Janis Burley Wilson
Janis Burley Wilson_750
Janis Burley Wilson. Photo by Becky Thurner Braddock.

Since 2002, Janis has been VP of Education/Community Engagement and Director at The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, where she has helped transform Pittsburgh’s arts landscape with programs like Showcase Noir, the Gallery Crawl and the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival, which has revitalized the local jazz scene and changed the game for many local musicians.

Janis shares her exciting week as she finalizes details for this year’s festival and reflects on the event’s fifth anniversary:

As I look back at the last four years of the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival, I remember the excitement and the feeling of anticipation, “wait till they hear her or him.” In the fifth year, I have the same feelings, but I see this year as a turning point. Whatever I want this festival to be in the future, this is the year that I have to introduce those elements that will move PJLIF towards those goals. The sophistication in programming and festival amenities I strive for, while keeping the festival affordable—mostly free—have to be implemented this year, and I think … I hope I’ve accomplished that.

Monday, June 8

At 9:30 a.m., I will meet with my new staff, Marqui Lyons and DeVonne Goode, to strategize for the week. We have a number of details to confirm for the artists that will arrive on June 19th to perform at the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival (PJLIF). DeVonne is working with Classic Limousine on ground transportation for over 100 musicians. His cool, calm demeanor lends well to the numerous email exchanges and last-minute changes that always occur in the last week before the festival. Marqui and I negotiated a lovely deal with P & W Foreign Cars in Shadyside. Mike Brown, Chris Lasko and our good friend Tracy Foster came up with the grand idea to wrap a few BMWs and MINI Coopers into our beautiful jazz festival logo, created by Joseph Lewis and his design team. We will go to their facility to watch the process and then determine where the cars will be located in the next two weeks leading up to the festival.

Janis (in orange) with Sen. Jay Costa and actress Sheryl Lee Ralph at James Gallery. Photo by Joey Kennedy.

After a few clementine oranges (my snack in lieu of the delicious brownies at Crazy Mocha, right next door), I will meet with president and CEO of the Trust, Kevin McMahon, and brief him on the festival budget, news on the upcoming shows at the August Wilson Center on June 19th and 20th, and the North Coast Brewing Company Beer tent at the jazz fest on June 20th and June 21st. These are firsts for the Trust and we want to make sure that all plans are secure for the performances. Jazz vocalist Rachelle Ferrell will perform at the Center on June 19th and legendary rock/jazz drummer Ginger Baker will play on June 20th. So many people are excited about her return to Pittsburgh, and especially about these performances at the Center.

At 2 p.m., I meet with Rona Nesbit, EVP at the Trust to strategize on best practices for the management of the August Wilson Center. We are working together to manage the calendar, to create greater access for local artists and arts organizations to utilize the facility, and to make sure all parts of the Center are in proper working order.

At 4 p.m., I will have a conference call with Latin legend, master percussionist Sammy Figueroa, about his upcoming show at the PJLIF, and coverage on his radio show based in Miami. His show is streamed nationally, so this will be great publicity for the jazz festival.

After work, I will go to the Thelma Lovette YMCA in the Hill District for a great workout with Coach Dillard. I love it there, and looking out the window at the transformation of the Hill is inspiring, especially for a jazz lover like me; so much jazz history took place in the Hill.

Home by 8:30 p.m. … my son plays piano for me and my daughters will fill me in on exciting teenage news like what’s funny on Snapchat and tell me what they want me to cook or buy or where I have to drive them next.

Tuesday, June 9

Tuesday starts at 709 Penn Gallery with a photo shoot for Jamaican artist, Tamara Natalie Madden. Her work is so vibrant and colorful, I know it will be popular during the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.

At 1 p.m., the Trust team meets to finish our last bit of planning. Flyspace Productions handles all the production elements of the festival. I tell them my vision for the festival, they make it happen. Our fundraising team has implemented a program where people can text JAZZLIVE to 41444 and support the festival. In order to be sustainable, the community must support, so we want to make it easy for everyone.

