Toronto Fest Bounces Back After Short-Lived Cancellation

Mayor gets tobacco sponsor to stay on board — for one more summer.

TORONTO — The 2000 Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival had a near-death experience when it was canceled Tuesday because of a lack of corporate underwriting but then was resuscitated Thursday when Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman secured adequate sponsorship for the 10-day event.

"We had literally shut down," festival producer Patrick Taylor said last week. "As happy as we are to be back on, it's going to take time to get back on schedule."

In the day and a half the festival was declared dead, it began to lay off staff, reimburse sponsors and cancel bookings. Now, Taylor said, the music lineups for the event, which runs from June 23 through July 2, will not be confirmed until early May.

Taylor canceled the 13-year-old festival, the third-biggest in Canada, after primary sponsor the cigarette maker du Maurier slashed its financial commitment from $1 million (Canadian) to $250,000. But after Lastman intervened, du Maurier's parent company, Imperial Tobacco, agreed to contribute $750,000 — enough to keep the festival going.

Imperial Tobacco's turnabout occurred at a time when legislation in Canada is gradually phasing out tobacco advertising until a total ban in 2003. The phase-out grants the thriving coast-to-coast circuit of Canadian jazz festivals a transition period to find new sponsors.

The apparent failure of the Downtown Jazz Society, which runs the festival, to make the transition, fueled speculation in Thursday's Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper about possible bids to take over the festival by Vancouver's Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, which produces that city's du Maurier–sponsored festival, and the New York–based electronics firm and high-profile jazz sponsor JVC. Spokespersons for both organizations neither confirmed nor denied the speculation, which at any rate was rendered moot by the Toronto festival's resurrection.

Given the choice between downsizing a festival known for programming such internationally renowned artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Cassandra Wilson, or going out at the top of their game, at least temporarily, Taylor and artistic director Jim Galloway opted for the latter.

"We have set a standard over the past 13 years of what people should expect from this event, and it didn't make any sense to do a scaled-down version of the event," Taylor told Reuters.

Bob Bexon, president of Imperial Tobacco, expressed regret and a note of inevitability at the chain of events.

"It really would have been a pity if the 2000 edition of the du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival had not been put on," he said. "This is an extraordinary festival, ... and its absence on the Toronto scene this summer might have seriously compromised its ability to find the financial support it will need to ensure the survival of the event after this year, when we will definitely be unable to sponsor it."