Saint Lucia Jazz has become one of the major events on Saint Lucia's calendar of events and surely a most anticipated event on the Caribbean's calendar. During the month of May, the island dances to the beat of jazz when music fills the air and tourism takes on a whole new meaning to all. What started as simply a marketing event to boost tourism industry arrivals during a low peak period, has now developed into a truly Saint Lucian Festival.
As the month of May approaches each year, Saint Lucia Jazz continues to draw attention to Saint Lucia as the world waits in eager anticipation of what promises to be a star studded line-up. In 1999, Saint Lucia Jazz took on a new dimension with the addition of more side attractions, i.e. supporting jazz performances aside from main stage events. This created a more festive atmosphere and allowed the Saint Lucian public and visitors to participate in these events at little cost and quite a few free events as well. "Jazz in the South" with shows being in the village of Laborie and the towns of Vieux Fort and Soufriere all contribute towards making Saint Lucia Jazz a truly Saint Lucian experience for visitors and locals alike.
Here's the story of how Saint Lucia Jazz came about, and why it has become the leading event on Saint Lucia's calendar of events and the most popular event in the region.
Saint Lucia Jazz marks its 20th anniversary in 2011. In a region where music festivals tend to die off around their 7th year, the internationally acclaimed festival that our tiny island has managed to sustain is definitely something every Saint Lucian can be proud of. As we enter our 20th year, it is worthwhile to take a look back at how it all began.
In 1991, a small group of dedicated people got together to come up with new and exciting ways to market Saint Lucia and specifically to increase tourist arrivals in the traditionally slow month of May. Saint Lucia Jazz was conceived out of a need to advance Saint Lucia's marketing efforts to a new dimension in order to raise the island's visibility overseas. With tourism increasingly being called upon to play a leading role in Saint Lucia's economic development, it became imperative to increase the awareness of Saint Lucia in the main generating tourism markets. With a limited marketing budget and significant levels of advertising being undertaken by our competitors, the objective was simple: develop an activity /promotional tool which would command international attention and be minimal in cost.
Out of this brainstorming came the idea for Saint Lucia Jazz. Organizers wanted a festival that would put Saint Lucia on the map, but at the time they felt that it would be difficult to stage such an event given their limited resources to say the least and so, the idea was met with much criticism. Other islands such as Aruba and Curacao had already tried to stage Jazz Festivals and had failed miserably. Other critics felt that Jazz wasn't he medium through which Saint Lucia should be marketed, after all it wasn't indigenous. Nevertheless, the 1st Saint Lucia Jazz Festival was staged in 1992. It was relatively small, poorly attended with only 4 venues. Jazz obviously did not do as well as they had expected and they were about ready to give up. But they didn't. They went back to the drawing board and worked on making it better. By 1994 their perseverance paid off and Jazz evolved into what we know it to be today - a careful mix of Acoustical and Fusion jazz with R&B. The development of the fringe has only enhanced this mix, shifting Jazz from a nucleus of small hotel and club venues to a 10-day event that permeates the entire island. Virtually a separate festival in itself, the Fringe events such as Jazz in the South, feature distinct Afro-Caribbean flavour and has kept the audiences growing both in number and satisfaction.
Saint Lucia Jazz had two (2) main objectives. One, to provide a platform to showcase Saint Lucia to a broad cross-section of potential visitors and the other, to redress the traditional trough period in May, so that visitor arrivals and occupancy levels would be on par with that of the winter period. These objectives became broader as Saint Lucia Jazz developed to include the use of radio, television and print media at little or no cost to the St. Lucia Tourist Board, through trade for mentions and other barter arrangements. These efforts strengthen the awareness of Saint Lucia by increasing the number of gross impressions the island receives which develops desirability for, and travel to the island year round. In addition, Saint Lucia Jazz has become an outlet for local expression and economic opportunities, and develops the necessary infrastructure for event productions.
Saint Lucia Jazz encompasses multiple shows of acoustical/straight ahead jazz, new age jazz, fusion, rhythm and blues with acts emanating from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe, French, latin and Reggare genres all being representd as well. The shows range from formal performances to intimate late night open air venues and late night club venues to open air picnic style events, which allow Saint Lucia Jazz to offer unparalleled variety and ambience.
