Five mayors later, Tina Betz still leading Clifford Brown Jazz Festival

Tina Betz’s personal touch has helped Wilmington’s DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival offer free admission for 30 years.

“The people who donate money, especially companies that support events in the community, they tend to trust Tina,” said David Christopher, a voice instructor who has known Betz for decades. “She has a great track record, but, even if nobody knew her and she came in and talked, I think she’d still get the funding. She just has a great way with people.”

Betz knows her way around the stage. The Wilmington native grew up on Delamore Place in Hilltop and then headed to Boston University, where she studied psychology and theater. She’s played Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web” and Queenie in “Showboat.” She’s sung jazz, spirituals, opera and musical theater. At 67, her distinctive voice still occasionally lands her a voice-over gig.

She now lives in Northwest Wilmington. Her husband Rick and son Damon run Fat Rick and Son’s BBQ and Catering on Foulk Road.

Betz has corralled donors and artists for more than half of the 30 jazz festivals, which over years attracted artists such as Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Roy Hargrove, Nancy Wilson, Ahmad Jamal, Lou Rawls, Jimmy McGriff, Chuck Mangione, David Sanborn, Ramsey Lewis and other crowd favorites to town.

Betz was the city’s cultural affairs director under Mayors Dan Frawley, Jim Baker and now Mike Purzycki. She did not serve under Mayors Jim Sills or Dennis Williams.

“Just like a lot of ideas, it’s hard to tell who came up with it,” she said. “I know that Dan Frawley was a fan of the idea. Jim Baker was a fan …”

The free festival, which started out as Jazzin’ on the Square in 1988, was rechristened the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival after residents suggested honoring the Howard High grad who Quincy Jones once praised as “the greatest trumpeter who ever lived.” Brown was killed in an auto accident in 1956 at the age of 25.

The festival morphed over theyears as mayors shuffled and budgets tightened.

“It’s absolutely harder to get money, but that’s a story for all nonprofits,” Betz said. “When we’re booking the jazz festival and I speak with agents, I remind them frequently that it is a free festival. We’re doing it as a community service. It is not a profit-making venture. When we’re making an offer to an artist, we ask them to consider that.”

Whether she’s chatting up agents or company officials, Betz’s decades-old connections allow her to get quick feedback.

“The No. 1 tool in your tool chest is relationships,” she said. “It is just so important when the person at the other end of the phone knows what you’ve done and knows you’ll keep your word. It is key to raising money.”

This year’s budget is $300,000. That includes $125,000 for acts and $175,000 for systems and support.
Betz looks for sponsors with the common goal of making Wilmington a place to visit. She appreciates the new restaurant owners who are committed to staying open late so people will come downtown. She said she’s thankful for longtime sponsors like DuPont and newer arrivals like Buccini/Pollin Group: “BPG are good people to know and have on our side. They’re the type of people who say they’re going to do something and they get it done.”

Who will come forward to fill the gaps in this year’s budget? “Our lines are in the water. We’re still fishing,” Betz said in late May.

This year’s festival will feature four-time Grammy award winner Arturo Sandoval, R&B singer Brian McKnight and a number of up-and-coming artists.

“If you take a look at the artists who are performing this year, there is a healthy mix of people who have been in the business for many years like Arturo Sandoval and people who are emerging like Lao Tizer and his band Sidewalk Chalk. It has to just evolve,” Betz said.

Jazz purists have grumbled the lineups don’t really represent Clifford Brown and his tradition. Betz counters with: “One of the things I say is we don’t know what trajectory Clifford Brown’s art would have gone in. He was very young when he passed away. I think, if you look at the art of people who were around a lot longer, their art evolved. I like to think that, because he was such a genius, he would have explored and found new ways of speaking through his music.”

“A long time ago, I gave up the goal of pleasing everybody, because it’s just impossible,” she said. “What we try to do is look for quality and have a good mix of established and emerging artists to keep the festival fresh.”

Wilmington-born trumpeter Gerald Chavis, who has performed with Mick Jagger and the Temptations, said Betz is perfectly suited to run the festival because she has that rare combination of talents: an artist who is highly organized.

“Tina is an artist in her own right, so she gets it. When an administrator is also an artist, they understand,” Chavis said.


The festival lineup is available here: http://cliffordbrownjazzfest.org/landing-demos/lineup/

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