The Playboy Jazz Festival: The Ladies of the Festival

This year’s Playboy Jazz Festival has been described as the “Year of the Woman.”  And, with three female drummers and three female horn players among the impressive array of distaff artists, the title makes a lot of sense.  But women have been playing a significant role in the Festivals since the very beginning — not always on stage or in the spotlights, but always in a significant fashion.  And it’s appropriate, given Playboy’s long history of relationships with women, that the Playboy Jazz Festival continues to rely upon the many skills of Darlene Chan, Nina Gordon and Jonne-Marie Switzler.  To understand the extent of their roles, we posed a string of similar questions to each of the Ladies of the Festival.

By Don Heckman

Darlene Chan

Darlene Chan has been the Producer for all 34 Playboy Jazz Festivals.

DH: Darlene, what are the special demands of your job with the Festival?

DC: The Festival is a series of constantly moving parts.  As Producer, I try to keep a handle on Playboy’s goals, artists’ availabilities, up and coming artists and production requirements.

DH: That’s an impressive list of considerations to have to keep in mind.

DC: And there’s more.  Scheduling: how the music will flow from one group to another.  And, of course, ticket sales.

DH: I’m sure that each of the Festivals is different.  What would you say are the unique pleasures of the 2012 Festival?

DC: I think we have a particularly well rounded Festival this year, combining various genres of jazz, blues, Latin and World Music, and a good mix of veteran artists, up and coming artists, and groups making their Festival debus.  And I’m especially pleased with the large number of women artists who are present this year.  Both as leaders and as guests – as in the Cos of Good Music’s all-female front line of Ingrid Jensen, Tia Fuller and Erena Terakubo.

DH: Has your view of jazz changed over the course of working the Festival?  And if so, how has it changed?

DC: My view of jazz changes all the time.  But that’s the beauty of jazz: it is forever evolving, yet it respects its past.  I feel very lucky to be in the jazz festival business.

* * * * * * * *

Nina Gordon

Nina Gordon has been in charge of National Public Relations and Publicity for the Playboy Festivals for 16 years.

DH: Nina, I know you have a lot of demands and challenges in your job with the Festival.  Can you fill us in on some of them?

NG: Well, start with working with so many different entities– from the Playboy executive management, to the artists and their representatives and management, to the media. Each group has their own agenda and unique set of objectives so it’s always a balancing act to satisfy everyone and meet all those different goals. Of course, the talent is still always the major story.  Finding out what’s new and special about the artists and conveying that to the fans and the media is crucial. So is adapting to all the new communication trends and social media  to reach as much of the audience as possible, continue to grow our audience and appeal to a broad variety of listeners.

DH: What’s special about this year’s Festival to you?

NG: The fact that it’s the Year of the Woman. We have a great deal of blockbuster female talent on this year’s show and I am really looking forward to seeing all of them, from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings to three of the most amazing female percussionists—Sheila E .,Teri Lynne Carrington, and Cindy Blackman Santana – and the line up of female horn players in the Cos of Good Music.

DH: Has your personal view of jazz changed in your sixteen years with the Festival?

NG: It’s expanded greatly, not to mention introducing me to so many new artists.  To me, jazz is many different things, It’s not just ‘straight ahead’ or blues like some people like to think. By its very nature it is evolutionary and interpretive, constantly changing and expanding and will continue to do so, which is what I think makes it such an exciting art form. Over my years with the Festival I’ve become much more aware of how different artists in totally different jazz-related genres influence each other.

* * * * * * * *

Jonne-Marie Switxler

Jonne-Marie Switzler has been the Manager of the Playboy Jazz Festivals since 1979.

DH: Jonne-Marie, can you tell us about the unique demands of your Festival responsibilities?

J-MS: I am primarily involved behind the scenes in nearly all aspects of the Festival.  I communicate, plan and troubleshoot between Corporate Playboy, Festival West, our Festival program publisher, the graphic designers, etc.  It’s a job that continually opens new doors of responsibility.

DH: What are you finding as the unique qualities of this year’s Festival?

J-MS: They are actually a variation on a theme of the same “unique” pleasures of each Festival since 1979.  This joyous event is two days the way the world could be.  Imagine the possibilities if we could export the spirit of the Playboy Jazz Festival – attended by people of every age, ethnicity and lifestyle, all becoming one family, getting along together, united by music.

DH: And has your view of jazz evolved over the course of your tenure with the Festival?

J-MS: I feel that the envelope for jazz is always expanding and shaping new sounds and forms.  I find it exciting that so many young people want to study the jazz masters and then go on to express their own souls through their instruments.


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