Levitt honored to carry on SF Jazz & Blues Society funds and legacy

Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 3:21 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - It’s been 12 days full of emotions for the board members of the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society.

Monday, the feeling was sheer pride.

On Jan. 27 it was announced it was dissolving after 35 years of bringing a myriad of shows to the area, most famously the weekend-long “Jazzfest” event for nearly three decades.

The free concerts brought blockbuster blues and rock acts like Sheryl Crow, Los Lobos, Mavis Staples, Bruce Hornsby, Johnny Lang, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, just to name a few.

On Monday, the nonprofit organization announced its final act: Passing down its nearly $100,000 in remaining funds to two Sioux Falls establishments that help keep music alive — The Levitt at the Falls group and the Sioux Falls Art Council.

“This was a long time coming,” SFJB board member Erin Bosch said of the decision to take down the set, so to speak, in an interview with Dakota News Now. She said the end of Jazzfest after 2019 was a factor.

“It’s bittersweet, but we know that our legacy lives on in these organizations, and while you might not see our logo everywhere, we know that the programs we’re helping provide has been really beneficial.

The Levitt at the Falls group — which stages the Levitt at the Falls “50 free concerts” summer music series in downtown Sioux Falls every June through September — is receiving $55,000 from SJFB, a gift that will go toward music education in the community, and will come in installments of $3,500 per year.

SFJB also donated $40,000 to the Sioux Falls Arts Council’s “Artist Micro Grant” program, which, according the SFJB’s media release, “supports artists across all disciplines with $250 and $500 grants funding supplies, professional development, and a variety of other necessities for work.”

The donation to the Levitt group seems fitting, because the Levitt group feels like the SFJB and Jazzfest had already passed one torch to Levitt at the Falls as the city’s go-to free summer concert series. It spans 50 shows throughout 15 weeks and debuted at its downtown Levitt Shell venue in 2019, the same year Jazzfest — which set up shop at Yankton Trail Park’s endless acres of soccer fields in the southwest part of the city — was last staged.

That summer, the Levitt group made sure not to have shows during the weekend of Jazzfest, while the SFJB did not schedule any of its concerts at the nearby Orpheum during a Levitt show.

“They’ve always been a really wonderful partner for us, and share our commitment to making sure jazz is a part of the music scene here in Sioux Falls,” Levitt’s director of communications and community engagement Rose Ann Hofland said of SFJB to Dakota News Now.

“We were honored to be granted and seen as a collaborator in that, so we’re excited to carry on that legacy.”

While Jazzfest will be the SFJB product that area city music fans will identify with, the organization wants to be most remembered most for its jazz diversity program, which taught kids throughout the state about jazz and blues music, which are considered the roots of rock and roll and much of the modern pop and hip-hop music of the present.

”The whole reason we did Jazzfest was to support our educational camps in the summer,” Bosch said. “Some of these kids have never seen or held an instrument before, so it really gives them an opportunity to be exposed to other things that maybe they’re not hearing on the radio all the time — whole new genres of music and different people. It opens their eyes to different arts and culture.”

The jazz diversity program has dissolved along with the SFJB. But now, the Levitt group will have $3,500 per year for its educational program, which brings professional touring artists into school classrooms and venues like the downtown YMCA community center to perform everything from jazz to hip-hop to Latin music to “world music” and beyond to children and adolescents.

“We want to make sure we’re inspiring the next generation of students here in Sioux Falls,” Hofland said.

”Here’s a working musician in a genre that I’m excited about, who I can relate to, who maybe looks like me, who is just bringing their A-game and being this inspiration to kids. That’s what it’s about,” Hofland said, putting herself in the place of young students.

The curtains closed on Jazzfest after the 2019 series, when a severe thunderstorm walloped and flooded the venue. Adding to the chaos was a couple of acts that didn’t show.

“So, that was quite ruinous for that event that year,” Bosch said.

The coronavirus pandemic put a hold on Jazzfest in 2020, and after that, the SFJB Society decided “it was time to do the best we could with what we had. We started to do some cool front porch concerts, where folks would be six feet apart and still enjoy the music we know from jazz and blues.”

Asked if there was much thought in the last two years of trying to bring back Jazzfest, Bosch said “no.”

“I think Jazzfest has provided a great foundation for live music in Sioux Falls, and Levitt has done a really good job of providing free music and providing opportunities to see new and diverse artists. So, we’re pleased to see them do as well as they are.”

The admiration is mutual from Levitt’s end.

“(Jazzfest) really proved to our community what the value of free music festivals could bring,” Hofland said. “For years, they established this wonderful, free festival. Anyone could come. High-quality artists. That really planted the seed that made our community ready for a space like the Levitt, that provides that same sort of high-quality, free, accessible music program.”

Hofland said putting together 2-4 free shows — fueled by both corporate and personal sponsorships, and donations from attendees — over the course of 15 weekends throughout a summer can be taxing on the Levitt at the Falls group and its volunteers. She added that doing it for a single weekend like Jazzfest brings its own unique challenges.

“So, I think we really need to applaud the fact that Jazzfest happened, and happened so successfully for so many years, and we really credit them for helping to show the value of this work.”

Bosch agreed with that sentiment. SFJB can forever hold its head high because of the grandeur of Jazzfest — the crowds, volume of acts, star power, and concession options that grew year after year, turning it into a regional powerhouse event that showcased a wide variety of talent and genre, from local to international.

But that isn’t what Bosch and the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society board is proudest of accomplishing.

“The goal of a nonprofit, really, is to fulfill your mission,” Bosch said. “And, I think that by allocating these funds, we really are fulfilling our mission of celebrating jazz through education, and throughout the community.”