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Jazz Hands

January 31, 2007

The swinging corporate overlords of the Paetec Corporation. | Image by

This morning Noise went to City Hall. Not one of our usual haunts–we only break out the suit when someone dies or, worse, gets married–so it was nice to do a little reporting from a place that wasn’t a band’s practice space/flophouse. The reason we were there was an audience with our city’s new mayor to announce this summer’s Paetec Jazz Festival, which will be causing traffic snarls in and around downtown and the Inner Harbor Aug. 9-11. We didn’t learn much that couldn’t have been distributed in a press release, but we did get to see Mayor Sheila Dixon unveil a giant business card to polite applause, so that’s something.

The mayor told us that “numerous other cities” were considered by the Paetec Corp.–a Rochester, N.Y.-based billion-dollar communications conglomerate hoping to replicate the jazz festival success (read: $$$) it’s had over the last six years in its home city–and that jazz was “probably my favorite of all the music we could have.” Festival director Marc Iacona told us that the “direct economic impact” on the city of Rochester during the festival is around $10 million, and that might be why this press conference focused more on the financials than the music. Mostly we got a lot of backslaps for the new administration and the festival’s local and national corporate sponsors, and a lot of corporate doublespeak about “bringing the community together” and the place where “business meets music.” Artistic director John Nugent seemed to have his heart in the right place as he said that, but when we hear people use the word “synergy” we still want to throw our coffee cups at them.

So we do have some unanswered questions which will presumably be answered in the next few months. Like, who’s playing this thing anyway? Mr. Nugent played it coy, saying that, in the music industry, until all the contracts are signed you don’t announce anything officially. He then asked the room who they’d like to see; someone to our left voiced the obvious choice of sax colossus Sonny Rollins, and Mayor Dixon threw out Earl Klugh. (We stifled ourselves from being “cute” and throwing out some free-jazz band.) Nugent also made sure to assure us that the festival would “definitely incorporate regional artists,” so maybe we’ll get to see some Red Room regulars or the New Volcanoes downtown. As of right now, the only confirmed venues are Pier Six and various parts of Power Plant Live!, though there will be ticketed and free, indoor and outdoor, concerts at a variety of locations.

Which raises another question, maybe the most pertinent one: Who’s going to come to this thing? According to the brochure for the ’06 edition of the Rochester festival, “club pass” tickets for the whole event ran $95, with individual events running anywhere from $15 to $95, and with the “name” events–like, uh, Woody Allen’s New Orleans revival ensemble–not being covered by said club pass. Not only that, but the ’06 Rochester lineup seemed kind of, well, weak. Noise’s taste in jazz might not be considered particularly “salable,” but the only names that immediately leapt out in a nine-day festival with nearly 100 acts were old-timers Billy Bang and Wayne Shorter, with the rest seemingly made up of NPR/Starbucks-y stuff and what looked suspiciously to the naked eye like jam bands. Of course, when you’re trying to sell a full line of festival merch, from golf caps to iPod cases, that might not be such a bad thing. How many people go to Artscape just for the bands and how many go for the socializing and the chance to vomit warm Miller Lite in the middle of Mount Royal Avenue? The big difference, of course, being that Artscape is free, free, free, and the Paetec Fest is not, or at least not entirely.

Noise will have updates over the next few months as some, you know, actual information is announced like lineups and whatnot, but for now you can visit the festival’s web site for basically the same info we just gave you.