Jazz Education Group Sounds Its Siren Song

For 40 years, the International Association of Jazz Education has worked to promote jazz instruction at middle schools, high schools and colleges around the world. This week, the IAJE announced it was filing for bankruptcy protection and shutting down.

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This week, an important jazz institution filed for bankruptcy. For 40 years, the International Association of Jazz Education provided sheet music, teaching programs and other help to middle schools, high schools, and university jazz bands around the world. It also hosted a much loved annual conference for professional and amateur jazz musicians.

As NPR's Felix Contreras reports, a chapter seven bankruptcy filing means the IAJE is shutting down.

(Soundbite of people talking)

FELIX CONTRERAS: Inside acrowded Washington D.C. band room, Dave Yarborough rehearses the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Jazz Big Band for an upcoming gig.

(Soundbite of music)

CONTRERAS: Yarborough has taught at this public arts high school for 23 years and he's come to depend on the IAJE for helping the classroom.

Mr. DAVEY YARBOROUGH (Musician, Educator, Founder of Washington Jazz Arts Institute): It's a shocking, a shocking loss.

CONTRERAS: Yarborough says the association provided the latest big band charts and helped to bring in nationally known musicians for concerts and clinics. But he says the biggest hit is losing the annual conference. When it started in 1973, what was then called the National Association of Jazz Educators brought teachers and their students from high schools and colleges together to share information. Many of Yarborough's bands were invited to perform.

Mr. YARBOROUGH: One of the things about this art form is that you learn by the experience of performing and, of course, you want to work with somebody who's more advanced that you are. So, they - that gave that opportunity. It also gave me an opportunity to meet with the college band directors, so that I could tell them about what juniors and seniors I had. It also presented the platform where all the summer camps that were going on, they generally had a booth or something there, so, you could talk to everyone and see what's best for the kids that you work with.

CONTRERAS: In 1997, the IAJE joined forces with another jazz convention sponsored by Jazz Times Magazine, which attracted managers, promoters, radio programmers and performances by big name jazz artists. The IAJE conference became the place to be for jazz musicians and fans alike. It also became the association's biggest fundraising activity. It charged conference attendees and vendors, and sold advertising in the conference program. Every year attendants grew. There were more vendors, more concerts and more master classes. What didn't grow was revenue.

Attorney Alan Bergman, the IAJE general counsel and spokesman, says the group simply ran out of money. He suggests that because the 10-member IAJE board is made up of educators and jazz musicians and not accountants and lawyers, the financial situation got the best of them. As to who is ultimately responsible...

Mr. ALAN BERGMAN (General Counsel, Spokesman, International Association of Jazz Education): That's not just a mystery. I know who's going to take the fall for it. I am and the board is - and the officers are, and Bill. And we do. It happened on our watch.

CONTRERAS: Former Executive Director Bill McFarlin resigned suddenly earlier this year and Web sites, blogs, and listservs are ablaze with accusations of serious financial mismanagement.

Mr. BILL McFARLIN (Former Executive Director, International Association of Jazz Education): I think that you have to compile the blame.

CONTRERAS: Journalist Paul de Barros broke the story about the IAJE's problems for the Seattle Times. He says a review of tax records shows the association ran a deficit as long as three years ago, with the conference costing more money than it brought in. Even IAJE general counsel Alan Bergman admits that the choice of Toronto for this year's conference in January was a bad idea. Attendance was down almost 40 percent, in part, he says, because many high school musicians didn't have the passports needed under new federal security regulations. Paul de Barros says it was one of many bad decisions.

Mr. PAUL DE BARROS (Journalist, Seattle Times): So many nonprofit arts organizations go down this road, unfortunately, and the board points to the staff, and the staff points to the board. It's everybody's fault. You can't say that the blame just rest with the board anymore than you can say the blame just rests with executive director who reports to the board. I mean, you have a board and you have a staff that's responsible for the organization. And it completely caved in and it's very, very sad.

CONTRERAS: According to IAJE general counsel, the association doesn't have the money to file chapter 11, which would allow it to keep working while it reorganizes. Duke Ellington instructor Dave Yarborough says he's already been on the phone with other teachers to try to figure out how to fill the void. And in countless band rooms around the country, young jazz musicians are probably wondering how a small group of grownups could have let so many kids down.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

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