Jazz Aspen Snowmass loses two key players
October 27, 2011
ASPEN – Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ shows will go on, with no visible changes in its festival presentations. But they will go on without two longtime key employees.
Marc Breslin, executive vice president of sales and marketing, and Joe Lang, executive director, have parted from Jazz Aspen in a cost-cutting move designed to stabilize the finances of the 20-year-old nonprofit organization, Jazz Aspen announced Wednesday afternoon in a press release. Both Breslin and Lang had worked for Jazz Aspen for more than a decade.
“This is driven by the economy, the economy, the economy,” Jim Horowitz, Jazz Aspen’s president and CEO, said in an interview. Horowitz added that Breslin and Lang will not be replaced, as Jazz Aspen’s staff has been reduced from six to four. “It’s not, ‘Hey, can we find better, cheaper people?'” Horowitz will work for no compensation “during the transition to a more stable entity,” he said. (His 2009 compensation was $225,000, according to a public tax report).
In the press release, Horowitz credited Breslin and Lang for being instrumental in “the evolution and growth of JAS.”
Horowitz said that while there were reductions to the staff, there will be no corresponding cuts in programming to Jazz Aspen’s three primary programs: the June Festival, the Labor Day Festival, and the series of club performances at The Little Nell. He said that Jazz Aspen will pursue the same level of acts that have been presented at past events.
“The most important thing is creating the continuity for the institution to survive and thrive,” Horowitz said. “Can we do it? Yes. But we have to be leaner.”
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Jazz Aspen will also stop producing the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival in California. Jazz Aspen had helped found the festival and was instrumental in producing it.
Attendance at Jazz Aspen events has not been the source of the economic problems. Horowitz noted that ticket sales for this past summer season’s June Festival, featuring Sheryl Crow and Jennifer Hudson, and the Labor Day Festival, with appearances by Steely Dan and the Zac Brown Band, were strong. The biggest problem by far has been the absence in recent years of a title sponsor. For several years, Janus Funds filled that role, followed by Calamos Investments. Both are financial institutions, and just before the economic downturn, in the fall of 2008, Calamos notified Jazz Aspen that it was discontinuing its sponsorship. For three years, Jazz Aspen has been without a title sponsor.
“You’re talking about a major safety net that just disappeared,” Horowitz said. He referred to title sponsorship as “a significant six-figure cash commitment.”
Another challenge has been that the costs of producing the festivals, including artists’ fees, have not gone down during the recession. “The A-level artists are getting similar fees. That’s a problem,” Horowitz said.
Remaining in partnership with Jazz Aspen is AEG Live, a concert production company that Jazz Aspen hired as a consultant last year to assist with booking talent. Horowitz said that AEG’s role includes helping sign a long-term title sponsor.
“AEG Live is a great believer in the JAS festivals,” Tom Miserendino, CEO of AEG Live, said. “We have a significant long-term financial commitment to the organization and the event.”
Horowitz founded Jazz Aspen in 1991, with a single, small-scale festival dominated by jazz performances. For some five years, he was the organization’s only employee; in the early years, Jazz Aspen’s office was in the pool shack at the Snowmass Village condo complex where Horowitz lived. He laughed at the idea that Jazz Aspen – which has grown to encompass two major festivals, with total attendance in some years approaching 50,000; which has presented Neil Young, Black Eyed Peas, Tony Bennett and the Allman Brothers Band; and which has added a significant educational component – might be scaling back to those times.
But he did acknowledge that Jazz Aspen was taking a new look at how it operated.
“Part of the reason for these moves is to create somewhat of a fresh start, a reset that is consistent with the current economy,” he said.