Archive for Tuesday, August 20, 2002

N.Y.’s Charlie Parker Jazz Festival struggles to stay afloat

August 20, 2002


— For the last decade, Charlie Parker's birthday has been acknowledged in New York City by a weekend jazz festival during which some of the finest jazz musicians have performed outdoors for free.

It began as something close to a neighborhood party, a Sunday evening revue of modern jazz staged at Tompkins Square Park in lower Manhattan.

K.C. ConnectionCharlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kan., and moved to Kansas City, Mo., as a child. He got his start playing jazz in Kansas City, and moved away at age 20.Although his funeral was held in Harlem, Parker is buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Kansas City, Mo. A sculpture in his honor is located in the city's historic 18th and Vine district.

The park is across the street from an apartment building where Parker the trailblazing alto saxophonist and bop visionary who was born Aug. 29, 1920, and died 35 years later spent some of the happiest, most productive years of a short, turbulent life.

The 10th annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival takes place this weekend.

The festival, which has been cultivated and organized at the grass-roots level by neighborhood volunteers, finds its future imperiled by a $30,000 deficit.

"We've gotten by on a lot of smiles and luck over the years," says Samuel Turvey, an attorney who serves as the festival's chairman of the board. "But a lot of us on the board have been at this for a long time, and we've spent a lot of time trying to figure out how it can keep on going after we leave."

A big reason for the deficit, according to Turvey and other board members, is tied to the cataclysmic events of Sept. 11, as well as a staggering economy. Contributions from private and public sources have diminished.

"We lost 40 percent of our funding from 9-11," Turvey says. And while some contributors (American Airlines, Blue Note Records and Con Edison, among them) have come through in the clutch, it still hasn't been enough to meet the cost for this year's program.

"I can't tell you all the favors that have been called in," Turvey says. "I've even been going through my wedding invitation list of years ago."

The festival's patented mix of old, young and in-between artists continues with this year's 10th edition.

The Saturday concert features a "saxophone summit," featuring veteran tenors Frank Wess and Jimmy Heath.

Another tenor sax eminence gris, Houston Person, performs with his band in tribute to his longtime singing collaborator Etta Jones, who died last year. Singer Jimmy Scott, Ray Vega's Latin Jazz Sextet and the indomitable 84-year-old pianist Hank Jones are also on Saturday's bill.

Person also will perform at Sunday's show, along with bands led by and/or including alto saxophonists Charles McPherson, Greg Osby and Jon Gordon; trombonist Jimmy Knepper; drummer Winard Harper; pianist Jason Moran; tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, and singer Carrie Smith.

Turvey hopes these performances won't constitute a swan song for the Parker festival. But he doesn't see how it can continue without a full-time staff as opposed to volunteers. Such things cost money, and the money may have to come through corporate sponsorship.

"The unspoken fear is that because of (sponsorship), we'll lose the things that made us unique," Turvey says.

"I'd hate to see that happen in any case, and we'd hope that whoever picks up where we leave off will acknowledge what made it so intimate and special."

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