From Blues to Be-Bop, Jazz in June Offers It All Up-For Free
“Keep it simple.” This saying could aptly be given to the board of Jazz in June, whose recipe for a successful festival starts with ingredients of simplicity: provide free concerts in established venues, and the jazz enthusiasts and the curious will come.
“We believe there should be no barriers to people hearing live quality music,” said Karen Holp, KGOU public radio general director and Jazz in June board member since 1990.
Jazz in June has been around since 1984. Created through the Cimarron Circuit Opera Company and the Norman Arts and Humanities Council, it initially drew 300 people.
Now in its 33rd year, Jazz in June’s events, highlighted with concerts June 16 and 17 at Brookhaven Village, 36th Avenue Northwest and Robinson, and June 18 at Andrews Park, 201 W. Daws, are expected to attract over 50,000 people, plus another 100,000 through radio coverage from KGOU public radio.
Based on surveys from 2015, according to Norman Hammon, Jazz in June’s director of development, nearly 73 percent of attendees were from Norman, with about 19 percent coming from Oklahoma City and the surrounding metro area. But that doesn’t mean the festival doesn’t extend beyond the area. People come from as far away as Australia for the event, Hammon said. And often, people who have moved away and had loved Jazz in June will plan trips back to visit friends and relatives around the festival.
Also, KGOU records the concerns and gives them to other public radio stations, packaged as “Best of Jazz in June.” These stations extend the reach of Jazz in June, particularly around the state, by playing these recordings as part of their programming.
“KGOU has been our partner since 1985 or 1986,” Holp said. “We broadcast the Best of Jazz in June here and especially in Tulsa, Lawton, and Stillwater.”
The formula almost from the beginning has included combining three nights of various types of jazz concerts, along with a couple of jazz jam sessions and clinics to give locals a chance to learn more about this uniquely American music genre. As in past years, this year’s Thursday and Friday night concerts will be at the Brookhaven Village parking lot and Saturday night at Andrews Park. The formula also includes a strict policy on what to charge people to attend. That cost: noting. All events are free.
This policy, Holp said, goes back to her statement about making jazz as accessible as possible.
Of course, putting together three nights of quality concerts with bands with regional and national recognition doesn’t happen without money. And the bands do get paid for their performances. So sponsorships become vital. Brookhaven Village, site of the first two nights of Jazz in June, has been a major sponsor since 1987, and many other businesses also provide sponsorship. Individuals also can donate as Friends of Jazz in June.
And while audiences don’t have to pay to attend the concerts, volunteers pass around buckets during the concert so people can donate whatever they feel they can to keep the festival going. Ron Jones, board member for the past three years, said audiences are very generous.
Hammon explained that the “bucket brigade” brings in $3,500 to $4,500 a year, or about 2 to 3 percent of the total budget. Festival-goers also show their generosity in the annual “Friends of Jazz in June” pledge campaign, raises about $14,000-$15,000 from about 120 donors, plus another $2,000-$3,000 in legacy and endowment support.
The concerts, Hammon said, try to cover a number of subgenres within jazz, based on what audiences have liked in the past. Thursday night’s concert, for example, is titled “Blues Under the Stars,” and features blues bands that tend to be popular with younger audiences. Jones said the younger crowds are more apt to attend the Thursday night concerts, which have over the years become the night for the blues bands to play.
Indeed, Hammon said, over 27 percent of the audience polled list blues as a favorite subgenre, followed by salsa/reggae at 16 percent and big band at 15 percent, according to stats from 2015 surveys. Other subgenres that get tracked include be-bop, Dixieland, smooth, world and fusion.
Whatever the subgenre, Holp said, Jazz in June organizers said they hope to make this year’s formula work again, and attract both longtime jazz enthusiasts and those who want to explore a form of American music they have never considered before.
For more information, visit the Jazz in June Facebook page.