Jazzspace and the Pittsburgh legacy

As reported in these pages, I had the pleasure recently of returning to my birthplace of Pittsburgh, PA to moderate panel discussions and participate in a very rewarding commemorative weekend honoring the rich legacy of that city’s African American Musicians’ Union local. The city is rife with jazz history and has produced an incredible number of jazz masters. My experience that weekend suggested that Pittsburgh’s jazz legacy continues apace, at least as far as producing young musicians. One of the many people I met that weekend was Maggie Johnson, a bright young woman who is forging a unique effort on behalf of her city’s jazz musicians called Jazzspace. Some follow-up questions for Maggie Johnson were certainly in order.

Please tell us about Jazzspace and your emerging artist program.

The ultimate goal of JAZZSPACE is to become a space for jazz, participating and enhancing Pittsburgh’s East End Renaissance, and a place where emerging artists work, play, and live. The idea is multi-generational, with emerging professional artists in constant interaction with the Jazz Masters of the city as well as giving back to younger generations through masterclasses, workshops, performances, etc.

What was your motivation for starting Jazzspace?

I was literally praying for a way to combine my interests and skills in arts business, performing, education and mentoring, and my love for jazz. In the wee hours of one morning in 2008, JAZZSPACE just hit me and I started furiously typing out the mission and vision for the program. I’m pretty passionate about jazz and it’s special role in communicating truth, and God’s heart for community. That it was brought to the world through black culture, and all its unique gifts and trials, is no accident.

What activities have you fostered thus far with Jazzspace?

In this, our inaugural year, we’ve chosen (through juried online application) two spectacularly talented Resident Artists, Anqwenique Wingfield (vocalist) and Joe Sheehan (piano). You can read more about them at http://www.jazzspace.com/artists.php. They have each received $400 to support creative projects related to their music. In addition to promoting them generally, we are planning to highlight them in a special concert this summer, which as of right now is scheduled for August 17.

Vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield

Pianist Joe Sheehan

We are also taking applications for the 2012-2013 class of Resident Artists. The online application is here: http://www.jazzspace.com/apply.php. The program is currently focused on Pittsburgh and is therefore limited to residents of Allegheny County. But who knows that it might not serve as a model for a national program with satellites someday!

Who are some of the people involved with Jazzspace and what’s been the response to your efforts thus far?

In addition to our Resident Artists, we have a wonderful group of Advisors, who are all deeply committed to seeing the ultimate vision of JAZZSPACE come to pass. Some, like Dr. Harry Clark, who founded Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts High School and is a major player “behind the scenes” in several Pittsburgh jazz initiatives, lend both passion and management expertise. Others, like Etta Cox, who is one of Pittsburgh’s staple Jazz Masters, bring support directly from the artists’ perspective.

The overall response to JAZZSPACE has been extremely positive. Everyone welcomes the idea with open arms. However, time will tell whether the jazz community and other arts supporters will also embrace it with their pocketbooks! With some trepidation, I launched our first online fundraising campaign through IndieGoGo.com and our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas.org, this past spring. While we didn’t hit the final goal, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of “friendraising” it created and how many folks were willing to put their money behind the vision. As we focus more on fundraising in the coming year, we hope folks will continue to check us out online (http://www.jazzspace.com/support.php) and consider making a gift to help us keep moving forward.

How do you envision Jazzspace fostering activities which will move jazz music forward in Pittsburgh?

One of the biggest issues facing jazz in Pittsburgh (and almost everywhere) is the fact that young people have so relatively little exposure and real interaction with it, despite it playing such a key role in our cultural heritage as a city. I would love to see JAZZSPACE become a sort of hub for connecting generations of aspiring and established musicians with kids in our public schools or other established arts programs, specifically for the purpose of learning about jazz; its history as well as its constant role in changing and enhancing popular music.

Are your Jazzspace mission and activities things you can envision being duplicated in other cities? If so, what advice would you have for other like-minded individuals in other jazz communities?

Indeed! JAZZSPACE was influenced by artist residencies and other programs I’ve observed in my career (such as Betty Carter‘s Jazz Ahead at the Kennedy Center), and I hope that what we’re doing is pulling together the best elements of all-and some innovation of my own-to create a program that can be replicated, but also tailored to other communities. At this point, my advice to like-minded individuals would be to simply get in touch with me so we can brainstorm together! My email is maggie@jazzspace.com.

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