Yvonne Ervin, Executive Director of the Tucson Jazz Festival Dead at 59

Yvonne C. Ervin, 59, died after liver transplant surgery on Wednesday night at the Mayo Clinic in Pheonix.

Originally from Illinois, she double majored in journalism and saxophone at the University of Arizona and stayed in the area to work at the Arizona Daily Star.

Hot Jazz Jubile

While still in her 20s she served as Vice President of the American Federation of Jazz Societies. She was also the Secretary of the Executive Board of the International Association of Jazz Educators. Since 1989 she has been the Executive Director of the Western Jazz Presenters Network, a coalition of 45 jazz festivals and venues in the West.

A certified fundraising executive, Ervin raised more than $10 million dollars for worthwhile organizations during her fundraising career. Working as a volunteer for eight of nine years as executive director of the Tucson Jazz Society (1989-1998) she grew the organization from 500 members with a $50,000 budget, to 2,100 members with a $250,000 budget sponsoring 42 concerts a year. During that time she was also the marketing director of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, and for a year, marketing director of the Arizona Dance Theater. She helped establish Primavera: A Celebration of Women in the Arts, an all-women festival where she could often be heard on saxophone with her ensemble Bitches Brew. The group has been recognized by Tucson’s Musicians Hall of Fame. She also co-founded the bi-national Charles Mingus Hometown Music Festival.

She co-founded the Jazz Journalists Association and has long served as its Vice President. She has interviewed more than 150 jazz legends for numerous news outlets in Arizona and nationally. Many of her interviews have been archived by the Library of Congress. She hosted jazz radio programs for more than 20 years. She is also a notable photographer, something that gave her great pride. She has worked extensively as a presenter leading seminars on fundraising, audience development, and marketing for numerous institutions including the Kennedy Center.


In 1998 she moved to New York City where she held top development positions at several important community organizations fighting drug abuse and teen pregnancy. She also established herself with the regional jazz community before returning to Tucson in 2011. In 2014 she began working on the Tucson Jazz Festival, which held its inaugural event in January 2015.

Her current positions included; treasurer of the board of the Santa Cruz Alliance for the Arts, Executive Director of the Tucson Jazz Festival, editor of Hot House magazine, which serves the New York City area, Executive Director of the Western Jazz Presenters Network, Vice President of the Jazz Journalists Association, and other important roles on boards and behind the scenes.

The Tucson Jazz Music Foundation has announced the creation of a memorial scholarship for girls in Ervin’s name. The scholarship is open to girls 10 to 17. Applications are available through the foundation’s website, tjmfdn.org/scholarships

Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of SyncopatedTimes.com

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