SANTA FE, N.M. — A twinkle in his eye, “Bumble Bee” Bob Weil invited speculation on how you could end up with $1 million by promoting jazz concerts.
“Start out with $2 million,” he chuckled as he provided the answer.
Jazz, despite being one of the most American of musical genres, is a tough market, he said.
Its fans are aging and not many young people are taking their place.
But the New Mexico Jazz Festival is forging ahead with concerts that already have started in Albuquerque and soon will be popping up in Santa Fe.
The festival was started by Bruce Dunlap, now proprietor of GiG Performance Space in Santa Fe, who ran it for six or seven years until Weil and Tom Guralnick of Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque took over the reins and made it a two-city event.
“We decided to keep it going. This is our ninth year,” Weil said, explaining that Bob Martin of the Lensic Performing Arts Center approached them about continuing the festival.
“He said we should have a jazz component in the summer for the rest of the music festival thing,” Weil said, referring to the Santa Fe Opera, Chamber Music Festival and other summer programs.
Weil’s contribution this year was putting together “Bumble Bee’s Jazz All-Stars,” which includes Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Randy Sandke, Jimmy Greene, Jay Leonhart and Lewis Nash.
These pros play without any practice – they get together for brunch, talk about the program, do a sound check at 3 p.m., then take the Lensic stage at 7:30 p.m. this Sunday to play.
“They all know the music,” Weil said. “It’s amazing … . They put it all together.”
At 40, saxophonist Greene is the baby of the group, he said.
“Dick Hyman has been around forever. He’s 87,” Weil said. “Do you remember Arthur Godfrey?” he asked, referring to the radio and television show host who was popular in the ’40s and ’50s. “Dick was musical director for Arthur Godfrey.”
Pizzarelli, the lead guitar player, is 89, Weil added.
Their style, he said, “is what we call straight-ahead … it’s swing, sort of the music that came out of the Big Band era.”
Each year, the festival brings in a “jazz master,” someone whose history earns that notice from the National Endowment for the Arts, he said.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette fills that role this year, performing with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (son of John) and bassist Matthew Garrison.
“They’ve got a real bebop thing going,” Weil said.
They’ll perform at 7:30 p.m. July 26 at the Lensic. At 2 p.m. that day, DeJohnette will take part in a free “meet the artist” conversation with A.B. Spellman, retired NEA deputy chairman.
Another free event will bring guitarist Raul Midón to the Bandstand on the Santa Fe Plaza at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Midón, who grew up in Embudo, fuses a variety of musical styles.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the 1980s.
Local drummer Cal Haines and his quintet will play music by Ray Charles as the lead-in act.
Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project will round out the Santa Fe events with an all-female lineup at 7:30 p.m. July 25.
Weil said the Mosaic Project’s vocalist, Gretchen Parlato, grew up in Albuquerque. “She’s done very well,” he said.
When she was only 18, she would take part in some of the jazz performances he put on at his home and opened to the community.
He offered six to seven house concerts a year in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the All-Stars he puts together are sort of an outgrowth of those jazz parties, he said.
“People still come up to me and say ‘The best concerts I ever saw were in your house,'” Weil added.
He doesn’t have any performing experience in jazz, but always loved the music and helped put together appearances of jazz musicians for various groups, including the one-time Santa Fe Stages and Santa Fe Symphony, he said.
Despite the city’s smaller size, Santa Fe generally attracts bigger audiences than Albuquerque to the Jazz Festival concerts – about 500 to 600 people at the Lensic, Weil said.
Of course, that doesn’t count the free Albuquerque Summerfest jazz performances along Central Avenue on Nob Hill, scheduled for Saturday, which can attract thousands of spectators, he added.
“That’s put the New Mexico Jazz Festival on the map as a major jazz festival because of attendance,” Weil said. “It’s put us in a different class for recognition in the country.”
But, he added, he doesn’t run into many people who come to the area just for the jazz festival; it seems to attract mainly local people.
“We’re appealing to a limited audience,” he said, but added, “We love the whole genre – but it’s sure not a moneymaker.”