Birth of a jazz festival

By Howard Campbell Observer senior writer

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

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The Jamaica Observer celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Its entertainment section looks back at 20 major events the newspaper covered during that period, starting with the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival.

REGGAE may not have been in its banner, but when Allen Chastanet conceived the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival 17 years ago, promoting Jamaican pop culture was part of his plans.

"Jamaica has a strong musical lineage and I consider reggae to be Caribbean blues music. The festival gave us an opportunity to bring in a more diverse line-up," Chastanet told the Observer recently.

The St Lucian says it took three months to organise the inaugural Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival which took place in October, 1996 at historic Rose Hall in Montego Bay. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Toots and The Maytals and Ernie Ranglin were some of the Jamaican acts on the card. Guitarists George Benson and Bunny Guy were among the overseas artistes.

Chastanet recalls working with Richard Lue of Air Jamaica, Paxton Baker of BET Jazz and veteran show producer Walter Elmore to get things in order. He had collaborated with Baker on the St Lucia Jazz Festival which set the pace for similar events throughout the Caribbean.

At the time, Chastanet was vice-president of marketing and sales at Air Jamaica. The main aim of the Jamaican festival was to attract tourists to the country in what was a traditionally slow period for the leisure industry. But it was not easy.

"We never got the full support of hoteliers in Montego Bay, that was a big problem," he said.

It cost US$50,000 to stage the 1996 Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, with Air Jamaica picking up the lion's share of the tab. Chastanet says the airline flew in the overseas acts, paid all the artistes and ended up 'losing a fair amount' of money.

Heavy rain also put a damper on the event, but Chastanet remembers seeing a silver lining in the cloud.

"Despite the obstacles, people enjoyed themselves and we at Air Jamaica definitely saw the potential," he said.

Some of the biggest names in popular music have played what is now the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival. Al Jarreau, Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, Lionel Ritchie, Kenny Rogers, Air Supply, Maroon 5, Celine Dion and Babyface are just some of them.

The 2013 Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival takes place January 24-26 at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium.

Allen Chastanet became St Lucia's minister of tourism in the administration of prime minister Kenny Anthony. He is presently managing director of his family-owned Coco Kreole Hotel in Castries.





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