Syracuse Jazz Fest’s Plan for Inclusion at an Expanded State Fair is Now on the Clock, at 30 Days and Counting


It was a sad day in the spring of 2018 when Urban CNY learned that Syracuse Jazz Fest would be on hiatus indefinitely due to funding issues. While there’s still a little money left in the Jazz Fest budget for the event, Frank Malfitano Founder & Executive Director of Syracuse Jazz Fest Productions, Inc. is waiting for the proper way and right time to bring back the popular festival.

For 35 years, Jazz Fest placed Syracuse New York on the map as a regional and national entertainment destination, drawing people from all over the region, becoming one of the longest running, best attended free jazz events in the Northeast.

With the recent announcement of the 5-day expansion of the New York State Fair, some felt that this, perhaps was a time to bring back Syracuse Jazz Fest as part of the governor’s proposed Fair expansion and Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

The goal of the governor’s plan is to bring more people and activities to New York State as part of his Central NY Rising with a $500 million State investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, announced by Governor Cuomo in December 2015. In light of these funding streams already being utilized, Syracuse Jazz Fest Productions, Inc. put together a 2-day trial relocation proposal for the Governor’s proposed 5-day expansion of the Fair.

The Governor has insisted on pushing his plan for the revitalization of Central New York, the fund established to generate an atmosphere for job creation, retention and innovation. A cursory review of the funds expended, Cuomo’s already investing in festivals across the state of New York, and lots of money for the New York State Fair, the question is, why not Syracuse Jazz Fest?

Frank Malfitano is waiting for a response from Governor Cuomo’s office and from officials at the NYS Dept of Agriculture and Markets about the status of Jazz Fest’s proposal, and perhaps the missed opportunity to resurrect an event that drew thousands to Onondaga Community College Campus. What is he proposing? What’s the status? And as dates and talent’s announced for Fair Entertainment fill, does this mean that there’s no room for this festival?

The irony of the situation is the establishment of the downtown Clinton Square festival scene resulted primarily because of what happened when the festival, in the 1990’s was held in Clinton Square.  Seeing that dynamic, then Mayor Roy Bernardi tasked deputy mayor Joe Nicoletti to spearhead the project. Since then, Syracuse has become a city of festivals. During the winter, the Clinton Square Fountain transforms into an ice-skating rink. That was the impact of Syracuse Jazz Fest, a catalyst for things that we’ve enjoyed and taken for granted. During the summer, extending into early fall, downtown Syracuse has become an entertainment destination. None of this would be possible without the predecessor that ignited the conversation and the conversion, Syracuse Jazz Fest.

In light of that legacy Urban CNY felt it was important for people to hear directly from Frank Malfitano Founder & Executive Director of Syracuse Jazz Fest Productions, Inc.

Syracuse Jazz Fest and the Fair – Waiting on a Response from the State

by Frank Malfitano Founder & Executive Director of Syracuse Jazz Fest Productions, Inc.

Frank Malfitano

Syracuse, NY. . . . A recently-published newspaper article stated that . . . Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed extending the fair by five days to make it an 18-day festival. That proposal is part of the state budget, which the Legislature is expected to act on by April 1. For now, Waffner said, the fair is planning for a fair that runs Aug. 21 to Sept. 7. “Right now, we’re planning for an 18-day fair,” Waffner said.

So what does this paragraph above mean exactly?

We at Syracuse Jazz Fest think it means supplemental talent programming monies from NY State for an expanded 18-day Fair have not yet been approved by state lawmakers. We at SJFP Inc. also interpret that to mean that the FAIR –  if expanded –  will still need monies for programming for August 21-25.

Since the proposed 5-day expansion of the Fair to 18 days – and the proposed addition of $5 million to its budget for that purpose –  are still unofficial and pending, contingent on approval by state lawmakers,- scheduled to vote on the proposed budget on or about April 1, – we wish to state the following for the record:

Syracuse Jazz Fest remains vitally interested in working closely with state officials in Albany to implement and execute a proposed 2-day edition, (on a 2-year exploratory basis), of Syracuse Jazz Fest within the proposed 18-day run of the Fair, which will feature NY-centric and NYS based jazz artists and groups – Artists TBD – on any 2 back-to-back days of the proposed 5-day FAIR extension, commencing in 2020; at the stages and venues of the state’s choosing.

