Bill Lancton is an exceptional jazz guitarist. But, more than that, he's a good businessman, which isn't always the case with musicians. He's founded institutions to fill a need in the community, like the popular fusion group Dog Talk and his Indianapolis Guitar Summit, a regular event held at the Jazz Kitchen that gives guitarists a chance to learn and perform.
Now he's filling another much-needed role as president of the struggling Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, carrying out a mission to make the organization more responsible to the local jazz scene. Lancton, who was inducted into the IJF's Hall of Fame in 2005, took on the presidency in March 2009.
"The more I thought about the possibilities for IJF and the more I talked about it to people, the more I got excited about heading up the IJF," Lancton says.
Lancton's first accomplishment as IJF president is a partnership with the Indy Jazz Fest, which itself came under new leadership in February 2009, when the American Pianists Association ceded control to an organization led by the owners of the Jazz Kitchen and Owl Studios. His efforts dovetail with a newfound commitment on the part of the Jazz Fest to expand their educational offerings.
"The IJF's main goal is to bring jazz to a younger generation," Lancton explains, "to educate them, nurture them into being lifelong jazz fans by reaching out to grade, middle and high schools." He adds that he would like the IJF to "partner with Young Audiences, where the IJF could help with funding jazz clinics or shows in schools."
Lancton doesn't see a need to change the essence of the IJF's mission statement, which reads, in part: "Our main purposes are to be an educational resource, to expose listeners to jazz and educate them to the different varieties of jazz, to provide a link to resources promoting the local jazz industry, and to support local jazz artists and jazz venues."
He does, however, want to expand the ways that the organization is meeting those core goals. He would like to, for instance, establish an emergency medical fund of $50,000 for ailing jazz musicians unable to work, as well as a group health insurance plan.
Lancton's attitude regarding fund raising differs considerably from that of the organization in prior years. Until this year, the only fund raising event hosted by the IJF had been its Holiday Showcase, during which the foundation inducts each year's entrants into its Hall of Fame.
Lancton has a more comprehensive plan: "My goal is to have two, maybe four, fund raising events. I am in the process of writing grant proposals to various corporations and businesses in the music industry. Our model of what we do in IJF is a perfect criteria fit for hundreds of grants. I want to increase our revenue."
Lancton has also overseen a revitalization of the IJF board. "When I took over, basically we had anywhere from two to four members who would show up at a meeting [out of a board with a membership of 10]," he says. "Now we have a complement of 12 board members. Every one is getting involved in the meetings. We have a lot of people involved in participating and helping out. We are excited about it."
Lancton is coping with organizational dysfunction. "When I took over, we had 200 members. I don't believe all of them were active. We are trying to re-recruit some of those members from the hard copy that we lost on computer. We have signed up 50 new members in the last two months. My goal in five years is to have a thousand members."
Lancton's redesign of the IJF Web site - now located at www.indyjazzfoundation.org - will permit more interactivity with the community and membership base, and offer information like a local jazz calendar. He keeps in contact with members via a monthly e-mail newsletter, which, among other purposes, serves as a tool to recruit volunteers for events.
Lancton also plans for the IJF to host special events. "When I came on board as president, the board of directors at that time didn't want to get involved in hosting events. They felt the only thing they should get involved in was education. I got the bylaws out. In the financial section, it clearly stated fund raising should take place through membership drives and the promotion of special events. Yes, we will be involved in special events."
What are Lancton's core priorities? Increasing membership in the IJF and making the organization more of a presence in the local jazz community.