This week will be my last at Jazz Philadelphia, and it’s bittersweet to step down as our first Executive Director; I’ll tell you more about where I’m going in a minute.
First, I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to help build this new organization from the ground up.
It’s given me a deep appreciation for the role the jazz artists have played in shaping Philadelphia’s cultural history, and an even greater respect for jazz as an American artform.
I’ve been listening to jazz and blues since I was a young girl—believe it or not, in my teenage years I was listening to Edie Brickell but also Nina Simone and Ma Rainey—and to have been able to meet and collaborate with so many contemporary jazz artists and advocates has been a great gift and honor.
I also want to thank our board, donors, and funders for shepherding this new organization through its inception and, now, hopefully a great new chapter under the continued leadership of President Gerald Veasley. Thanks also to our partners at Mid Atlantic Arts, and to Claire Moncla and Carmen Daley and all our volunteers for making it happen. You’re simply the best.
I also want to offer my appreciation for everyone who welcomed me, supported me, and made me smile with their wit and wisdom—-and for contributing to this work. I appreciate you more than you know, and will cherish the connections and friendships I’ve made.
If you read no further, I hope you hear this clear as a bell: Thank you.
Two Insights I’d Like to Share
Though I’ve been serving at arts and culture, social justice, sustainability, and media organizations for 25 years now, I’m always hungrily learning and distilling that knowledge into insights that will hopefully help me continue to support other artists and the arts and culture community.
I had two major epiphanies in my work here that I want to leave you with. I’m going to keep repeating these until they are taken in by every arts funder, administrator, advocate, and artist within earshot!
No artists, no art.
Cultures, societies, and communities who support individual artists as creatives, as entrepreneurs, and as critical pieces of the overall community ecosystem reap the rewards. I hope that Jazz Philadelphia will be able to continue programs such as the CORE Cooperative, which is forming mutually-supportive cohorts of jazz artists and advocates that are already taking their role as artist-leaders seriously. I am so proud of our pilot and the people who participated. Congratulations to all of you and please know how much respect I have for you and your work. It was an honor to support you.
We’ll know we’ve been successful when Philadelphians—and beyond—know our quartets as well as our quarterbacks.
You can’t cheer for the home team if you don’t know the home team is, and with so little arts and culture coverage, that’s a challenge. But that was part of the idea behind launching our Hometown Heroes series, and expanding it to our annual Jazz Philadelphia Summit Homecoming Jam, and I hope that these programs continue to showcase our city’s immense talent.
We have a deep bench, and our fantastic jazz education programs continue to supply a steady stream of artists who will help shape the future of jazz and improvised music. I want to give a special thank you to Lovett Hines and Carla Washington, two of the most committed and loving people I’ve ever met. You have my devotion, always.
Where I’m Going
Some of you already know that I’m moving on because I’m doubling down on the idea that without robust arts and culture coverage, criticism, and contributions to the national ideas space from regional writers, we can’t be the cultural powerhouse that we should be.
At the same time that I’ve been building Jazz Philadelphia, I also launched an award-winning arts and culture journal.
Root Quarterly: Art & Ideas from Philadelphia is a New Yorker for our region, and I’m looking forward to working on that project full time to scale up our operations and reach. Our subscriber list is growing weekly and I’ve begun receiving institutional and major donor support, which means I can look forward to continuing to illuminate the jazz community through that project.
We’ve already published articles on SOUTH jazz club, a long-form profile on the brilliant composer Sumi Tonooka, and recommendations for both Immanual Wilkins’s new album the The Seventh Hand as well as for the Brazilian jazz outfit Minas and their new Beatles In Bossa record; the forthcoming winter issue will feature an interview with Elio Villafranca.
I would not have had the connections or insights to put these wonderful artists in Root Quarterly’s pages had it not been for stepping into the jazz space and being introduced to the talented artists and supportive institutions in this community. Sadly, even as a musician myself—and as a jazz lover—this wasn’t a world that was visible to me in my own city of twenty years; that light is now a positive force in my life, and one I want to share with others.
We’ve also published writing by my Jazz Philadelphia partner-in-crime Gerald Veasley. Who knew that one of the world’s great bass players, and someone who I know first hand cares deeply about the jazz community and building its future, was also an ace fiction writer? He continues to surprise me with the depth of his commitment and his manifold talents: Gerald, thank you for your partnership. It’s been quite the journey.
These connections, collaborations, and cross-pollinations can and should be happening more frequently in our larger arts space, and I look forward to breathing that into existence through my work at the magazine.
While I will no longer be Jazz Philadelphia’s Executive Director, please know that I’ll be cheering for our home team as loudly as anyone. Together, we’re going to make Philadelphia an international jazz destination, and a world-class arts city.
I’m truly grateful to have been given this opportunity, and I look forward to staying connected with all of you—I’m not leaving, just shifting roles. Thank you again for all you do, and I hope to see you soon.
With love and appreciation,
Heather Shayne Blakeslee
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