San Diego Business Journal

It doesn't have the high visibility of the Holiday Bowl or the sheer number of bodies found at Street Scene, but the annual San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival is growing into one of this region's larger tourism draws.

Organizers of the 21st Dixieland Jazz Festival, set for Nov. 23-26, are expecting modest growth over last year's paid attendance of 11,500 for the four-day event. While that isn't yet in the same league as the city's premiere events, spokesman Hal Smith pointed out that the festival has shown steady growth since its 1980 debut.

Once again being held at its only home, the Town & Country Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Mission Valley, the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival will fill in the neighborhood of 2,500 hotel rooms, Smith said.

Which is good news for the entire Hotel Circle, as the Town & Country, large as it is, still has only 1,000 rooms and suites.

- Annual Event Is A Top Draw

Mark Yunker, director of convention services for the Town & Country, said the festival is one of the top draws at the resort each year.

"It's a full-house convention for us; it sells us out as well as several hotels in Mission Valley."

As the festival is run by the nonprofit America's Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society, any money the group makes is poured back into the community, Smith said.

"We put that back into youth education and our monthly concerts," he said.

"We have two adult jazz camps, one in January and one in March. We also sponsor a series of Thursday night jazz workshops at the musicians union hall."

With the continued growth of the festival has come both greater public awareness and a heightened involvement from the business community, Smith said. This year, corporate sponsors include Kaiser Permanente, Auto Trader and Blythe Cruises. California Seniors and AARP are also providing support.

- Title Changed During The '80s

Originally called the Holiday Bowl Jazz Festival when it was started in 1980, the festival was then known as the Great American Dixieland Jazz Festival for most of the '80s after its primary sponsor during that period , the Great American Bank. The present name has been in place since 1989.

The event is also becoming a premier event in Dixieland jazz circles.

Smith said the 25 bands booked for this year's festival are coming "literally from all over the U.S. and Canada."

Among the headliners are the Boilermaker Jazz Band from Pittsburgh; the Climax Jazz Band from Toronto; the Wooden Nickel Jass Band from Sacramento; and the Night Blooming Jazz Men from Claremont. Local bands appearing include the Chicago 6 from Cardiff and Prime Time, out of Vista.

Yunker says the Town & Country will only accept reservations one year in advance. In the likely event the Dixieland organizers decide on the Town & Country for 2001, "By the end of the weekend, we'll probably have half the hotel booked for next year."

Trageser is a free-lance writer for the San Diego Business Journal.