The Atlanta Jazz Festival and the future of events conversation with James Pulliam
By King Williams
The 42nd annual Atlanta Jazz Festival took place over Memorial Day weekend. While the event a success by many metrics, it is still facing the pressures of changing times.
In order to address these changes proactively, the Atlanta Jazz Festival has in 2019 partnered with Concert Logic, the brainchild of Morehouse graduate and long-time tour manager for Atlanta rapper Christopher ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, James ‘JP’ Pulliam.
The festival industry in 2019 is much different than it was in 2009, but James is working alongside festival officials to help guide them into the years to come.
Pulliam built his career in the music industry with the legendary Def Jam Records, Def Jam South imprint and Ludacris’s Disturbing Tha Peace records. He deeply understands the importance of jazz culture, and believes he can help the festival remain relevant despite shifts in the festival industry.
The following is an edited excerpt of a longer conversation with James on the state of music festivals, the Atlanta Jazz Festival and what’s next.
Williams: You’ve had a long, prestigious career in the music industry. What are you doing now with the Atlanta Jazz Festival?
Pulliam: Well I came on mid-stream [in 2019]. It takes them a full year to plan for the festival. I just came on to bring a fresh perspective and working with Camille [Love] and the city. Based on what I’ve seen from other jazz festivals throughout the country, how do we make this a world-class event that attracts visitors to the city and a real cultural gem for the city?
Williams: What is something that we could be doing right now to nurture jazz here in Atlanta?
Pulliam: I think some of it is first reaching back to explain to the youth. People don’t understand that jazz was the hip hop of its day, and the grandchildren of jazz music is what popular music is today.
Williams: How do you draw into people who are new to town and don’t know the festival exists?
Pulliam: A lot of it is about expanding the core audience versus building on what’s already there. I think there are a lot of people who would love the experience of the Jazz Festival, even if they don’t like jazz music. Those people are important to attract out there as well as the old school, straight-ahead jazz-heads.
Williams: In looking at a festival like Coachella compared to the Jazz Festival, there seems to be a big lag in technology between the two…
Pulliam: A lot of is just bringing fresh ideas and understanding what’s going on in the market now. Just because it’s jazz music doesn’t mean that you can’t apply what works in other festivals.
Even if it just increases the experience of the jazz fans themselves. Everything from live streaming the festival to creating a video package on stage that’s entertaining to the audience and stepping up production overall. Bringing value not only for the corporate partners but also the musicians on stage.
Williams: In looking at Coachella’s lineup for this year, you had a lineup that wouldn’t have even been the headlining acts five years ago.
You have BLACKPINK, an international Korean Pop group headlining one night alongside Pop singer Ariana Grande and Atlanta’s own Donald Glover on the other nights… Would that be something you would consider doing for the Jazz Festival in the future?
Pulliam: Like I said earlier, R&B is the grandchild of jazz so it shouldn’t be any problem with putting major acts from other genres to attract eyeballs to bring attention. If you look at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage, they had 500 thousand people out there.
Everyone from rock musicians to Katy Perry as the headliner and no one batted an eye because jazz was the foundation of it. We should have no problem taking what works from other festivals and bringing it to the city of Atlanta.
Williams: There’s been a lot of criticism from local musicians that Atlanta doesn’t do enough to support its own. What could be done to fix that?
Pulliam: Part of my responsibility of working with Ludacris is putting together his band and a lot of them are classically trained. And a lot of them live here in the city of Atlanta. Beyond just the Jazz Festival, creating a platform through media partners and social media of artists already living in Atlanta.
Williams: One of the things you’ve mentioned to me is making the free Jazz Festival a major source of revenue for the city.
Pulliam: When you look at New Orleans [Jazz] Festival, most of the flights connect through Atlanta. So why not create a cultural experience on the same level where people can stay here in Atlanta? We have the infrastructure, we have the hotels and we have the location.
We want people to spend that money on a plane ticket to spend a Memorial Day weekend in Atlanta.
Going into 2020, we will see the beginnings of the new Atlanta Jazz Festival, an upgraded concert experience for the diehards and an introduction to jazz music for the first time for younger audiences.
The future’s looking bright for the Atlanta Jazz Festival and it will be interesting what new experiences will be added to enhance the festival.