Miles Davis was standing in the shadow of a teepee as Sarah Vaughan strode through the saloon's swinging doors, past a giant cactus, and towards the stage. Beyond the cacti, tumbleweeds and stage, stood a steep and vast amphitheater carved out of German bedrock for fascist rallies in the '30s.
This unlikely scene from 1984 took place in Bad Segeberg, northern Germany, and was the first JVC Jazz Festival. A impressive lineup of American Jazz stars performed in the former Nazi gathering spot, now devoted to reenactments of German author Karl May's "Wild West" action stories. The backstage area was a scrambled OK corral, Indian village, and Tombstone main street. The producer of this postmodern gumbo was George Wein and his New York based company Festival Productions Inc. and it was all made possible by the Japanese Electronics Company JVC.
The scale and history of the JVC Jazz Festival program is huge- for 20 years since 1984, JVC has sponsored over 160 major jazz festivals to live audiences of almost 4 million people. The JVC Jazz Festivals have cumulatively presented over 47,000 individual musicians! Along with twenty years of Newport, JVC has implemented JVC Jazz Festivals in multiple cities including New York, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, San Franciso (Concord), Toronto, London, Bad Segeberg, Germany, Holland (Amsterdam and The Hague), Paris and Nice in France, Rome andTorino in Italy, Warsaw, and Berlin. Remarkable theaters and sites have been utilized including Carnegie Hall, the Cimiez Roman Baths in Nice, France, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall and a myriad of other top concert halls. Festival concerts have also taken place in tiny clubs like Sunset in Paris, and at vast outdoor sites like Winter Park ski area near Denver.
How did this all come to pass? In 1983 Nobunosuke Saito, a journeyman translator and coordinator in the postwar Japanese music world, arranged a meeting between George Wein, myself, Junichi Shibata of JVC, and Teruhiko Miyoshi of the small Tokyo ad agency KB&L. Mr. Shibata is a serious jazz fan- a saxophonist whose father owned a "Jazz Kisa" (a coffeehouse where jazz records are played and appreciated) in the late 50's near Korakuen. Mr. Shibata had his eyes closed during much of the meeting and we thought he might be bored- but as we learned when we knew him better- this meant he was concentrating very hard, and planning an unparalleled corporate Jazz activity.
Mr. Shibata was working at that time in the audio product marketing department of JVC- "Victor Company of Japan". JVC originated as the Japanese licensee of RCA in the early years of the century. In fact RCA issued some of the earliest Jazz "sides" including The Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917. By 1927 Victor Company of Japan was a fully independent company, and after World War II their products, prized at home by Japanese audiophiles and Jazz fans, began to be widely distributed around the world.
Mr. Shibata was very familiar with the Newport Jazz Festival because of it's longstanding reputation as the granddaddy of popular music festivals, and the 1958 film "Jazz on A Summer's Day". Japan's rapidly expanding economy of the early nineteen eighties combined with JVC's product line (primarily consumer audio products) made association with prominent Jazz Festivals a great marketing idea. Mr. Shibata, and others at JVC, were decisive, and rapidly committed to supporting multiple Jazz Festivals via Festival Productions.
That was the genesis and the results speak for themselves. Memories from the JVC Jazz Festivals are numerous. One might recall the historic festival in 1981 at La Villette in Paris- dedicated to Miles Davis and presenting most of the musicians that came up through his many bands; young unknowns who emerged into stardom at the JVC Jazz Festivals including Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, and Christian McBride; Bill Cosby's rough and ready all-star ensembles in Newport; the sold out Peggy Lee and Lena Horne tribute concerts in New York city over the years; Nina Simone's 20 minute standing ovation at Carnegie Hall before she had even played a note; Maceo Parker, Roy Hargrove and George Clinton at the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Thousands of talented people have worked to produce the hundreds of JVC Jazz events, but notable among them on JVC's side are Mr. "J is for Jazz" Shibata, Marc Adachi ("the only person in George Wein's life who argues with him about Jazz"), Mr. Ishikawa, Mr. Hattori, Harry Elias, Neil Kurihara, and the man who currently carries the torch- Karl Bearnarth.
—by John Phillips
visit the JVC-Victor site for more information