The gatekeepers’ puzzle

Programming diversity and inclusion in a jazz festival


  • Michael Allemana University of Chicago



Chicago, jazz festivals, festival programming, diversity, inclusion


When programming jazz festivals, programming committees grapple with a host of issues regarding stylistic variety and diversity and inclusion. Questions such as whether there are sufficient minority and female musicians or a good musical balance consume a great deal of time during programming meetings. This article examines these issues in the context of the Chicago Jazz Festival. The festival’s programming committee, on which this author serves, comprises local jazz industry professionals of diverse backgrounds—musicians, journalists, club owners, and directors of jazz institutions, all of whom volunteer their time in meetings with officials from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. It is argued that diversity and inclusion is articulated and interpreted by programmers, musicians and festivalgoers at the nexus of local social histories, spatial conditions and cultural formations in a local/translocal dialectic, serving as a forum for the inclusive expression of diverse local community values.

Author Biography

Michael Allemana, University of Chicago

Dr Michael Allemana is currently on a Humanities Teaching Fellowship at the University of Chicago. He earned his PhD in Ethnomusicology in 2020 for his dissertation ‘“Will You Still Be Mine?”: Race, Memory, Place, and Jazz on Chicago’s South Side’ which researches segregation and the South Side of Chicago jazz scene. He has also been an active jazz guitarist since the early 1990s, with a fifteen-year stint with celebrated saxophonist Von Freeman (1923–2012) and several albums to his name. His latest album Vonology will be released in 2022 on ears&eyes Records.


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How to Cite

Allemana, M. . (2021). The gatekeepers’ puzzle: Programming diversity and inclusion in a jazz festival. Jazz Research Journal, 14(2), 107–137.