In Memoriam: Jazz Presenter Yvonne Ervin


Yvonne Ervin (1959–2018)

(Photo: Courtesy Tucson Jazz Institute)

Yvonne Ervin, founder of the Tucson Jazz Festival and a jazz advocate who held several posts with arts organizations during her career, died Dec. 26 in Phoenix. She was 59.

According to an article in the Arizona Daily Star, Ervin passed away at the Mayo Clinic; the cause was a heart attack following liver transplant surgery.

An enthusiastic, longtime advocate for jazz, Ervin was the first executive director of the Tucson Jazz Society. The Star reported that in nine years, she helped the organization grow “from 500 members and a $50,000 budget to 2,100 members and a budget of $250,000 to support 42 concert productions a year.”

Ervin also founded the event that became the annual Charles Mingus Hometown Jazz Festival, which will be held on April 27 in Nogales, Arizona. Previously, she had founded the festival Primavera: A Celebration of Women in the Arts. The Tucson Jazz Festival, which began in 2015, will be held on Jan. 11–21.

Ervin was the executive director of the Western Jazz Presenters Network, and during her career, she also held positions at the Jazz Journalists Association, the American Federation of Jazz Societies, the International Association of Jazz Educators and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

A certified fundraising executive, Ervin worked in development in New York for about a dozen years. Later, she worked for the University of Arizona’s Confluencecenter for Creative Inquiry.

As a student at the University of Arizona, Ervin pursued a double major in journalism and saxophone performance. Following graduation, she became a reporter for the Star. Her journalism work frequently focused on jazz, and she contributed to numerous publications, including DownBeat, Hot House and Tucson Weekly.

Ervin was born Sept. 14, 1959, in Springfield, Illinois. She played clarinet and saxophone as a child. As an adult, she performed in the all-female band Bitches Brew.

Ervin’s friends and colleagues responded to the news of her passing.

In an email to DownBeat, Tom Guralnick, board president of the Western Jazz Presenters Network, wrote, “At the Western Jazz Presenters Network, for the last 25 years, we referred too Yvonne as our fearless (and tireless) leader, and we knew that without her, our very existence would be a challenge—one that out of respect for her, we must now rise up to.”

Dan Atkinson, treasurer of the network, wrote on Facebook, “Yvonne enriched the lives of tens of thousands of jazz lovers and musicians, and she was an inspiration to me for the more than 20 years I have known her. Rest in peace, my friend.”

Tim Jackson, artistic director for the Monterey Jazz Festival, posted a statement on Facebook that read, in part, “Yvonne was special. She was smart, kind, fun, passionate and committed to all things jazz. … She has a special place in the hearts of all jazz presenters here in the west and we will miss her dearly.”

The Tucson Jazz Music Foundation quickly established a memorial scholarship in Ervin’s name. It is for girls ages 10–17. Information is posted at the TJMF website.

Survivors include her husband, Alan Hershowitz.

For more into on Ervin’s career, visit her website. DB

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