[JPL] Detroit Jazz Fest loses its Director

JazzCorner at aol.com JazzCorner at aol.com
Wed Sep 27 01:05:23 EDT 2006

Jazz Festival to lose its director

September 21, 2006

Frank Malfitano, who guided the Detroit International Jazz Festival through 
one of its most financially troubled periods and engineered a sweeping 
expansion credited with saving the event from extinction, will not return as artistic 
and festival director.

He will be replaced by Terri Pontremoli, who joined the festival in 2004 and 
served as its executive director this year. She spent 15 years with the Tri-C 
JazzFest Cleveland, the last four as managing director.

Malfitano, whose Detroit tenure began with the 2001 festival, cited personal 
and professional reasons for stepping down, including concerns about his 
health, the strain of commuting from Syracuse, N.Y., and a sense that he had 
accomplished all he set out to do when he came to Detroit.

"I did come in a time of crisis, and I did everything I could to right the 
ship, stabilize it and preserve it," he said. "The festival made it past its 
25th anniversary and now is sailing confidently into the future."

Malfitano had signed a one-festival contract in January with the new Detroit 
International Jazz Festival Foundation, which assumed ownership of the event 
from Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts.

One of Detroit's signature cultural events, the annual Labor Day weekend 
event remains one of the largest free jazz festivals in North America, attracting 
hundreds of thousands of people. The foundation was created with a $10-million 
bequest from philanthropist Gretchen Valade, owner of the local jazz label 
Mack Avenue Records.

The foundation now faces a major test: putting together a new leadership team 
that can build on Malfitano's accomplishments while addressing critics who 
found his recent programming too populist.

"It was important to us when we started that we maintained the staff that was 
here, and we were glad Frank stuck with us one more year," said foundation 
president Tom Robinson. "We would not have considered doing it without him. Now 
we're more confident and have more connections in the industry and we're OK 
with moving forward without him."

Pontremoli, who will oversee programming, said she would like to see an 
artist-in-residence appointed to help conceive ideas. She also said the foundation 
was committed to including more progressive and cutting-edge jazz musicians at 
Hart Plaza.

When Malfitano took the reins in Detroit, the jazz festival had slipped into 
a financial abyss, losing audiences and sponsorship dollars to the mammoth 
Pontiac street fair Arts, Beats & Eats. One of his lasting achievements is that 
while Music Hall struggled to keep the festival alive, he upheld the artistic 
standards that made the festival one of the country's best.

After the festival was forced to contract to three days, Malfitano responded 
by booking crossover headliners like Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole in 2003. The 
25th anniversary festival in 2004 concluded with a rare performance by Aretha 
Franklin dipping into her jazz roots. With the 2005 festival, Malfitano 
launched an expansion that spread the festival from Hart Plaza along Woodward Avenue 
and into Campus Martius.

Additional stages devoted to R&B and roots music came on line and Woodward 
was closed to traffic. Attendance soared and sponsors returned. Still, hardcore 
fans and critics complained that Malfitano ignored vanguard styles and free 
jazz, even in 2005 and 2006, when the increasing involvement of Mack Avenue 
returned the festival to sound financial footing. There were also complaints that 
the diversity of the local jazz scene wasn't adequately acknowledged.

Malfitano said the criticisms were fair, but he said keeping the festival 
was always his top priority. "In this period, I thought the emphasis had to 
be on things to broaden audience and sponsor support."

Iif you need Frank's letter of response, please let me know.  

Lois Gilbert

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