The birth of the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival really resulted from several coincidental connections:
In 2000, Emilee Floor, pianist/vocalist, was performing regularly in Salt Lake City. In his first year as Mayor, Rocky Anderson, would occasion the restaurant that Emilee was performing. Soon, Emilee and Rocky got to know each other. One night, the Mayor said to Emilee, “I sure wish there were more jazz in Salt Lake City.” To which, Emilee responded, “You really need to meet my dad, Jerry Floor. He was involved as a founder of the Park City Jazz Festival and has a lot of great ideas for jazz in Salt Lake City.”
In late 2000, Jerry Floor made an appointment to meet with Mayor Anderson. Jerry, prepared with several music proposals for the City, began his presentation but was soon interrupted by the Mayor. “You helped start the Park City Jazz Festival. Is this accurate?” Rocky said. When Jerry confirmed that he was one of three founders of the Park City Festival, Rocky said, “Let’s put your other projects aside for a while. I want a jazz festival in Salt Lake City. I want it FREE to the public, and I want it to be a first class festival.”
Jerry enlightened Rocky that a free, “first class” festival would require significantly investment and support from the City. The Mayor committed total City support to include help in raising funds to make the event a reality. While Rocky and Jerry were politically, polar opposites, a great friendship developed quickly and the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival was born.
While Four Floors Productions formed the production efforts and operational coordination for the event, Jerry immediately brought Jazz Arts of the Mountainwest (JAM) in the fold. A long time supporter of jazz in Utah, JAM’s mission is to promote America’s music, jazz, to be performed live and to encourage music education to people of all ages. JAM’s involvement was critical to the fund raising efforts for the event.
As with all great new ideas, the invention, details, economics, human resources and technical nuances were all challenges. But, with the help of energy and passion, the Jazz Festival became a reality in early July, 2001.
The kick-off date was chosen after researching weather conditions and finding that July in Salt Lake City historically had the lowest rainfall of the year. While heat was a factor (90 to 105 degrees F) wind and rain were the death nail in a Festival. The date followed the July 4th weekend.
Oddly enough, Friday night, the first night of the first Festival, thunder, lightening, and a tremendous downfall of rain suggested that the research was meaningless. However, after about an hour of a huge volume of rain, the skies cleared, and the audience was still there. The first year’s Festival yielded about 3,500 people.
The next 15 years had their share of ups and downs, incredible performances and temperamental weather, political challenges and venue changes. But through it all, our supporters, volunteers, and sponsors have help create one of the finest music festivals in the U.S. featuring some of the biggest and best artists the jazz world has to offer.
In 2014, we introduced the concept of “Take the music to the people.” The Festival moved back to July, only this time, the Festival developed a new concept – “The Salt Lake City Jazz Festival Road Show.” In an agreement with Sandy City, the first “Road Show” took place on Tuesday of the Festival week at the Sandy Amphitheater. The show consisted of Orquesta Latino and Denny Floor with the Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra as the warm-up component. Then, Sheila E took the stage for the main show. She was fabulous as always.
The “Road Show” concept took further hold in 2015 with Utah performances in West Jordan, Layton, Salt Lake City, Murray, and Sandy. One of the Salt Lake City Festival activities took place with a joint effort at the Utah Arts Festival. Friday at the Arts Festival became Salt Lake City Jazz Festival day with amazing performances by eight jazz ensembles.
An addition to the Road Shows, Jazz Arts of the Mountainwest produced “America’s Music & Dance,” adding the dance element to the rich heritage that is jazz. The Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra performed, in concert, with incredible dancers from BallroomUtah at the Road Shows in Salt Lake City, Murray, and Sandy.
2017 witnessed a grand return for the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival. After a 2 year hiatus, we were back at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City with a world-class lineup that featured internationally renowned acts like Eddie Daniels and Lee Musiker, to six-time “Best Entertainer” in Las Vegas and Casino Legends Hall of Famer Bob Anderson.
We are excited for the future! Our passion and drive to bring America’s music to the communities of Salt Lake City and throughout Utah has never been stronger. We are actively planning and partnering with other organizations that share these same passions to make future festivals better than ever. We can’t thank our supporters, partners, donors and sponsors enough, but the real thanks is to you, the people of Salt Lake City and Utah who have come out, rain or shine, hot or cold, for the last 20 years. We couldn’t have done it without you!