The Telluride Society for Jazz Looks Forward After An Uplifting Year

An interview with the Telluride Society for Jazz Executive Director Peter Bell

More than just a festival, the Telluride Jazz Festival works in collaboration with the Telluride Society for Jazz to help preserve the rich traditions of jazz through music education, outreach and other programs. 2017 was a significant year for the Telluride Society for Jazz as it transitioned festival management to SBG Productions, resurrected the "Society Stage" at Elks Park, introduced new Telluride Jazz Adventure Academy scholarships for music students and ushered in a future generation of music with the Telluride Student All-Stars Jazz Ensemble.

As a non-profit organization with sizable goals, the Telluride Society for Jazz’s work is never done. As the holidays and “giving season” approach, we reflect on the non-profit’s big year and what to look forward to with Executive Director Peter Bell.


Telluride residents and visitors enjoy music on the free "Society Stage" at Elks Park. 

Hi Peter! How are you? What have you been up to after last August’s Telluride Jazz Festival?

Since last year's festival, we've been collecting feedback from longtime supporters and other festival-goers, evaluating which acts got a strong response, reaction to the new activities added by our production partner, SBG Productions, and searching for talent to bring to Telluride next summer. We've also been busy, of course, closing out the books for 2017, developing and submitting grant applications for 2018, and seeking new strategic partnerships for both the festival and the Society.

The Festival featured some new programming this past year from the Telluride Society for Jazz like the “Society Stage” at Elks Park and the Telluride Jazz Adventure Academy! How did 2017 go for the organization and what were some of the highlights of the year?  

The big highlight for this past year was the transition from the Telluride Society for Jazz maintaining its own staff to our strategic partnership with SBG Productions. The SBG crew are real professionals at what they do. They have a passion for music, a love for Telluride and a deep understanding of the regional audience. They produced a first-rate show and stayed within budget, yet introduced many exciting new elements into our weekend program. Some of their enhancements to what already has a reputation as a great festival included free music on the “Society Stage” at Elks Park all festival long featuring both student groups and headliners, a private pre-festival concert at the Sheridan Opera House for Patron pass-holders, the Telluride Jazz Jazz Adventure Camp and Thursday night Jazz Art Walk.

For a transition year, entered into with a lot of unknowns and a new management team getting started late into the season, I think the highlight, to me as Acting Executive Director, has been how smooth the transition has been and that the foundation has been laid for a great festival in 2018 and beyond. Of course, strong ticket sales on Friday and Saturday were a highlight!

Musically, my highlights from last summer's festival were Ranky Tanky, Mavis Staples, the Funky Meters with Dr. John, Bob Montgomery, who has been leading our All-Stars program for 20+ years, and local musician Kevin McCarthy, who is a great jazz guitarist that we are fortunate to be able to hear often in Telluride.


Festival attendees enjoy Thursday's Jazz Art Walk to kick off the Telluride Jazz Festival.

Last year, you attended quite a few Jazz and education conferences. Which ones stood out? Where do you think the future of Jazz and music education is heading?

One of the most satisfying aspects of working with Telluride Society for Jazz is the opportunity to attend conferences and workshops with leaders in the Jazz world, the impresarios that produce some of the great music events around our country. I represent the Telluride Society for Jazz on the Board of Directors of the Western Jazz Presenters Network, a consortium of organizations that host festivals and concerts throughout the western U.S. and Canada. My colleagues on this Board are the executive directors of the Monterey Jazz Festival, SFJazz in San Francisco, Earshot in Seattle, The Outpost in Albuquerque, Stanford Jazz Workshop. Tucson Jazz Festival and others. We meet in NYC in early January each year during the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) and the Jazz Congress, and attend artist showcases with musicians presenting their newest works and current projects to talent buyers from around the world. It's always an exhilarating week; so many artists to learn about, so much music to hear. We also meet later in the winter, once everyone has their 'wish lists" of artists and their budgets to see if we can support each other, block book and coordinate tours.

SyncUp, a conference held in conjunction with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the spring is another great opportunity to network and learn about trends in the music presentation world.

Music education, I think, is getting better all the time -- in places where school systems have the will and resources to support it. I say that based on the many young, talented musicians I meet and hear at the conferences and festivals I attend throughout the year, and while attending events at home in Washington, DC and at SF Jazz. The Monterey Festival's Next Generation Jazz Orchestra is amazing year after year. The students who apply for our Telluride All-Stars are incredibly talented and many of our alumni have embarked on successful careers as performers, arrangers and composers.

As for the future of jazz, I often hear people say jazz is dying. The audience is old, but, I attend a lot of concerts at events all year long as I travel for business and find that in cities large and small, on weeknights as well as weekends, many clubs are full of young people turning out to hear and enjoy live improvised music, even on Monday nights in the dead of winter! So, I think jazz is alive and well and drawing in a new generation. Plus, globalization and technology are bringing in new sounds from around the world, adding greater diversity to the gumbo that is jazz.

What are you looking forward to the most in 2018? What are the goals for Telluride Society for Jazz?

Our goal for 2018 is to keep Telluride swinging. And maybe make a little money to further support the Society's educational programs in the process!

This “giving season” support the future of music by supporting the Telluride Society for Jazz. All donations are tax deductible as 501(c)(3) educational organization charitable contribution.


Patron Experience Pass holders enjoy the on stage viewing platform. 

Get your 2018 Telluride Jazz Festival Patron Experience Pass while supporting the Telluride Society for Jazz - Early Bird Patron Passes go on sale Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 10 am (MT). Passes are $650 per person. $200 of each Pass is donated directly to the Telluride Society for Jazz and can be deducted as a charitable contribution on personal taxes. Featuring exclusive top of the line amenities, the luxurious Patron Experience is the best way to do the Telluride Jazz Festival. Treat yourself to on-stage viewing platform with a hosted bar, a private opening concert, catered meals from an award-winning chef backstage, complimentary bars throughout the festival, access to Patron VIP area, stage front seating, Jazz After Dark late night show entry, patron restrooms and much more.

Join the Telluride Jazz Festival and the Telluride Society for Jazz for the 42nd annual Telluride Jazz Festival in the beautiful Telluride Town Park August 3-5, 2018.