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Jazz St. Louis board ‘stands completely behind’ CEO mired in controversy

Jazz St. Louis and the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Jazz St. Louis and the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz in St. Louis in December 2021.

The board of directors at Jazz St. Louis is coming to the defense of its president and CEO, Victor Goines.

A story in the Riverfront Times last week detailed issues that some Jazz St. Louis staff and supporters have had with the organization’s new leader. Jessica Rogen, managing editor of the Riverfront Times, obtained a recording from February of Goines making a case to not pay women jazz musicians at an event meant to honor women in jazz — in collaboration with the Women in Jazz Organization, based in New York City.

“That’s not a celebration of women in jazz, and that’s not promoting equity in gender in jazz,” one meeting attendee was quoted in the RFT story saying in the recording.

The story also detailed Goines’ objections to sexual harassment trainings and recounts belittling behavior toward the Young Friends of Jazz St. Louis, a group of professionals age 45 and under.

Victor Goines will continue to perform and record as he leads the Grand Center-based organization.
Sarah Escarraz
Jazz St. Louis
Victor Goines will continue to perform and record as he leads the Grand Center-based organization.

Rogen told St. Louis on the Air that all members of Jazz St. Louis’ Young Friends board have now resigned. (St. Louis Public Radio asked Jazz St. Louis how many members remained on the Young Friends board, but the station didn’t hear back.)

In a statement to STLPR sent Monday morning that addressed some questions, local attorney and Jazz St. Louis Board Chair Bill Higley praised Goines.

“As soon as [Victor Goines] arrived, he established a welcoming environment, working tirelessly to engage staff, volunteers, local musicians, donors and our audiences – always listening and creating an environment where multiple perspectives were encouraged, and differences were discussed,” Higley wrote.

Higley described Goines as “a consistent supporter of women in jazz.” Further, the statement largely highlighted his accomplishments. Goines is a prominent jazz musician who has performed with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for 30 years and held prestigious positions at the Juilliard School and Northwestern University.

Goines became the leader of Jazz St. Louis last September.

Public scrutiny of Goines’ leadership started after St. Louis artist Cbabi Bayocposted to his more than 27,000 followers on Instagram an account of how Goines’ passed on his T-shirt design that was to be used as part of a Young Friends board fundraiser. The T-shirt image depicted Jazz St. Louis’ artistic advisor and jazz musician Keyon Harrold with a raised fist and holding a trumpet. The design was based on artwork completed at Jazz St. Louis during a live performance of Harrold’s in 2021, before Goines joined the organization.

Bayoc told St. Louis Public Radio arts and culture reporter Jeremy D. Goodwin that some Jazz St. Louis board members were uncomfortable with the depiction of Harrold with a raised fist. Bayoc said this is not the first time an organization did not appreciate the gesture known as the “power fist.”

Cbabi Bayoc appeared on St. Louis on the Air early this year to discuss his art in “Goodnight Racism” by Ibram X. Kendi.
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Cbabi Bayoc appeared on "St. Louis on the Air" early this year to discuss his art in “Goodnight Racism” by Ibram X. Kendi.

“I've been getting flak from different people, with different projects. People seem to get nervous or get weird when the design has a kid with a fist up, whether it's a mural I'm going to do at a school or even with a church,” Bayoc said. “Somebody always had to say something about being not sure if they wanted to have a fist involved because they didn't want the image or the project to just come off ‘divisive.’”

According to Jazz St. Louis’ statement from last week, Goines’ decision to pass on Bayoc’s T-shirt design was based on the policy of approving branded merchandising and that pulling the design was “not intended to disrespect the artist or his work.”

In the organization’s Monday morning statement to STLPR, Higley wrote that some people have not responded well to Goines’ more direct style of leadership and that it doesn’t come as a surprise.

“The allegations and accusations described in various venues are entirely baseless and without merit. It is unfortunate that differences are being aired in a public forum – as opposed to being discussed respectfully and constructively in collaborative settings,” Higley wrote. “In any organization, changes in leadership necessitate a period of adjustment as people need to acclimate to new styles, expectations and processes. Turnover is not unusual for organizations going through such a transition.”

On Friday, Bayoc said that Jazz St. Louis extended a meeting invitation and that he, Higley and Goines planned to talk Monday afternoon.

Jazz St. Louis Board ‘stands completely behind’ CEO mired in controversy

Editor’s note: Jazz St. Louis and St. Louis Public Radio collaborate on the radio program “The Next Set: Live from Jazz St. Louis.” Further, the marketing director for Jazz St. Louis has a weekend on-air shift at the station, and the partner of JSL’s former president and CEO works in STLPR’s development department. Our newsroom makes independent editorial decisions about what we cover.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."