Regular readers may recall the Independent Ear Blog post overview of the 2008 IAJE conference in Toronto last January. Sadly that may have been the last IAJE conference for the foreseeable future. What so many of us thought was a robust conference produced by what we assumed was the financially stable International Association for Jazz Education was in fact a complete house of straw. And now the big bad wolf has come along and blown the whole house down.
The bill seems to have come due (pun intended) with the post-conference "resignation" of former long time IAJE executive director Bill McFarlin. For years boards came and boards went, presidents occupied figurehead chairs and the beat went on — all with Bill McFarlin wielding an unchallenged iron hand with zero oversight. Well folks, the bill has come due. Fact is McFarlin took a powder in lieu of being canned. Once his dust cleared and the real books were examined, the rosy picture he painted for years was revealed to be as counterfeit and bankrupt as a proverbial house of straw.
Remember that highly-touted, optimistic Campaign For Jazz that IAJE launched several years ago, the one designed to put the organization on a forever firm foundation and establish a hearty endowment fund? Again… smoke & mirrors. Some of us recall IAJE conference banquets of the past couple of years that served in part to prop up this counterfeit Campaign for Jazz; various "donors" — or more to the point, donor pledgees — would be recognized from the dais by McFarlin and receive hearty applause and backslaps from those happy jazzers in attendance. ‘Wow, isn’t that just wonderful news!’ A couple of years ago banquet attendees within earshot couldn’t help but hear one so-called donor pledgee mutter to anyone with open ears that he hadn’t exactly pledged anything of the sort.
At the 2007banquet a gentleman from out of the blue (regular IAJE attendees tend to be recognizeable faces in the crowd; the conferences thrived — or so we thought — on repeat business) was introduced by McFarlin as having pledged $1M to the Campaign for Jazz! Last time I checked they were still looking for this guy and his so-far empty-suit "pledge" to the Campaign for Jazz. A former IAJE affiliate got a call from an IAJE official seeking this gentleman’s whereabouts. Not only was his million never banked, they can’t even locate this cat!
Since the disastrous Toronto conference (attendance was down a devastating 40% from the 2007 New York conference level!!!)allegations of malfeasance and misuse of funds have trickled through the rumor mill, McFarlin is apparently in deep cover and has been allowed to slink away scott free by the organization’s slumbering board, and now the board has issued a pitiful cash call asking the membership to pony up $25 per by snail mail in order to keep the organization afloat! As if $25 per member, even if that paper tiger campaign were to be successful, would or could somehow stem the river of red ink which rumor has it has already reached $1.3M. (I was reminded of a 1980s snail-mailed cash call from Joe Segal during one of his Jazz Showcase club struggles that was accompanied by a pathetic photo of a forlorn Joe with his empty pockets displayed inside-out of his slacks, palms up in despair. But that was for a club, done mock humorously, not for an international organization for goodness sakes!)
The latest salvo comes with this week’s troubling news that Mary Jo Papich, IAJE’s first-ever woman president-elect, has resigned due to insurmountable differences on direction with the current board — members of whom apparently have their own series of agendas, IAJE and jazz be damned. Talk about piling on! With the exception of a tiny, clear-thinking cadre of IAJE board members characterized by Laura Johnson of Jazz at Lincoln Center (who smelled the coffee awhile back but whose warnings weren’t heeded until it was far too late), the great majority of the current and recent past IAJE board(s) must share the lion’s share of blame for this sorry state. This was a classic case of a slumbering board perpetually asleep at the switch which never exercised due oversight over prior leadership machinations.
Current president Chuck Owen — the signator of that small-thinking, knee-jerk $25 red light cash call — and immediate past president David Caffey must share a great deal of this weight. In fact during his presidency Caffey was duly warned by members of the IAJE staff and other concerned jazz citizens, formally and informally, that things were terribly amiss at the dear old Manhattan, Kansas HQ. Caffey chose to keep eyes tightly shut, get his 40 winks and largely ignore these warnings. And where does that leave us?
It seems from this 25-year member’s standpoint that for far too long, even in the wake of the absorption of the old Jazz Times Convention’s industry-oriented model coaxed into the IAJE conference structure by such hard-working "Industry Tract" producers as Lee Mergner, Don Lucoff and more recently Suzan Jenkins, IAJE has continued to be ruled by the tight grip of jazz educators. The organization cries out for new leadership that is a diverse, compatible mix of educators and industry leaders – not to mention its continued need for a greater degree of cultural and gender diversity in its governing body. For far too long it appears the former E.D. was able to snow various educator-board members, greasing them up with overseas excursions to exotic jazz festivals and other locales, all the while building up chits that further solidified his armor against the kind of oversight scrutiny any intelligent organization engages in.
Currently it seems prospects are pretty hopeless for the planned January 2009 IAJE conference in beautiful Seattle. I recently convened an informal dialogue among industry veterans to discuss the sad state of IAJE in the wake of the now-infamous $25 cash call (which has reportedly netted a paltry $10K). The responses were a mixed bag ranging from the we’ve all got to pull together for the sake of the music cadre, to those questioning that limp $25 cash call, to the righteous indignation crew calling for some measure of financial recompense from the former E.D. Where do you stand on the current sorry state of what was always thought of as our lone infallable international jazz support organization? Your comments below are most welcome and encouraged.