Financing of the Saint Lucia Jazz is complicated and includes sponsorship (cash and kind), merchandising, gate receipts and contributions by the St. Lucia Tourist Board. In addition, the Government of Saint Lucia makes a significant contribution to Jazz through waiver of import duties and taxes. With the limited infrastructure available on the island, patronage of Jazz is limited. Hence contributions from gate receipts are not expected to exceed 30% of the Jazz's production costs.
Producing Saint Lucia Jazz requires the contracting and coordination of several crews and committees including sound and lighting, accommodation, air transport, ground transportation, catering, security, gate controls, communication systems, artiste contracting, sponsor fulfillment, stage design, merchandising, cash management and controls. A significant part of Saint Lucia Jazz is the public relations and marketing components which include the Press Launch in Saint Lucia, road shows, radio, online and in-store promotions, press attendance for event coverage, dissemination of promotional literature, radio and television clips, advertising and press releases.
Jazz production depends on the staff of the St. Lucia Tourist Board, contracted personnel and volunteers. Year round planning and total cooperation of all, ensures the successful production of Saint Lucia Jazz.
Since its establishment in 1992, Saint Lucia Jazz has grown in magnitude and stature, making it the Flagship of the St. Lucia Tourist Board's marketing efforts. It is considered by patrons and the press as the "Premiere Jazz Festival" of the Caribbean region. George Wein (producer of over 30 Festivals worldwide) ranked Saint Lucia Jazz among the top three Festivals in the world. In 1998, Motown recording artiste, Grover Washington Jr. placed Saint Lucia Jazz among the best that he has ever attended. Saint Lucia Jazz has surpassed the objectives set out for it and continues to attract international and regional media attention to the island. Visits to Saint Lucia due to awareness of the island generated by Jazz continue well beyond the May period. Extensive international media coverage on television, radio and print media has resulted in added exposure; the estimated cost of which surpasses the Board's overall annual budget.
Another significant achievement is that of local involvement. Saint Lucia Jazz has provided the opportunity for local jazz musicians to perform at Jazz resulting in extensive international media exposure of artistes. Saint Lucia Jazz also provides a ready audience not only for musicians but all service providers. This opportunity is utilized by various organizations/individuals putting on exhibitions, performances, events and items for sale. This helps to encourage local participation in Jazz.
Today Saint Lucia Jazz is one of the best in the world. It has been ranked 2nd in Caribbean festivals, rivaled only by T&T's Carnival. In the eyes of E! Entertainment, Saint Lucia Jazz is #1! Saint Lucia Jazz has more than exceeded its original objectives. Extensive international media coverage via television, radio and print has resulted in added exposure, the estimated cost of which surpasses the Board's annual budget. Saint Lucia Jazz has now become an internationally recognized brand. The great example of this being the "Being Cool is..." advertising campaign used by soft-drink giant Coca Cola. The print campaign lists Saint Lucia Jazz as one of the top indicators of what being cool is all about - definitely no small feat when arguably the world's #1 consumer brand chooses to associate itself with your festival. So, if this is a sign of what we can look forward to for the next 20 years of jazz - the future definitely sounds good.
Resulting from the limitation on accommodation stock, venue seating capacity, air access, etc Saint Lucia Jazz cannot physically grow much larger. Its economic impact can however, increase by lengthening the Festival period, increasing the number of shows or increasing ticket prices. However, Jazz benefits must be assessed by the overall benefits which the entire island derives, not only in terms of the money circulating via expenditure on rooms, taxi fares, food and beverage, souvenirs, etc but the promotion which the island receives. The latter is of major significance to tourism and it is this market component which can develop and provide substantial future benefits to Saint Lucia. With the continuing successful production of Jazz, it is anticipated that the marketing exposure will multiply as the interest of greater and more discerning press peaks.
The confidence and experience developed from the successful production of Jazz has ensured that special events will continue to receive strong emphasis in the Board's tourism marketing. Consequently, Jazz will be used to provide the necessary infrastructure for special events. The purchase of a stage is one example of this, as well as the training of nationals in stage, sound and light engineering. Jazz will also be used to increase the benefits of tourism to the local community by continuing to provide an avenue and audience for display and trade for local goods and services. Finally, the hope is that Saint Lucia Jazz will do for Saint Lucia what the Montreaux Jazz Festival has done for Montreaux -- that is put it on the map. People visit Montreaux all year round, as a result of experiencing the Montreaux Jazz Festival - this is the ultimate goal.