Jazz fest an artistic success, commercial failure 

Arnold Schwisberg still believes festival has potential to be among the best in the world


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Schwisberg also thinks that it will be a challenge to build a jazz culture in this region, compared to other festivals that have been running 30 to 50 years. There is no regular radio play for jazz in the region. The huge turnout for the live shows is encouraging, however, and Schwisberg says that will likely convert some people into jazz fans.

"One couple I talked to from Seattle - they looked like the Microsoft millionaire type - said they took the summer off to travel around the world and go to jazz festivals, and both agreed that there were three not to miss - Montreaux, which has been around 50 years; Montreal, which is coming into its 33rd year and Whistler. When I hear that kind of thing I know we've accomplished something remarkable."

Schwisberg also pointed to the success of the Master Class series, where three dozen students got to learn guitar techniques from some of the biggest names in jazz. Schwisberg opened up these sessions to the public, and said that Millennium Place was at least half full for every event. And when the students went on stage to play a concert at Village Square he said there were 2,000 people watching.

"To see so many people connecting with the music that these kids were playing was incredible," he said.

Schwisberg said he will meet with other producers and stakeholders, and should be able to announce in the next 30 to 45 days whether the festival will return. It will also depend on the municipality's approach to free concerts and whether the liquor licencing branch will support their application.

More community support could also help, said Schwisberg.

"(The municipal) strategy affects all event production in Whistler, and I think this community really has to ask municipal staff and elected officials, 'what's going on? What are we trying to achieve here? Is it to host a bunch of free parties or to establish Whistler as a cultural destination on an international scale?'

"You're not going to achieve the latter goal by giving it away for free, the two things are incompatible. So the community can help by asking some tough questions of the municipality."

If the event can cover its costs in the future, Schwisberg is confident that it can grow into the world-class event that musicians and the few who paid for tickets already believe it to be.

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