After nearly 30 years, a concert series that brought jazz music greats to Utah will end

The series will end with two shows in March, including one with Grammy-winning best new artist Samara Joy.

Salt Lake City will soon see its last JazzSLC show — ever.

For nearly three decades, Gordon Hanks, his wife Connie, their daughter Amanda Lufkin, and Michael Mackay have brought jazz music greats to Utah in the JazzSLC concert series, through their GAM Foundation. The series will stop this season, because of increased production costs, according to a letter sent out Monday to season ticket holders and supporters.

The concert series is nationally recognized by jazz musicians and fans alike — bringing such greats as Dave Brubeck and Diana Krall, as well as emerging artists, to Utah. In total, the series has staged nearly 270 jazz concerts to the state since it began in 1994.

In the letter, Gordon Hanks and jazzSLC executive director Lufkin wrote that “the sad truth is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current financial climate has made it impossible for us to continue.”

Hanks, in an interview Tuesday with The Tribune, added, “the reality is the artists fees and ancillary costs of presenting the concerts have gone through the roof.” Part of that, he said, is that artists’ fees increased post-pandemic, because they didn’t work for two years. This is something Hanks said he understands.

Other costs that have gone up are for rental of the Capitol Theater, hotel reservations, and sound and technical labor.

(Jim Mcauley | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Gordon Hanks, retired Holladay pharmacist and co-founder of the JazzSLC concert series, seen here in 2013 hugging Utah Utes basketball player Dallin Bachynski. Hanks announced on Feb. 27, 2023, that the JazzSLC series would be ending after 29 years, with two final concerts in March 2023.

Hanks, a retired pharmacist, said he and others have absorbed those increased costs. The GAM Foundation, he said, would be dissolved — because, essentially, it’s just him. (The name comes from the initials of his, Lufkin’s and Mackay’s first names.)

“We tried to figure out a way to make things so it can continue, and the one thing that we’ve always been absolute about is keeping the ticket prices very reasonable,” Hanks said. “If we were to raise ticket prices to an extra level, we might be able to continue and then also we started looking at what next means.”

That next, he said, would have put ticket prices at around $120 for premiere seats, $100 for midlevel seats, and $80 for the lower-tier seats. Compare that to current ticket prices, which range from $10 to $29.50, plus fees.

Hanks said he and his the JazzSLC team have always looked at their program as a community service, and raising ticket prices to that level would lose their already small and niche audience.

The series will cut its 2022-2023 season short, canceling two shows scheduled for the Capitol Theatre: An April 1 concert headlined by saxophonist Joshua Redman, and a May 26 performance led by trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. Refunds can be requested, which the group will “make every effort” to accommodate, according to the letter sent to season ticket holders.

The next JazzSLC concert is this Saturday, with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars featuring Cuban-American saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera. The final JazzSLC show on March 18 is expected to be an event, with a quintet led by 23-year-old singer Samara Joy — who in early February won Grammys for best jazz vocal album, for “Linger Awhile,” and for best new artist, becoming only the second jazz artist to win that category.

Both remaining shows, scheduled for the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, are sold out.

(R. Mickens, Meredith Truax) Clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, left, will perform Saturday, March 4, 2023, and Grammy-winning singer Samara Joy, right, will perform March 18, 2023 — both at the Capitol Theatre, in the final concerts for the JazzSLC series.

In a 2019 interview with the Daily Utah Chronicle, Hanks said he discovered jazz music when he was in high school. Later, he met his future wife, Connie, who also fell in love with the genre.

Hanks, now 80, said the decision to end the JazzSLC series wasn’t an easy one and was made from a place of great sadness.

When asked for a favorite memory of the concert series — which previously was known as “Jazz at the Hilton” and “Jazz at the Sheraton,” reflecting the venue — Hanks said, “oh, I have a whole bunch. Let’s see, I might have to limit it to seven or eight.”

He cites cooking such greats as Evan Cohen and, by sheer luck, rising talents like Joy. Of the 267 concerts the series has done, Hanks says it’s hard to pick favorites. He estimates 108 favorites, and says he can only recall two that were “failures” — and he didn’t say which ones.

There are no plans to save the series as of now, Hanks said, adding that having the GAM Foundation produce shows at Capitol Theatre is “no longer a possibility.” The family, he said, will take six months to clear their heads before considering next steps.

“It was never about financial gain,” Hanks said. “It was always about letting our audience experience the world’s greatest jazz artists. It brings great sadness to know that it’s ending, but I have to remind myself that I’ve presented for 27 years the world’s greatest artists to Salt Lake City and I have no regrets.”

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