jazz the proper way. Even details like paying attention to the amplification show how much we care about the music,” he said.

Tuvey says that, considering the overwhelming response he has received from fans of the festival, every effort is being made to continue the tradition. There has been a groundswell of support from the public and fans since the announcement that this year’s festival could be the last. “There has been a steady ‘you can’t go’ outcry – there came a point during the festival when I just had to tell people I couldn’t talk about it,” he said.

Turvey noted that festival organizers were committed to making this year memorable, and decided, despite financial concerns, to schedule five sets for both days. He couldn’t have been happier with the results and, despite the rain, proclaimed this year’s uptown concert as one of the best two or three the festival has ever presented.

The performers included the Ray Vega Latin Jazz Sextet, the Earl May Quintet, David Glasser, Catherine Russell, Cecil Payne, Houston Person, Jimmy Scott and the Jazz Expressions, the Hank Jones Trio, Frank Wess, Jimmy Heath, Cobb’s Mobb (Jimmy Cobb), Peter Bernstein, Jon Gordon, the Winard Harper Sextet, Carrie Smith, Derrick Barker, the Greg Osby Four, Jason Moran, Joe Lovano and Tom Harrell.

This was the festival’s second year as a signatory of a collective bargaining agreement with Local 802, providing pension contributions for all participating musicians.