When Kurt Elling emphasized the notion of change at the 2008 IAJE conference, I doubt that the organization filing for Chapter 7 (dissolution) protection is what he had in mind. Along with the reiteration of the fact that attendance was down in Toronto this year, allegations of fiscal mismanagement and other nefarious deeds are coming to the fore. While it's a blow to the jazz education community, I'm not sure that IAJE's folding is entirely a bad thing.
I've enjoyed the two conferences I've attended (New York 2006 and Toronto 2008), and I've gotten a lot out of them. IAJE's greatest asset were its talent recognition programs - the ASCAP, Gil Evans, and SOCAN commissions, the Sisters in Jazz and other collectives of high school and college musicians. That is the greatest loss in all of this and I sincerely hope other organizations assume this responsibility in IAJE's absence. However, the conference is marked by its insular nature, as Andy Barrie noted in my CBC interview. If the IAJE's purpose is (was) to be an advocate for jazz, preaching to the choir isn't the best methodology to use. I'd love to see it turn into something more public, like Canadian Music Week or South by Southwest (which have their own issues, to be sure). Open the showcases to the public - hell, all the performances should be public. And not by sticking Myra Melford and Marty Ehrlich in a hotel lounge, either.
As a conference-goer and participant, I think the conference and organization would be better served by scaling back and having more focus. I prepared my schedules for each conference weeks in advance, and had to make gruelling decisions on what to see and what to miss. It's so easy to get lost in the embarrassment of riches, and some players and speakers get unduly lost in the shuffle. A conference with a select few but consistently amazing events would be welcome. Roberta Piket's comment on Willard Jenkins' blog is dead-on, too - the same organization that claims to advocate for its practitioners takes advantage of them. I'd willingly pay an artist-discounted rate for a conference fee if it meant that I didn't have to worry about travel and accommodation arrangements. I know musicians who never applied to showcase at the festival because costs were not (or just barely) covered.
The biggest accusation hurled towards IAJE is that they're out of touch, on many levels, and it's hard to disagree. Manhattan, Kansas is by no means a major centre of jazz and improvised music, and it's thereby quite easy to function in a bubble. There's many tributes paid to well-renowned established artists - as there well should be, don't get me wrong - but I feel like we should honor Henry Threadgill in the same way as Ornette Coleman. The conference and organization could serve to hip really interested students, musicians, listeners and educators to the people who don't get talked about all the time. And it serves as great exposure for the lucky few who get to perform every year, and while some "underground" artists get the nod (Darcy, Les Projectionnistes, John Hollenbeck, Vijay Iyer), there's many others that don't surface on the radar (why wasn't Tyshawn Sorey in T.O?).
As someone commented in Willard's blog, we need a 21st-century jazz organization to deal with 21st-century jazz. The circumstances under which this will occur are not ideal, but I hope we're at least on the path to making it happen.