All that jazz: Jazz Fest stirs emotions

Several local musicians say they are disturbed that the Department of Tourism is asking them to compete in order to participate in the 2009 Jazz Festival.

Some of the artists include Gary Ebanks, the Barefoot Man, ‘Jah’ Mitch Ebanks and Hi Tide, who have written to decline the Department’s invitation to take part in the competition for placement in the festival.

According to Mr. Ebanks of the Free2Be Ensemble, he has played for Jazz Fest every year other than the last and with regard to the Battle of the Bands; he has been there and done that.

‘People ask for us by name at the Jazz Fest and we don’t need to be judged by anyone,’ said Mr. Ebanks, who pointed out that no one knew who the judges were or what expertise they have in music, in particular, jazz.

The saxophonist added that no one knew about the competition until the last minute and most of the working bands will likely be busy.

The issue of the likeness of the artists used to promote the competition has also become a source of contention, as many of the local artists say they did not agree to have their images associated with this particular competition. A photograph of Mr. Ebanks performing at a previous festival joins many other local musicians’ images on a poster advertising the Battle of the Bands.

‘My image is my property and I should have the say on how it is used,’ said Mr. Ebanks, who recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Cayman Islands Music and Entertainment Association.

The local artists concerned also contend that the talk of exposure for the home-grown acts is overrated, because Black Entertainment Television only plays a clip of their performances at best.

‘Have a competition for the high school bands, we veterans have done this. It just seems very elementary,’ said Mr. Ebanks. He added that other than playing on the respective night, there was no overt benefit to the local acts.

At least 14 bands, however, have signed up to take part in the competition to participate in the Jazz Fest, according to Acting Public Relations Manager for the Department of Tourism Joanne Gammage.

A statement issued by Department of Tourism Manager of National Promotions and Events Rosa McLean said: ‘The battle of the bands was conceived as a direct result of the many complaints the Department has received – particularly last year – over the selection process for local artists to perform at Cayman Jazz Fest. We felt the need to have a more open and transparent method of deciding who gets to perform.

‘Playing on the main stage, alongside international calibre artists like Alicia Keys is an opportunity that should be afforded to all local musicians and a competition is the only way we can level the playing field to such an extent that everyone gets a chance to shine. The concept was signed off by the Music Association before we decided to proceed with the Battle of the Bands.’

The correspondence went on to state that as part of being transparent, and in addition to the musicians selected by the panel at the Battle of the Bands, the Music Association will put forth additional names for consideration for the festival, of which three will be chosen.

Ms McLean urged everyone to come out and support all of the bands competing for a spot on the show at the Harquail Theatre on Tuesday, 13 October at 6pm.

Other local musicians such as Wil Steward, said he was pleased to see that the Department was putting thought into the selection process and the only drawback was the short notice, as proper scheduling and other logistics could be compromised for contestants.

Mr. Steward added that the competition could be very substantive with regard to bands that do not play clubs, as an audition would be the perfect scenario for them to showcase their abilities and be chosen from.

‘I’m not offended by the whole thing,’ said Mr. Steward, who added that there was a very good swing band at the George Hicks High School and the opportunity would be exciting for the youngsters.