Sunday, April 20, 2008


In an extremely depressing turn of events for the jazz community, the International Association of Jazz Educators has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This will leave a huge void that will be difficult to fill. According to a letter sent to membership (also posted on their website while it lasts) by (now former) president Chuck Owen, it sounds about as final as it gets. Here are some excerpts:

“a Kansas bankruptcy court will appoint a trustee to oversee all ongoing aspects of the association. This includes the ability to examine IAJE's financial records and mount an independent inquiry into the causes of it's financial downfall as well as disposing of the remaining assets of the association with proceeds distributed to creditors in accordance with Kansas and Federal law. The board will no longer be involved in operation of the organization and will at some point resign. IAJE as it presently stands will no longer exist . . .

Since our chapters are either separate corporate entitles or voluntary associations with their own boards, constitutions and bylaws; IAJE views them as completely independent entities. Ultimately, however, the trustee and the court will make this determination and it is anticipated that the trustee may request certain information from the chapters in this regard.

Sadly, the 2009 IAJE International Conference in Seattle has been cancelled. However, there has been some discussion of mounting a regional conference in its place. . . .

For the time being, the IAJE website will remain up. However, the international offices of IAJE will close their doors at the end of the day on Friday, April 18th.”

What happened? Owen cautions members to wait for the court’s trustee for answers, but the causes seem pretty clear from his email:

“years of dependence upon the conference as a primary (but unreliable) revenue stream and the launch of a well-intentioned capital campaign (the Campaign for Jazz), which generated a meager response but required considerable expenditures in advance of contributions, drove the association into insolvency. Sadly, the attendance at the conference in Toronto (the lowest in 10 years) exacerbated an already critical situation, depriving the association of the cash-flow needed to continue daily operations as well as the time needed to seek alternative resources.”

When you have more funds going out than coming in, bad things will happen. I had heard rumblings of financial trouble, but have only received Owen’s farewell email, and not the previous emergency fundraising appeals he mentions. This suggests disorganization, though certainly nothing nefarious.

The loss of the annual conference will be a blow to the jazz community. It was always a great opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues. Two years ago, the conference was overflowing two midtown hotels in Manhattan. It will be difficult for a new organization to step in a replicate such an event anytime soon.

However, if a successor to IAJE does emerge, they should learn from past mistakes. It should hardly be surprising that the prospect of January in Toronto was not much of a draw. The next IAJE should ignore regional pressures, alternating the conference between New York and New Orleans, exclusively.

New York conferences always appeared very well attended. Many members are based here and can more easily afford New York conferences. True, the City can be unpleasant in winter but this is the jazz capitol of the world, a destination spot anytime of the year. New Orleans also has a storied jazz history and an active musical scene, as well as a special call on the jazz community as rebuilding efforts haltingly continue. It also offers an attractive climate in early January.

This appears to be a failure of management and definitely not a lack of interest in IAJE’s services. Hopefully the state chapters can eventually reconstitute themselves in some form. I have met good friends through IAJE and heard a lot of great music at the annual conference. It will be missed.