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The Downtown Westfield Corporation in northern New Jersey has been offering jazz al fresco going on 22 years. A showcase for blazing hot ensembles, the event draws thousands of music lovers to the hip downtown region.

A sample of last year’s lineup: Roxy Perry, Claudio Roditi Quintet, Chuck Lambert Band, Ali Ryerson, Dave Leonhardt Trio, Jazz Lobsters, The Murphtet, Funky Organics, The Joe Taino Group, Eric Frazier, Lynette Washington and so many more.

Festival coordinator Sherry Cronin explains how this sonic summertime treat has gathered steam.

How did the event originate?

The Promotions Committee of Main Street Westfield (the predecessor organization of Downtown Westfield Corporation) conceived of it when our downtown revitalization began in the 1990s.  It started with a few bands outside of storefronts, small trios sitting on hay bales near parking lots, etc. It’s grown to be a regional draw on Tuesday evenings in July and August with over 40 different bands.  

Are you interested in jazz?

I have grown to appreciate the diversity of jazz—whether you like blues, straight-ahead jazz, contemporary, Latin, traditional or big band, there’s something for everyone.  

What have you learned from coordinating this event?

We engage an annual committee of volunteers to listen to all the bands that apply for consideration.  We like to joke that we lock the committee members in a room for two to three hours, give them lunch and don’t let them out unless we emerge with a list of yes, no and maybe.  Usually more than 80 bands apply; we hire 40-45 depending upon the calendar.

Beth Brenner, Asst. Executive Director, handles the setup, scheduling, contracts, brochures and advertising. Sweet Sounds keeps the quality of the bands high by paying for top bands and providing diversity in the music. 

We are also strategic in the placement of the bands as we have five locations around town that can accommodate concerts and the large crowds it draws. The festivals have the most impact on the restaurant segment of our downtown. Reports say it produces as much revenue as a typical Friday or Saturday night. We purposely have the event on Tuesday (rain date Wednesday) to drive traffic into downtown on a night that otherwise may be slow in the summer. Our event has been the model for many towns trying to duplicate our success over the years.   

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What’s the biggest change from the time of the first festival to 2017?  

The enormous crowds that we bring to Downtown Westfield.

What’s new about the 2018 festival?

We’re planning to take full advantage of a new location that’s been piloted for the last two years. The Town of Westfield and The Westfield Foundation created Foundation Park around a traffic circle.  The park now has a large concrete pad, mature landscaping, electricity and lighting, making it a great new venue for outdoor concerts. We’re also planning two large big bands closing, off one of the streets during the festival on the second and last evening. 

We’re also are exploring the addition of a roving band that will link our venues and provide entertainment on one of the streets that doesn’t have any available gathering space to accommodate a concert. 

How do you decide on the musicians?

Fortunately, Beth and I don’t choose the bands…that would be too hard! The committee ultimately provides those recommendations.  

How many are repeat performers?

About 35 or so a year could be returning, even if it’s been a year or two since they last performed here so that we can rotate new bands in. Some bands also become so popular and successful that they outgrow us! 

What’s your requirement for artists bringing their own sound equipment?

They need to bring everything. We supply electricity, extension cords, water, chairs and of course, a check after the two-hour performance.  

It’s a great gig…beautiful town, appreciative audience, outdoor venue. Gracious and appreciative event hosts and interns help them carry their equipment especially where parking may be further away from where they’ll be playing.  

Average annual foot traffic?

We estimate 40,000 to 50,000 attendees during the season.  

What kind of feedback do you get from the community?

They love it! Some people consider it a “resort town event.”   

Why do you like working on this event? 

Because it creates memorable experiences for people and has an economic benefit to the downtown.  

Other comments?

Even those who think they don’t like jazz fall in love with our Sweet Sounds Downtown Jazz Festival. We tell people to come and bring their listening ears, friends and neighbors, comfortable walking shoes, lawn chairs, and their wallets to Downtown Westfield on Tuesday nights from 7-9 pm through July and August. ENJOY!  

We feel that jazz can be part of an urban/suburban renaissance. It certainly has been a successful economic tool for our downtown.

Thanks for the opportunity to be featured in your blog!  We appreciate it!

For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/downtownwestfieldnj/.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the Downtown Westfield Corporation.
(c) Debbie Burke 2018

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