The New Mexico Jazz Festival

A Collaboration Between Albuquerque And Santa Fe Jazz Presenters Debuts With A Monster Lineup

Mel Minter
8 min read
Tom Guralnick, executive director, Outpost Productions (Wes Naman)
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If you think you can pull together a 10-day summer jazz festival featuring a collection of international megastars—from scratch, in only eight months—you’re crazy.

If you
want to do it, you’re certifiable.

Lucky for jazz fans, New Mexico has three such madmen—Tom Guralnick (executive director, Outpost Productions), Bob Martin (general manager, The Lensic) and “Bumble Bee” Bob Weil (president, Santa Fe Jazz Foundation). As a result, the first annual New Mexico Jazz Festival (NMJF) is a reality, a collaborative project of the three organizations, in partnership with the New Mexico Jazz Workshop, National Hispanic Cultural Center and the Albuquerque Cultural Services Department.

Thirteen concerts–two of them free–will be presented in Albuquerque and Santa Fe from July 20-29 in small performance spaces, large theaters and outdoors under the spacious New Mexican sky. Featured artists include the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra with Arturo O’Farrill, Los Hombres Calientes, Branford Marsalis Quartet, Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars, Rebirth Brass Band, McCoy Tyner Septet and top-drawer local jazz and blues acts. (See the “2006 New Mexico Jazz Festival Schedule” for complete concert and ticket information.)

Building on Momentum

The festival began with an absence last fall, when Martin learned that the Santa Fe Jazz and International Music Festival (SFJIMF), which had enjoyed a successful five-year run, would not be continuing in 2006.

“I heard from Bruce Dunlap [executive director of Open Arts Foundation, the SFJIMF’s parent organization], and basically he just decided it was just too much to keep doing,” says Martin, whose organization helped to underwrite the festival. “I was a little surprised at first—and a little disappointed because it had been such a great event.”

The Lensic’s history with SFJIMF motivated Martin to consider putting together a new event, but he’s a man who knows his limitations. “I knew there was expertise out there that I didn’t have,” he says. “The two people who seemed most obvious to work with were Tom and Bumble Bee [because of their long history of jazz presentation].”

“It was a great thing that Bruce did. He had built up momentum there, and people were coming to expect jazz on a more regular basis,” says Guralnick. “I wanted to keep that momentum going.”

“It just seemed to me to let the jazz die would not be a good idea,” adds Weil. “Everybody felt the same way, and I think it can be a significant boost to summer activities in New Mexico.”

The three had worked in collaboration with one another on past projects, and they welcomed the chance to work together as a trio. “It’s worked out pretty well because we knew each other,” says Martin. “We’ve had our moments where we’ve butted heads, but we all have such respect for each other that we’ve gotten through that.”

New Format

In November, the three started sketching out a concept for a new festival.

“We knew we wanted to set our own tone to it,” says Guralnick. “We didn’t want to be doing the Santa Fe Jazz and International Music Festival. That was Bruce’s festival, and it was great, but we wanted to do something different.”

They decided to focus on major acts who had not recently played the previous festival. For the most part, each concert would be a single-artist event, and for the inaugural year at least, the festival would offer fewer shows. In addition, the festival would feature local artists; and because the presenting organizations reside in two cities, so would the festival.

“It seemed to be an interesting opportunity to do something both in Albuquerque and Santa Fe simultaneously, for both cities to share in something and do something unique,” Martin adds.

Finding the Money

With a concept in hand, the three had only a few hundred more hurdles to get past—the most important, of course, being funding. The late start meant important grant deadlines with the two cities and the state had already passed.

“We really had to scuffle—and are really scuffling—to try to raise enough money to do this,” says Guralnick. “These artists’ fees, as you can imagine, are very high. We’re all just pooling our resources to make it happen.”

The McCune Charitable Foundation, which had supported SFJIMF, came through with significant support in response to a proposal. The NEA Jazz Masters on Tour and Verizon provide funding for the McCoy Tyner concert. The Outpost will earmark a portion of its Mid-Sized Presenting Organizations Initiative grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for the festival, and apply funds previously granted by the New Mexico Tourism Department. Chuy Martinez of the Albuquerque Cultural Services Department provided funding for the two free concerts that will take place on the plaza in Old Town as part of the Tardeadas on the Plaza initiative. In addition, Chamber Music America; Eisbach Facial Plastic Surgery, P.C.; Lee and Susan Berk; and the
Santa Fe New Mexican offered valuable assistance.

Of course, The Lensic provides critical infrastructural support, delivering a first-class performance venue—as well as tech, marketing and box office operations—for the Santa Fe concerts.

Booking the Acts

Compared with the money issue, finding the talent was easy.

“I’ve got to give Tom the lion’s share of credit with that. He just really took the bull by the horns and just put a lot of feelers out,” Martin says. “We all were involved in deciding what we wanted, but Tom did a great amount of work, and certainly Bumble Bee—with his relationship with George Wein and the Newport Jazz Festival—I can’t say enough about both of them in terms of what they brought to the table.”

Guralnick points out that Weil, whose foundation was set up to provide financial support to musicians in need, has presented jazz concerts around Santa Fe for years. His connections and reputation proved a valuable asset, particularly with booking the Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars.

“We’re trying to put a good program together that a lot of people are going to come to, that’s high-quality, and I think we’ve done that,” Guralnick adds.

The Local Connection

The decision to bring local acts into the picture gives the festival an opportunity to highlight exceptional New Mexico performers, as well as two local nonprofit organizations that support the local jazz scene.

The opening night of the festival, held at the Outpost, dovetails with that organization’s 11
th annual Summer Thursday Jazz Nights series. The New Mexico Jazz Workshop also gets in on the celebration with four nights of salsa, blues and jazz at the Albuquerque Museum, part of its two summer series, Salsa Under the Stars and Jazz/Blues Under the Stars.

Looking Ahead

The pressure of time and the scramble for money reined in the ambitions of the three presenters for the 2006 festival, but note that they’re calling this the
first annual New Mexico Jazz Festival.

“If we succeed this year, and it does well, then we literally have a whole year to rethink about how we do it,” says Martin. He suggests the event might open up to more of a “festival sensibility,” including performances in a variety of different venues.

Weil, too, has visions of a larger event. “I’d like to see it do more, all around town. Maybe do some educational things for the kids. Get the rest of the Santa Fe and Albuquerque [jazz musicians] involved,” he says. “I’d like to see [NMJF] grow into a community of different-size venues. We’ll give them all kinds of jazz and really have a week of wonderful jazz music for New Mexico. We couldn’t do it this year, but we’ll be working on it next year to do more of a major event.”

“We all feel very confident about this being a really important thing,” says Guralnick. “With all the things that go on in Santa Fe, this will be the focal point of jazz. It could become a major, major event.”

Crazy, man.

Chris Dracup and Tommy Elskes

Wes Naman

Patti Littlefield

Wes Naman

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