Shane Morrow is a man of many characteristics, but the most distinct one I had the privilege of seeing was his big heart for community development, especially on MLK Boulevard. This 45 year old gentle giant is the product of an intricately woven story where his upbringing as an African American and experience as a fifth generation piano player have clearly steered him towards creating Jazzanooga as a culturally enriching educational opportunity not only for MLK District residents, but Chattanooga as a whole.
Why did you start Jazzanooga?
Shane: When Jazzanooga started, it was a one day festival. From there it grew into year–round programing for arts and culture. Jazzanooga to me is a vehicle that brings together folks from all types of diverse backgrounds to celebrate the arts and culture in Chattanooga. Especially our music culture. As a city, Chattanooga’s role in jazz has been highly understated. We need to recognize and celebrate that we were part of this culture of jazz which is obviously a major focus of this festival.
What would you say is the mission statement of Jazzanooga?
Shane: What I tell interviewers is that Jazzanooga is what the community needs for it to be. Our focus has always been arts and culture and we are still here celebrating through year–round programming and a month–long festival. I try to shy away from defining roles and positions in arts and culture. I think that if you’re a creative person, I can’t define what you do, but I can help showcase what you can do. That’s what Jazzanooga does. It tries to showcase our local talented community so they can share their gifts.
April is National Jazz Appreciation Month and it’s celebrated worldwide.
How many events do you have each year?
Find our schedule at http://www.jazzanooga.org/. Our Nightcap Series featuring some of our local musicians, is one of the programs we operate all year. We also have something called Jazz: The Next Generation, which features up–and–coming artists that are playing around the city. I try to give them a platform to be able to do that. We’ve started something called the Big Nine Book Club. We have a Gospel/Soul Brunch once at a month at the Bessie Smith Cultural Hall. There are a lot of good options out there.
What’s been your favorite performance thus far? Locally and nationally?
Shane: Locally, it would be one of my students from our Youth Music Academy who is now at Lee University. We gave him an opportunity to showcase himself and he got to keep all of the money made at the door. He gave a brilliant performance. Nationally, one of my favorites was a performance by Gregory Porter, which was an amazing experience.
What are some challenges that you’ve seen in booking for the festival?
Shane: Getting industry folks to recognize that we are a valuable market - convincing the agents and managers to recognize that Chattanooga is a music city.
What advice would you have for somebody who may want to organize a festival? What would you have to think about before diving into this?
Shane: Plan ahead. Patience is the key. Raising funds is critical. Be prepared for no’s. But also make sure you also get inside your community and see what they want. I think that a lot of times when people want to create, they forget who they are creating for. If you’re doing it for the community, then you’ve got to make sure that they have some input into what you’re doing. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. With Jazzanooga, we funded it through my pocket for three years before we got additional funding. For those three years I funded it because I knew I was meeting the needs of the community. I also needed to see measurable outcomes of what did and didn’t work before approaching someone to become a sponsor.
What was one of your biggest struggles when you first started Jazzanooga?
Shane: Trying to get my community to understand our role in jazz music.
How did you combat that?
Shane: Through lots of educational opportunities. Opportunities to go into the school system and host events, to be able to have educational series in the community. It was all about teaching our community about the greatness of our city when it comes to music, especially jazz. Teaching them about Bessie Smith and Clyde Stubblefield, one of the top ten drummers of all time as listed in Rolling Stone. He is a native Chattanoogan. How many people knew that? How many people knew that he played for James Brown? How many people knew that Bessie Smith was out on a street corner singing before busking was a trend? I think that once you recognize you’re worth, then you can go from there. I also wish I had known how much or how little Chattanoogans knew of their city’s greatness.