In 2009, the founders of the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival established an independent identity as a non-profit organization, Berkshires Jazz, Inc., whose mission is to present jazz performances and promote jazz education throughout Berkshire County. The transition to an independent 501c3 organization was facilitated by Gene Wenner of Arts and Entertainment Consulting, and followed four years of operation under the financial sponsorship of the Berkshire Music School.
Edward Bride, chairman of the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival, was elected President of Berkshires Jazz; other officers include Brian Phelps, Vice President; Rich Vinette, Secretary; and Barbara Seddon, Treasurer.
In addition to the officers named above, Board members include Lou Costi, Heather Franckling, Paul Garvey, Art Niedeck, Joe Smith, Mary Talbot and Phil Tierney.
Special advisors to the board include Jen Glockner, Director of the Office of Cultural Development for the City of Pittsfield; Andy Jaffe, former board member, Tracy Wilson, Board Member Emeritus, musicians Claire Daly and Andy Wrba, Willard Jenkins, jazz writer, historian, and presenter; and Andy Kelly, chairman of the city’s Cultural Development Commission.
Pittsfield CityJazz Festival
The Pittsfield CityJazz Festival was formed in 2005 to present mainstream and traditional jazz in a downtown setting. Over its first five years, the festival presented such headline talent as:
- NEA Jazz Masters Dave Brubeck, Billy Taylor, and Phil Woods;
- up-and-coming artists such as Grace Kelly;
- individual standouts such as T.S. Monk, Claire Daly, Peggy Stern, Winard Harper and Barbara Dennerlein.
The New England Jazz Ensemble released a live recording of their appearance at the first festival in 2005. That festival’s opening act, The New Black Eagle Jazz Band, was the first group to make a return engagement, appearing with the Pittsfield CityJazz Youth Orchestra in 2008. The New England Jazz Ensemble returns in 2012 with guest artists Giacomo Gates and Ali Ryerson.
Jazz throughout the year
In addition to the festival, Berkshires Jazz presents concerts during April (Jazz Appreciation Month) and throughout the year. A wide range of performers has included NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston, as well as groups featuring guest soloists such as Marvin Stamm, Gary Smulyan, Elli Fordyce, Eli Newberger, and Noah Baerman.
An annual highlight has been Jazz In Schools, featuring performances, demonstrations, and discussions by the Pittsfield Sister City Jazz Ambassadors in the schools of Pittsfield. Over the years, literally thousands of students have experienced live jazz in the classroom and assembly halls. This local group, which has toured Pittsfield’s sister cities abroad, is headed by guitarist and teacher Andy Kelly. School principals and administrators have praised this community commitment of the festival and the positive impact it has had on students. Thanks to generous underwriters, Jazz In Schools is provided at no cost to the school system.
The festival also presents Jazz About Town, featuring local musicians in restaurants across the city. Dozens of venues have featured all genres of instrumental and vocal jazz, all at no cover, in advance of weekend headline concerts. Restaurant owners report increased attendance and longer visits by patrons on the nights when they have participated in this aspect.
In an effort to keep prices at an accessible level, the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival has successfully partnered with several local, regional, and national organizations to underwrite various components. Starting with Legacy Banks in 2005, sponsors have included Greylock Marketing Group, TD Banknorth, The Red Lion Inn, Time Warner Cable, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, MTV/Nickelodeon, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pittsfield Cultural Council. Local merchants have provided thousands of dollars in in-kind services such as Lenox Softworks, ReadWebCo, The Berkshire Eagle, Aldam Press and Wood Brothers.