New Year…New JEN!
by Caleb Chapman
I am writing this from my hotel room in Dallas as we begin preparations for my favorite week of the year. I’m so excited to kick off the new year with many of my closest friends at our annual conference. That list includes our dedicated board members, world-class conference staff, and such well-known musicians as Branford Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey, John Clayton, Dee Daniels, Jeff Coffin, John Beasley, Robin Eubanks, Sean Jones, Grace Kelly, Doc Severinsen, Rashawn Ross, Ernie Watts, Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker, John Fedchock, Matt Wilson, Joey Calderazzo, Kirk Whalum, Tom “Bones” Malone, Alan Baylock, Terell Stafford, Dave Pietro, Rosana Eckert, Dave Stryker, Mark Shilansky, Bobby Floyd, Bob Sheppard, Mike Vax, Francisco Torres, Peter Eldridge, Jeff Hamilton, Dan Haerle, Kris Berg, Chris Vadala, Stefon Harris and scores of others. This is, without question, the greatest jazz hang in the world and why it has been such a huge honor and pleasure to serve as president.
As we begin 2018 I was just thinking how very different our organization is from even last year. In the last 12 months we have gone through a big transformation thanks to our growth and the demands that accompany that. The biggest change that I mentioned a few months back is the addition of our first full-time employee, Sharon Burch, who accepted the position of managing director. Having someone of her caliber and skills overseeing things on a daily basis is making a huge impact. There is a significantly heightened level of vision and coordination that touches all corners of our operations from the conference itself to our outreach efforts throughout the year.
Another exciting upgrade to JEN is the launch of our new website. Since this is the way the majority of our members interface with the organization throughout the year it was critical to the board that it truly represent our mission, values, and serve as a substantial resource center. I am happy to report that our web team was successful in meeting those objectives. If you haven’t yet taken time to explore it, this week might be the perfect time!
The next upgrade was our adoption of a powerful CRM (customer relationship management) software package. This means easier access to our online forms and a simplified registration and membership system. While it sounds easy to describe, it literally took years of work by the board and our JEN staff to be able to design the system, transfer existing data, and improve our forms and collection methods. Dr. Lou Fischer, our conference coordinator, did double duty and volunteered to head up the time-consuming and tedious data migration. The result is impressive and promises to continue to improve by leaps and bounds as our team becomes more familiar with it.
A change that might not be so visible from the outside impacts our scholarships and awards program. While we have been able to award tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships in the last 9 years, we were not able to fund travel to the conference or lodging for the winners. That meant that those scholarship recipients would either spend a huge amount out of pocket to attend the conference or they would not be able to attend at all. Thanks to the hard work of our board and our Scholarship and Development Committees, we have been able to raise the money to now fund transportation and lodging to the conference for both our scholarship recipients and those selected for the Young Composers Showcase! As one who has had students in the past who have sacrificed to come to the conference to be recognized, I can tell you this is thrilling to see!
Another change from a year ago is the global perception of JEN as an organization that is here to stay. Those who were waiting in the wings to see if we would make it out of infancy now have that question answered as we begin our ten-year anniversary celebration. Every year, more and more of the biggest names in the industry see the value in aligning with our mission and attending the conference. New faces you’ll see here in Dallas include Marcus Miller, Audrey Ochoa, Chris Potter, Doc Severinsen, and many others.
One of my favorite differences this year is one that I am personally invested in. I was disappointed when I joined JEN that there weren’t more students participating in the fantastic clinics offered. I envisioned a student jazz festival that runs in conjunction with the conference as a way to change that. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was calling my friends to explain the vision and recruit help with our very first JENerations Jazz Festival. The festival has been a success since we started and we maxed out last year with 33 ensembles. Thanks to some scheduling adjustments we were able to increase capacity this year and have increased to a whopping 53 ensembles and have again sold it out! So, you will see more students than ever at our conference this year and rolling forward.
Of course, the most exciting difference of all is what facilitated everything else that is happening, and that is the growth of the organization. Thanks to a focus on creating more member benefits that extend well beyond conference attendance and the establishment of area units, chapters, and jazz societies, we now have thousands of new members who have either joined or are in the process of registering their institution.
I will be wrapping up my term as JEN president this summer and am confident the growth of the organization and our reach will continue under the leadership of our next president, my good friend, Todd Stoll from Jazz at Lincoln Center. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next for this organization I love so much. Happy New Year indeed!
In addition to his role as JEN President, Caleb Chapman is Founder and President of Caleb Chapman’s Soundhouse, Director of the Crescent Super Band, and Artistic Director for Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts. He serves on several boards including the Utah Arts Council, and is an award-winning musician, producer, educator, author, and speaker. To learn more about Caleb, please visit www.ccsoundhouse.com.