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Originally published Thursday, October 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Alaska Airlines rescues Portland Jazz Festival

The 2009 Portland Jazz Festival will go on after all, organizers announced Wednesday, after Alaska Airlines donated $100,000 over two years to save the festival.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Money was tight. Organizers had already canceled the Portland Jazz Festival, and now staffers were ready to cut off the office phone when "The Call" came.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines was on the phone. The company wanted to help save the festival at the eleventh hour.

"It was my all-time favorite cold call," said Sarah Bailen Smith, co-founder of the jazz festival.

Bailen Smith announced Wednesday that the sixth-annual Portland Jazz Festival is back on for Feb. 13-22, after Alaska Airlines donated $100,000 over the next two years.

The large donation has also helped the festival raise tens of thousands of dollars from other donors, who were originally skeptical that organizers could raise enough to save the festival, staff members said.

"We are putting on our track shoes," Bailen Smith said. "We are contacting our landlord, insurance company, all the artists and agents in New York and artists across the world," to let them know the festival is back on.

The nonprofit, which had only two-full time employees, will have a new management structure that will play a larger role in fundraising.

The group has formed a new advisory committee — led by Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish and businessman Sho Dozono — aimed at giving the jazz organization a larger presence in the civic and business community.

The nonprofit also will hire a full-time managing director, who will specialize in marketing and fundraising as well as oversee administrative operations. The organization had been without a managing director since Bailen Smith's successor left earlier this year to start a business, and the festival left the position unfilled to save money.

But despite that, when Qwest withdrew its lead sponsorship earlier this spring — with other sponsors and donors following suit — organizers foresaw a shortfall of $100,000 in the 2009 festival budget of $686,000. They announced the cancellation of the 2009 fest in early September.

"We are beefing up leadership to give us stability ... and a stronger reach with the community," Bailen Smith said. "This [festival] is a cultural icon for Portland."

Bailen Smith will take on an interim leadership role for the next six months to raise money, get next year's festival back on track and help hire a managing director.

The Portland Jazz Festival includes about 150 concerts, films and interviews with artists, and is considered one of the top jazz venues in North America. The 2009 fest will celebrate the 70th anniversary of seminal jazz label Blue Note Records.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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