Friday, July 24, 2009

NPR: A Swing Through Massachusetts

From A Blog Supreme: NPR Jazz by Felix Contreras

So you're ready to take that jazz vacation you've been wanting to do. You've picked a city and now you're ready to dive into finding venues, schedules, concerts, hotels, restaurants.

The state of Massachusetts has just made that jazz trip much easier to put together with MassJazz, a new web site and travel guide that creates a one-stop shopping service for jazz trips to the Bay State.

Michael P. Quinlin is the director of MassJazz, run out of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. I shot him some questions via e-mail about the project, and what's in it for jazz fans and musicians.
Just to be clear about the way it works is: I can find a festival, concert or club performance I want to attend, I can use the Web site to contact the club to buy tickets, then search for a hotel in the area and maybe even cruise some of the near by restaurants for a pre-concert meal?

Quinlin: Yes, that's exactly how the Web site is set up. The concerts are organized by month with links to the venue tix office. The hotels we've listed are all 'jazz friendly' -- offering some combination of live concerts, lounge jazz or jazz brunches on a regular basis. Same with the restaurants and clubs. You can check out local colleges to learn about jazz lectures, workshops and sessions, or touch base with local jazz organizations.

This makes a lot of sense, putting jazz fans on the radar of your state's travel industry. It seems like such a no-brainer. Why didn't it happen before?

Quinlin: States like Massachusetts have so many visitor amenities to offer tourists -- colonial history, JFK Library, Cape Cod, the Berkshires, the Boston Pops and the BSO, the Red Sox -- so very often cultural treasures like jazz remain hidden. But once we pitched the idea to tourism officials, they were immediately enthusiastic.

Do you know if any other states offer this kind of service?

Quinlin: I'm not aware of any other states promoting jazz as an element of tourism per se -- though several city tourism agencies -- like New Orleans and Montreal -- have successfully marketed their cities as jazz destinations.

This also seems to be an opportunity to dive in and explore the jazz musicians who don't have big recording contacts but are still making great music all around the state (the so called 'local musicians').

Quinlin: True, you can go to jazz clubs in Boston's South End and hear terrific jazz students who are perfecting their chops, on their way to professional careers. Or go down to Cape Cod and catch seasoned veterans like Lou Columbo, or to the Acton Jazz Club in Acton and hear solid jazz musicians like Bruce Gertz or Paul Broadnax.

Can you offer a couple of examples of upcoming shows this fall that caught your attention as a jazz fan?

Quinlin: Let's see, Paquito D'Rivera plays the Tanglewood Jazz Festival in Lenox over Labor Day. Kurt Elling is playing in Boston and Ahmad Jamal is in Cambridge, as part of Berklee's BeanTown Jazz Festival in September. In October Dave Brubeck headlines the Pittsfield Jazz Festival, and Wayne Shorter plays at Jordan Hall in Boston. I could go on but I better not!

What are the biggest jazz venues in the state?

Quinlin: Sculler's in Boston and Regattabar in Cambridge are the two main jazz clubs -- both located in hotels -- they bring in the world's best jazz musicians year round. The Berklee Performance Center, Boston Symphony Hall and Hanover Theatre in Worcester are important jazz venues. And a lot of jazz takes place on a local, grassroots level, away from the big venues. We compiled over 80 venues where jazz is played regularly, in the suburbs, towns and villages across the state.

Are there any out of the way venues that more people should now about?

Quinlin: In Boston, Wally's Jazz Club and the Beehive Jazz Club, both in the South End, are excellent; you'll find great musicians every night of the week. Nimrod's in Falmouth on Cape Cod has fine local jazz, and the Northampton Hotel in Northampton is starting up a new jazz brunch on weekends.

Are jazz club owners warming up to the idea?

Quinlin: Well, there's definitely a curiosity about whether a larger marketing outreach to the travel industry can benefit jazz locally -- from the small clubs to the concert venues. Tourists tend to spend more money since they're on vacation, so there's an economic rationale in targeting them. Part of our mission is to connect large convention groups already coming to town to the local jazz scene. So when 5,000 dentists or 15,000 seafood suppliers come to the Boston Convention Center for their annual meetings, we want to get them into the clubs, hotel lounges and concert halls to hear jazz.

Are you a jazz fan? Did you come across any surprises about Massachusetts jazz history in doing the work for setting this up?

Quinlin: I am a lifelong jazz fan from a family of jazz lovers. During the research of MassJazz, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the Lenox jazz school in western Mass during the 1950s, which jazz drummer George Schuller and others have made a great film about, called Music Inn: A Documentary Film. And I've been surprised to discover how successfully schools like Berklee are cultivating a 21st century connection to jazz and good music generally through their global outreach.

Do jazz fans come mostly from the U.S.? What about other countries?

Quinlin: I think jazz fans are ubiquitous; you can find them anywhere you look. Massachusetts focuses its domestic marketing efforts on the New England and Mid-Atlantic states, since those tourists can drive, fly or take a train here easily. A lot of attendees at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival for example, are New Yorkers who are both astute and appreciative of jazz. Internationally, our plan is to target European nations -- France, Holland, Germany and Britain -- with longtime jazz loyalty, and get MassJazz into the hands of tour operators, travel agencies and other travel-related outlets that specialize in niche marketing. And if the program is successful, we'll roll it out to other regions of the world.

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