By KEVIN CHIRI - Slidell News Bureau
SLIDELL – Monterey Jazz Festival, Steel City Jazz Festival, Seabreeze Jazz Festival, Florida Smooth Jazz Weekend, Cancun Jazz Festival.
And then there is one more—the 1st annual Camellia City Smooth Jazz Festival in Slidell, scheduled for a three day weekend this October 6-8 on the grounds of the Northshore Harbor Center.
The jazz festivals named previously have one thing in common—they all began as small local events that have grown to major national and international concerts, each of them now drawing thousands, even tens of thousands to their cities, and creating a multi-million dollar impact.
Slidell hopes to be the next major jazz festival on that circuit thanks to the work of Will and Diane Bias, who have spent over two years planning the Camellia City Smooth Jazz Fest.
Will and Diane have been jazz lovers for years and have attended dozens of national and international smooth jazz shows. After seeing so many of the big jazz events around the country they decided to become music promoters themselves by forming Jin Jeans Productions.
In the past 12 years they have produced numerous jazz concerts in the New Orleans area and operated a highly successful jazz club in the city for many years. Finally they knew it was time to go for the big time with the North Shore show.
They hope to create a major event for St. Tammany Parish like no other—expecting to draw as many as 7,000 to the Slidell area this October and bring in fans who will spend the weekend experiencing all the parish has to offer.
“Smooth jazz is different than what many people think about when they hear the words ‘jazz music.’ They think about elevator music,” Diane said. “Smooth jazz is quite different—it’s music to sing to and dance to.”
The Slidell couple has gone “all in” for the inaugural Camellia City event, signing well-known Grammy winning artists for the show, headed by Gerald Albright—one of the top jazz performers nationally and internationally. But also among the current nine-performer lineup are other recognized national artists, several who have won or been nominated for Grammy awards. Many of the musicians on the lineup have performed with the best singers and musicians in the music industry.
The couple said they have personally committed over $200,000 to the event so far and are counting on the North Shore turning out, while also drawing smooth jazz lovers from around the country—just as happened in dozens of other cities nationally and internationally for the big shows.
While the main show will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7 on the outside grounds of the Harbor Center from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., there is much more for jazz lovers to enjoy. There will be a golf tournament on Friday that already has former professional football players like Hugh Green lined up, whom Will and Diane have become friends with in their smooth jazz travels.
Then on Sunday inside the Harbor Center a final concert will be held as an impromptu jam session among many of the scheduled artists.
The Camellia City Smooth Jazz Fest is seeking first year sponsorships that range from a $50,000 package which includes stage naming rights among a host of other perks, down to a $200 package for smaller businesses. They are hoping corporations and businesses join them in the first year endeavor, something they said they will remember in years to come.
Additionally, ticket sales began earlier this year and offer three levels for the show. VIP tickets for the Saturday performance are $100 each and provide tables for 10 near the stage with a nearby bar area; reserved tickets close to the stage are $75 each; and general admission is $50 per ticket. You can purchase tickets now and get other information on becoming a sponsor by going online to camcityjazzfest.com.
Will and Diane moved to the North Shore in Slidell in 1999 after both were successful entrepreneurs in their own way. Will built an industrial painting business that handled major commercial jobs, while Diane had her own beauty salon in New Orleans for nearly 20 years.
The two married 20 years ago, combining their families to have six children, but always reserving time for each other, and in particular, attending jazz concerts.
“We always loved jazz—it was something we had in common,” Diane said. “We started hitting the smooth jazz circuit around the country and have made so many friends, not to mention getting to meet and know the artists. The more we saw what there was in other places the more we wanted to bring it to Slidell and put our city on the map as the next great smooth jazz festival.”
After Hurricane Katrina hit the area in 2005 there was little music in the city to attend, giving them an idea to start Jin Jeans Productions and produce jazz concerts themselves.
They contacted a friend in Atlanta, Wayne Glapion, who helped them start a supper club in the Garden District of New Orleans. They held a monthly series of jazz concerts in the city, then opened Night Cap, a jazz club that exploded in popularity.
“When we started the jazz club it was slow at first, but about three months into the operation everyone was coming. If you weren’t there by 10:30 at night you couldn’t get in,” Will said with a smile.
They sold the club after nearly three years and coupled with the success both have had in their previous businesses, it was time to consider the next big move that would result in the Camellia City Smooth Jazz Festival.
“These other festivals draw thousands, even tens of thousands, for a weekend,” Will said. “The average person spends $450 per day at these festivals. It can be a huge economic impact for Slidell and all of St. Tammany Parish.”
Along those lines the couple has plans to draw in restaurants across the parish, as well as other businesses, to enjoy some of the profit from the festival.
“There is so much that makes Slidell and this parish unique,” Will said. “Now we want it to be known for smooth jazz.”
When looking up smooth jazz festivals on the Internet it is easy to see the popularity of the music and the interest from the fans. The Monterey Jazz Festival, one of the longest running events, is now in its 60th year and drew over 40,000 fans for a three-day event last year. Thousands and tens of thousands now attend many other festivals in various cities across the country.
“People drive over 900 miles to these things,” Will added. “That’s what we have been doing too. We just love the music, plus you get to know a lot of the same people that come from around the country. Now we want them coming to Slidell.”
The couple created the name for their Jin Jeans Production company from a smooth jazz song by Willie Bobo. The song is actually named “Dindi,” but when he sings the line on the song it continually sounds like “Jin Jeans,” so Will and Diane had some fun creating that name.
“This has been years in the making for us,” Will added. “But we believe that if we build it they will come. We are marketing the festival already to six regional states and getting the word out nationally through the website and other advertising venues.
“But we also hope the regional fans will come to support this and help build it to something huge for years to come,” he said. “This is our chance to do what we love—entertain people and enjoy great music—and do something for the community we live in.”
The show will have a covered stage and will be held rain or shine.