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Jazz festival canceled for June; fall date being considered

Fred SanFilipo
Credit Fred SanFilipo / WXXI

The producers of the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival announced Thursday afternoon that the event’s June dates are being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they left open the door for a rescheduling in the fall of this year.

"In the past two weeks since we announced our 2020 festival lineup, our world has been turned upside down,” co-producers John Nugent and Marc Iacona said in a press release. “The health crisis we are experiencing has resulted in significant loss of life and illness, growing fear, and unprecedented disruption in all aspects of our lives.”

The nine-day festival, scheduled to start June 19 on 21 stages in and around downtown’s East End District, was to feature Nile Rodgers and Chic, the alt-country band Puss N Boots featuring Norah Jones, Taj Mahal, Kool & the Gang, fest favorite Trombone Shorty and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Garth Fagan Dance in Rochester, with jazz pianist Monty Alexander.

City of Rochester spokesperson Justin Roj said the decision to cancel the festival's June dates was the right one at this time "because we don’t know what the future holds."

"But we’re also looking forward to the day, and we know the whole community is looking forward to the day, when we can enjoy the jazz festival again," Roj said. "If everyone continues to practice social distancing, stay home when you can, if you can, we’re going to get through this together and we’re going to look forward to a day where we’re all out on Gibbs Street enjoying the jazz festival once again."

Rescheduling the jazz festival for the fall would undoubtedly be a complex task, but Nugent and Iacona said all artists who were scheduled for the 19th annual event will be offered a slot.

If it is moved to September, it will be a tight fit. The KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival already has much of downtown booked from Sept. 16 through 26.

The move to pull the plug on the event this year comes as no surprise. Rochester’s heavy summer festival season has already taken many hits, including the cancellation of the Lilac Festival.

But it’s a worldwide trend as well. As countries battle the coronavirus pandemic, events large and small are falling like dominos. In Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and the city’s art and book festival -- all of which take place in August -- were canceled on Wednesday.

The Rochester festival announced its lineup on March 17, on the same day that England’s prestigious Glastonbury Festival also announced its lineup, with performers such as Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar.

But the following day, Glastonbury, which was scheduled to run June 24 through 28, reversed course and announced it was canceled as a result of the pandemic. Rochester’s festival took a more restrained approach that day, announcing it was suspending ticket sales for Club Passes and the headliner shows at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

No details of refunds for either the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre shows or Club Passes were included in Thursday’s announcement.

The coronavirus pandemic is also reaching back into jazz festivals of the past. Wallace Roney, who played the event in 2004 and 2005 and was widely acclaimed as one of the finest trumpet players in jazz, died on March 31 from complications due to coronavirus. He was 59.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org. Includes reporting from James Brown.

Copyright 2020 WXXI News

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle. He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show. Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.