Some 400,00 happy ticket holders ate, drank and danced their way through the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival a few weeks ago. But only a relative few likely were aware of how they were contributing to efforts to help local musicians and preserve music culture in the city.
Little-known fact: Jazz Fest, as locals call it, has been owned by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation since 1970, when it was created by the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association. The association asked jazz and folk impresario George Wein to get the festival up and running.
But Wein only agreed to do it, says foundation spokesman Scott Aiges, on the condition that the festival would be owned by a nonprofit that would plow any profits back into community, preserve Louisiana musical culture and present year-round activities and programs.
Today the festival may significantly overshadow the foundation, but that could change. Though crippled in recent years by bad weather and Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Fest has rebounded robustly. The foundation has likewise prospered.
The foundation's effect is felt most immediately in ticket subsidization. "At fair market value, our tickets would cost two or three times their price," Aiges says. "Part of our mission is to make culture accessible to the widest number of people possible."
In addition to Jazz Fest, the foundation has been producing bigger and better free festivals throughout the year. The Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival and the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival attract tourists and provide vitally needed employment to local musicians. The foundation also owns and operates WWOZ, the New Orleans public radio station broadcasting (and webcasting) jazz, zydeco, Cajun, funk, blues, country and other regional sounds represented at Jazz Fest.