Jazz in Arizona Inc. (Jazz In AZ), a nonprofit Jazz-support organization, was conceived in January 1977 by nine people. Their goal was to create an organization to encourage and support the performance and appreciation of America's great original art form.
Eight people first met on Sunday afternoon, Jan 16, 1977, in the music building at Arizona State University. These “Friends of Modern Jazz“ gathered in the office of music professor Bob Miller, who had called them together and thus became affectionately known as “the godfather of Jazz inAZ.“ Bob had produced a concert in 1976 to establish the Herb “Mr. J.”Johnson Scholarship in Jazz at ASU, honoring the longtime Jazz disc jockey. That project helped connect a previously disjointed network of dedicated Jazz fans, and now Miller thought it was time for a more solid Jazz coalition.
Although Johnson was not at that first meeting because he was ill, it was attended by his wife Anne and son Michael Duffy Johnson, also a Jazz deejay on KXTC, plus Dr. William “Pete” Burns (a dentist who provided earphones for clients to listen to Jazz during office visits), Pat McElfresh (now Patricia Myers, writer of a weekly Jazz column since 1972 for the Scottsdale Progress), Jazz aficionados Don and Sue Miller, and Dr. Wally Rave, ASU music professor.
The group discussed purposes and chose its name, after rejecting Friends of Modern Jazz, Arizona Jazz Club, Jazz Is, and Arizona Jazz Association. Temporary officers were Burns, president; Sue Miller, vice president; McElfresh, secretary. (An amusing/ironic footnote: Because the Valley's only Jazz radio station traditionally broadcast “The World of Opera' on Sunday afternoons, that was the incongruous background music for this important three-hour meeting. The official minutes of the first meeting closed with that information and this query: “Are you sure Bird lives?”)
As a historical point of reference, at this time there were barely a half-dozen Phoenix-area clubs featuring Jazz on a sporadic basis, with one exception: The Boojum Tree of the downtown Phoenix Doubletree Inn, regularly booking national and local groups.
On the education side, ASU did no yet have a Jazz studies degree program but offered Jazz courses; Grant Wolf at Mesa Community College taught Jazz classes, led the Valley Big Band, and organized summer clinics for students; other community colleges also had Jazz ensembles. There were dedicated high school music teachers cultivating young Jazz players in state bands.
All of this activity was supported by a small but fervent coterie of fans who crossed paths at these various events. The second and third organizational meetings were held within the next three weeks, and by mid-February, Jazz in AZ had a logo, a post office box, formats for a newsletter and membership brochure, and the names of about 50 people who might be recruited to join the fledgling organization, with specific plans for the first recruitment meeting. Start-up costs were covered by $25 seed-money contributions from each of the founders. The original nine now gained the volunteer assistance of attorney Scott Burns, Dr. Pete's nephew, who donated his services for the legal requirements for incorporation.
These 10 people were listed as the original board of directors members on the incorporation papers. The first executive committee was elected: Herb Johnson, president; Don Miller, vice president; Pat McElfresh, secretary; Scott Burns, assistant secretary; and John Eck, treasurer, an accountant and another early key figure, who executed the necessary document for non-profit status with the IRS.
The first six months of existence were busy and productive, even though membership was less than 100, and Johnson resigned as president because of ill health. Don Miller was appointed acting president, later elected president for the following full one-year term. Between January and June, Jazz in AZ co-sponsored three concerts (second Herb Johnson benefit, a Peoples Pops at Phoenix Symphony Hall, and a Gary Burton performance at the Scottsdale Center), began publishing a bi-monthly newsletter edited by Rave, applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to organize a March 1978 workshop for students, and scheduled its first membership event on Feb. 28 - just six weeks after that initial gathering - featuring a performance by singer Francine Reed, guitarist Jerry Byrd, bassist Ron Geschwentner and drummer Jim Jacoby.
By fall of the first year, the board had been expanded to 21 members, and had arranged to co-sponsor the first Jazz series at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts for the 1977-78 season (the lineup included the Akiyoshi-Tabackin Band, guitarist Joe Pass, pianist Billy Taylor, sax great Sonny Rollins and the traditional Preservation Hall Jazz Band). The NEA grant request became a reality and Jazz in AZ was on the move.
Today, members of Jazz in AZ represent a cross-section of the population, including business and professional people, musicians, educators, students and just plain “listeners” They share a common focus; to help Jazz thrive in Arizona and the Southwest by sponsoring live performances, encouraging jazz education through the support of scholarships, clinics and in-school presentations, and fostering camaraderie with others who share a love for jazz. Jazz in AZ sponsors a growing number of live jazz events, including monthly member parties, concerts at the Kerr Cultural Center, and the annual Chandler Jazz Festival; provides jazz-related information to members and the community through a bi-monthly newsletter and comprehensive website; and offers discount tickets to its members for live concerts and more.