In 2008, in the wake of a void, some courageous, forward looking lovers of jazz and jazz education gathered in a Chicago airport motel to discuss the creation of an organization to serve jazz education. Led by Mary Jo Papich and Lou Fischer, the 37 attendees hammered out bylaws, a mission statement, and a name. The result – a vision became a reality and JEN was born.
With no outside financial support, it was a challenge to create programs. Many were yearning for a conference and there were many questions about what happened to create the vacuum in which JEN was created. At a Board meeting in the summer of 2009 there was a definite desire to offer a conference but with a lack of funds it seemed out of the question. After a lunch break, Board member Jim Widner announced that he had procured the use of his college the University of Missouri – St. Louis as a site for a May 2010 conference and that by using the facilities we could afford to offer the first JEN conference. It was very successful and a mere seven months later we mounted a larger scale conference in New Orleans that also exceeded expectations.
With each successive conference, and the evolution of offerings such as Outreach programs and infrastructure, acceptance of and respect for JEN increased. Conference attendance grew and the conferences became more successful. More programs, awards and scholarships were added. Folks began to believe in JEN and what JEN had to offer.
All of this was done and continues to be supported by a volunteer based organization. Along the way JEN engaged some part time independent contractors who work far beyond their part-time status and in many ways join the rest of the volunteers in their selfless service and dedication.
Now in our 6th conference, we attract stellar artists and thousands of attendees. Submissions to present and perform at the conference have increased in quantity and quality. We have members from 23 countries and all 50 states. We have awarded over $50,000 in scholarships and our Outreach programs have reached over 20,000 people. The question is where do you, the members want JEN to go from here? We have a number of substantive offerings some of which have recently become public and other very impressive programs waiting for staff, website development and funding support to launch.
JEN has become a respected and stable organization in a very short period of time. Not withstanding some ongoing growing pains much of which is due to a shortage of staff and resources; it is remarkable what JEN has accomplished. We all take pride in JEN’s current position. As we continue to grow forward and unleash some new useful offerings we need additional infrastructure funding and selfless volunteers with specific skills in web-design, web development and maintenance specific to Drupal, programming, fund raising, marketing, communication, project management and secretarial skills to join our team and offer significant services to build the jazz arts community by advancing education, promoting performance and developing new audiences.
Many years ago I trained for the Peace Corps in San Diego and fell in love with all that it has to offer. When thinking about the spirit of JEN’s volunteers, I am reminded of a Peace Corps slogan – It’s the toughest job, you’ll ever love. We certainly would love to have YOU as part of the team. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to join us.