Since talent programming will be needed for the added 5-day period between August 21 and 25, Syracuse Jazz Fest is proposing that Jazz Fest – now in its 36th year, as one of the top 25 longest running jazz festivals in the world – will work conjointly with NYS contractor Triangle Talent to program a 2-day Jazz Fest within the expanded Fair time frame, with the state allocating $300,000 annually for this purpose.

State Fair Entry part of $140 million invested.

NOTE: The aforementioned 2-day Syracuse Jazz Fest at The Fair proposal was submitted to NYS Dept of Ag & Mkts on Feb 4, 2020. We are currently awaiting a formal response from the Governor’s office and/or the NYS Dept of AG & Markets in Albany as to whether or not our proposal will be approved, after the passage of the 2020 NYS budget –  on or about April  1 –  by NYS lawmakers.

We also feel the above Syracuse Post-Standard excerpt raises certain questions for Albany officials that remain presently unanswered at this time, including:

  1. Does it mean State officials In Albany in the Governor’s office – in tandem with officials at the NYS Dept of Agriculture and Markets – have a proposal on the table for a 5-day expansion of the existing 13-day NYS Fair that will add 5 days to the front end of the 2020 Fair, thereby creating an 18-day NYS Fair?
  2. OR  . . . Does it mean State officials In Albany in the Governor’s office – in tandem with officials at the NYS Dept of Agriculture and Markets – have a budget proposal on the table for an additional five million dollars in NYS funding that would allow for a five-day expansion of the existing 13-day NYS Fair, which would – if approved by state lawmakers – subsequently add 5 days to the front end of the 2020 Fair, to be accompanied by an additional five million dollars to be used in part for programming big name talent?
  3. What happens if state lawmakers in the NYS Assembly and Senate reject the proposed budget submitted by the Governor, and do not pass this proposed $5,000,000 budget addition for the NYS Fair, on or about April 1st?
  4. Will the Governor and NYS Dept of AG & Markets still extend the 2020 NYS Fair by 5 days?
  5. OR, is the Fair’s proposed 5-day expansion and extension contingent on receiving an additional $5 million in State monies to fund those 5 days?
  6. If state lawmakers fail to pass the budget’s proposed addition of 5 days and $5 million to the Fair, is there a contingency line in the budget that cover the $5 million shortfall to cover this gap, that would still enable and facilitate the proposed 5-day expansion?
  7. Without budget approval for the proposal 5-day expansion, has the officially contracted talent buyer for the Fair – Triangle Talent – been ‘directed’ by the NYS Dept of Ag and Mkts to program and book talent for Chevy Court, the Experience stage and other stages for the proposed 5-day addition to the Fair?
  8. OR, has NYS Fair talent buyer Triangle Talent been directed by the NYS Dept of AG & Markets to hold off on the submission of offers to major talent booking agencies until after a vote on the 2020 NYS budget has been taken?
  9. Have any artists & acts been booked by Triangle Talent for August 21-25, 2020?
  10. If the answer is yes to #9 above, where will that funding for talent come from?
  11. If the answer is no to #9 above, can we assume that the talent booking process for the first 5 days of an expanded Fair will subsequently commence after the tentatively scheduled April 1 vote on the NYS budget has taken place?
  12. If the answer to #11 above is a yes, – that talent booking will not begin until after April 1st – could we not conclude that there is still time for NYS officials to include a 2-day NYS-centric edition of Syracuse Jazz Fest at the proposed 18-day Fair in 2020?

Inquiring minds would like to know. Syracuse Jazz Fest and the community would also like to know. I guess we’ll all find out in 30 days time if the possibility of staging Jazz Fest at the Fair, during the Fair, with state funding made available for talent, is going to happen. Until then, the clock is ticking.