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Discussion: 'The Bank of Music': Sponsorship, Corporate Amorality, and the Spectacle of Community.

In the early 2000s, there was great distress throughout the Canadian jazz community regarding the future of Canadian jazz festivals. Since their establishment in the mid-1980s, the major Canadian festivals had been sponsored by du Maurier, a division of Imperial tobacco. As of 2003, however, tobacco companies in Canada could no longer legally sponsor public events. While this was a step in the battle against smoking, it left eight major jazz festivals in jeopardy.

In October 2003, TD Bank emerged as a “white knight,” taking over the title sponsorship. Today, TD sponsors literally hundreds of jazz festivals in big cities and smaller communities across Canada. According to TD Vice President of Corporate Sponsorship Michele Martin, “[The festivals have been] great ways to get publicity and to give back to the community, as well as getting some marketing recognition.”

Martin’s comments reveal a paradox in TD’s position. On the one hand, TD’s sponsorship represents both a community-outreach endeavour, and (following the stated mission of the festivals) an effort to advocate for the role of jazz music in Canada. On the other hand, TD marketers are explicit about the function of this outreach and advocacy as a marketing tactic – a means of building its brand within the communities to which the bank is ostensibly “reaching out.” Through a combination of participant-observation at festivals, and interviews with festival organizers, bank representatives, musicians, and audience members, ICASP Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Laver explores this paradox, drawing on Milton Friedman’s concept of corporate amorality, and Guy de Bord’s idea of “spectacle.”

Improvisation is a human right

– Muhal Richard Abrams