Adrianne Holmes is the event planner for the Bourbon and Bass concert/bourbon tasting that I’m planning with Max Miller of Raise Your Spirits, LLC. Max has created a luxurious brand that involves sampling fine spirits, socializing and networking, and people LOVE it. People are really excited about the event, and Adrianne has created a delicious menu of hors d’oeuvres including duck, beef and cheeses to pair with the bourbons that Max has selected. The event will take place in the Trust Education Center managed by Tracy Edmunds. We will all meet in the Peirce Studio at 3 p.m. to lock down the flow of the evening. My personal favorite is Monkey Shoulder bourbon … sampled at a holiday Raise Your Spirits event hosted by Max.

At 4 p.m., my interns, Joy Marie-Thompson and Stephanie Higgins, will begin setting up for the summer jazz concert series at Katz Plaza. I started this summer series in 2003 and it has steadily grown to become a music mainstay during the summer. Saxophonist Erik Lawrence, one of my favorite jazz musicians,  performs this week.

Later, I might stop by the Silk Screen Launch Party at Maggie’s Farm Rum on Smallman Street.

Wednesday, June 10

I start my Wednesday with one of my favorite people, Lynne Hayes Freeland, at KDKA. Lynne is an avid jazz fan, and has been so supportive of me and my work since I started at the Trust in 2002. Going on her show is always a treat.

The rest of my day will be spent in my office, taking calls, finalizing hotel accommodations with Laura Fahner at Courtyard Marriott, discussing the menu with Nick Rizzo at Sonoma Grille, the location for the jam sessions and sponsor for the jazz festival, finalizing marketing with Tinsy Labrie at VisitPITTSBURGH, and getting the low-down on the Night and Day Market with Russell Howard at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. There are so many partners that make the PJLIF possible. I value each and every one of them and love working with them.

Thursday, June 11

Thursday is another day in my office, but I’ll end the day with a delicious dinner at Eddie Merlot’s and performance by Rhiannon Giddens as I celebrate the Dollar Bank Three River Arts Festival with my colleagues Shaunda Miles, Director of Public Relations and Veronica Corpuz, Director of Festival Management. What a thrill to work amongst so many powerhouse women at the Trust. I’ll end my night at James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy where the great Roger Humphries leads a jam session every Thursday. I can’t hang tonight … just dropping off more marketing materials for the jazz festival.

Friday, June 12

At 10 a.m., I attend the Trust senior staff meeting where my colleagues report out on the happenings for the week.

At noon, I meet with the University of Pittsburgh’s Director of Jazz Seminar, Geri Allen, and Darryl Ford Williams of WQED, to discuss the June 15th screening/watch party for the new Mary Lou Williams documentary at Savoy Restaurant. This is a great partnership, and again, I’m amazed at how blessed I am to work with so many talented, powerful women. We make things happen, make this city great for all who live here.

By 3 p.m., I will meet with Joseph Lewis to discuss the signage, finalize the program and talk about the flow of the weekend. We will call Lois Gilbert of Jazzcorner.com to make sure the program and PJLIF website are aligned, make last-minute changes, chat and laugh about the fun we will have during jazz festival weekend—and take a listen to the clip that Sean Jones has sent to hear some of the new music he wrote for the commission, Song for My Father Reimagined. This is such an important project, and when we listen, we are blown away, as always, by Sean’s arrangements.

At 5 p.m., I’m hitting the road to go to Philadelphia to take my daughter, Liza, to meet with a rowing trainer. She will be courted by the top Ivy League schools this year, and we want her to be ready to compete. The plan is to spend the weekend in Philadelphia, and then I will drop my other daughter Margaux and Liza in Harrisburg for the week with Heather Arnet and GirlGov and the good folks at the Women and Girls Foundation.

Jennifer Baron

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator...