OffBeat, when it started, was my vision of being able to use a medium to improve the music industry in New Orleans and Louisiana. I wanted it to be a stimulus to improve the quality of life for local musicians and businesses who wanted to serve the music industry. OffBeat was designed and distributed to market the extraordinariness of our local music not only to people who already knew about it, but to a much greater group of people who should know about it.
We just celebrated our 20th anniversary at the magazine, and in that period of time, much has happened. The Jazz Fest has grown to an astounding, highly-profitable event that attracts visitors from around the world. The French Quarter Fest, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary in mid-April has finally reached the big leagues as a major attraction for people—not just locals—who love New Orleans’ music, food and culture. Essence Fest has taken over as the summer’s big draw to New Orleans for African-Americans from all over the country. We’ve seen the establishment and success of the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, Tales of The Cocktail, the Voodoo Music Experience, Satchmo SummerFest and so many more local festivals. Several of our local universities have full-fledged jazz studies programs. The Thelonius Monk Institute relocated its campus here. You can get a college degree from Loyola University in Music Business Studies.
There are many more attorneys who specialize in music business. There’s a new thriving music “district” on Frenchmen Street that didn’t exist 20, or even ten, years ago. There are solid plans to establish a world-class music museum in New Orleans. We’ve got a thriving Louisiana film industry (“Hollywood South”) that’s used local musicians and creative talent that would never have had the opportunity to make a living in Louisiana. We’ve managed to elect a music-and culture-friendly Lieutenant Governor who has made strides in promoting and improving our “cultural economy.” We have a city council that seems to be more interested in improving the city than lining its pockets.
Then there was Katrina. But for all the horrific damage she did to our city, we’ve managed to come back stronger, more resilient, and more determined than ever to keep our city and its music, culture and neighborhoods alive and thriving. We’ve got a lot more involved talented people who are committed to staying here and making New Orleans a better place to live. Some of these folks have been through the trauma of losing literally everything they owned and the almost unendurable pain of losing loved ones.
We have more restaurants open in New Orleans than before the storm. We have more music clubs than before the storm. The outside world took notice of the fragility of our culture and responded by sending us money and volunteers to help us recover—something that’s going to take a very long time. We have organizations like the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, the Musicians’ Village, Renew Our Music, the Tipitina’s Foundation, Sweet Home New Orleans and the newly-reinvigorated New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.
For a lot of years, many who lived here wondered what the hell the NOJHF did with all the dough it made from Jazz Fest. No one seemed to have the answer to that question. Don Marshall, one of the founders of the Contemporary Arts Center, and a culture and arts activist for his entire life, is the new Executive Director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. He had the foresight—and finally the financial ability—to put a staff into place at the Foundation that has set out on a course to change how and what the Foundation does. Since Don, and his right-hand man Scott Aiges, formerly of the Mayor’s Music Office, have worked together the NOJHF has launched new festivals (Blues Fest, Fiesta Latina, Riverside Concerts, and collaborates on the New Orleans Seafood Festival). NOJHF has published the Jazz Journey brochures, to create more of an interest in New Orleans’ jazz music, culture and heritage. Marshall’s background in the arts has been the impetus behind creating the Jazz & Heritage Art Gallery at their offices at 1205 North Rampart, and New Orleans Arts Education Alliance, a new youth arts festival. Upcoming projects include a film series, expanding the Don Jamison Heritage School of Music’s campuses in the city (originally one, they are now five). So the Foundation is finally moving to achieve the goals stated in its nominal mission.
Aiges, former music writer for the Times-Picayune, band manager, and coordinator for the music business networking event “LMNOP” in the late ’90s is now using the Foundation’s resources—along with the support of Louisiana Department of Economic Development—to create another event during Jazz Fest called “Sync-Up.”
“For Sync Up, some of the ideas date back to LMNOP days—how do we figure out how to leverage the impact of Jazz Fest for broader industry development locally?” says Aiges.
“Obviously, the conference idea has been tried before. And so has hospitality for music business people coming to Jazz Fest. We started the Music Industry Hospitality Suite at Jazz Fest when I was in the Mayor’s Office. But the new angles are to bring in a hand-picked target group of music supervisors for a hard sell on using the tax credit benefits to get local music licensed into all the movies that are being shot here, and to get more soundtrack music recorded here,” he said.
Sync-Up’s projects include creating a 100-song sampler on flash drives for attendees, so they can get a taste of the diversity of local music; creating a searchable online database of local music, tailored to festival talent buyers and film and television music supervisors.
“We also intend on making the database searchable by tour schedule and region, so a festival buy in, say, Finland, can look for a local band that will already be in Scandinavia around the time of his event,” Aiges added.
So, things are happening here, mo’ and bettah!