Biography of Willard Jenkins

Willard Jenkins is an independent arts consultant/producer, writer and broadcaster under his Open Sky banner. Willard Jenkins’ current activity includes concert, festival, and concert series planning/development, artistic direction, consulting, music journalism, teaching, and broadcast work. Willard Jenkins is a 1973 graduate of Kent State University with a BA in Sociology.

Arts Administrator

From March 1989-November 1994, Jenkins was executive director of the National Jazz Service Organization (NJSO) in Washington, DC. During his NJSO tenure Jenkins directed every NJSO operation, including technical assistance & re-granting programs, publication services, and supervised a professional staff. In 1990 Jenkins was an architect of the pioneering Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest National Jazz Network (receiving an unprecedented – for jazz -- initial funding allocation of $3.4M), a network of presenting organizations and regional arts organizations.

Willard Jenkins is a successful fundraiser, securing or assisting in grant allocations from numerous public and private sources. These include: National Endowment for the Arts; numerous local/state/regional arts agencies; Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund; Doris Duke Foundation; AT&T Foundation; Ford Foundation; Pew Charitable Trusts; Jim Beam Brands; Cleveland Foundation; Gund Foundation; Kulas Foundation.

In 1983 Jenkins conducted a regional needs assessment/research and feasibility study of the jazz art form in the Midwest, which led to the development of the nation’s first regional jazz service program, at Arts Midwest in Minneapolis, MN. While at Arts Midwest (1984-89) he developed the first regional jazz database, and wrote a series of how-to technical assistance booklets for musicians, presenters, educators, and organizations.


Jenkins commenced his writing career with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the early 1970s. He has subsequently contributed to local, regional, national, and international publications with contributions appearing in JazzTimes, Inside Arts, Down Beat, Schwann Spectrum, Schwann Opus, Jazz Report, Jazz Forum, The Antioch Review, Attache, Jazz Education Journal, All About Jazz, and numerous other publications. Jenkins’ new media contributions have appeared in,,,, and; additionally he writes and edits his own blog The Independent Ear on his web site: He has been editor of several publications, including NJSO Journal, and Lost Jazz Shrines. Jenkins is an experienced and skilled interviewer whose work has also included conducting extensive oral history interviews for the Smithsonian Institution, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and 651Arts.

Jenkins has collaborated with NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston on his as-told-to autobiography African Rhythms (Composed by Randy Weston, Arranged by Willard Jenkins), published by Duke University Press in 2010.

He has contributed two chapters in the book Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing (How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment), published in 2010 by Smithsonian Books to accompany the Smithsonian’s 2010 Apollo Theater 75th anniversary exhibit. He also wrote one chapter for David Baker: A legacy in Music (Indiana University Press; 2011).

Jenkins's latest volume, Ain't But a Few of Us (pictured at left) was released in late 2022.


From 1979-1984 Jenkins taught jazz history at Cleveland State University. Since 2005 he has taught the online course Jazz Imagines Africa for Kent State University. He has contributed educational content to the former International Association for Jazz Education website and to the Thelonious Monk Institute’s Jazz in America website ( and has lectured and facilitated workshops on several college and university campuses.


Jenkins has been a public & community radio station broadcaster and producer in Cleveland, OH; Minneapolis, MN; and since 1989 at WPFW, Pacifica Radio in Washington, DC, where he has also produced and hosted documentary programs from overseas festivals. During a temporary year living and working in New Orleans in 2008 he was a regular programmer at WWOZ. He has also contributed to XM Satellite Radio, and National Public Radio, where he has written documentary scripts, including the “Ambassador Satch” episode for the Louis Armstrong centennial radio series. In 1994 Jenkins became affiliated with Black Entertainment Television, commencing with creative consultation on its jazz programs. Since that time he has hosted, associate produced, produced, and written numerous series, specials, and documentaries for the BET Jazz and BET J channels.


Jenkins is a successful and widely recognized workshop, symposium, conference facilitator, and speaker at universities, conventions, and arts conferences across the country and internationally. He has facilitated long-range planning processes and written subsequent long-range plans for the Cleveland Orchestra, Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, and the Cleveland Education Fund. Jenkins has served on arts granting panels at the federal, regional, state, local and private foundation level.

Jenkins serves as coordinator of the performance component of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Live grant program through Arts Midwest.

Since April, 2010 Jenkins has served as a researcher/consultant for the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, NY.

In 2008 Jenkins consulted as talent buyer for the National Spinal Cord Injury Association annual fundraising event in New Orleans.

Artisitic Director

In January 2015 Willard Jenkins was appointed Artistic Director of the DC Jazz Festival (Washington, DC).

Jenkins’ work in concert and festival production, and artistic direction began in 1979 with the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society. In 1995 Jenkins was appointed artistic director of the annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland. His presenting and artistic direction work has also included such clients as the Smithsonian Institution and Harlem Stage/Aaron Davis Hall. He has also served as artistic director of two annual concert series at Tribeca Performing Arts Center (New York, NY): Lost Jazz Shrines (Spring) and Jazz-in-Progress (Fall young artist series), and artistic director of the BeanTown Jazz Festival in Boston, produced by Berklee College of Music.

Jenkins was the editor and coordinator of the national Lost Jazz Shrines project which encompassed presenting organizations around the country in celebration of historic jazz venues in their community. The series at Tribeca Performing Arts Center has ranged from such historic jazz venues as Café Society, The Five Spot, Café Bohemia, Slugs, and the loft jazz scene in Lower Manhattan.

Awards Recieved Year Recieved
Jazz Awards nominee: Book of the Year (African Rhythms) 2011
International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (ASRSC) Award for Excellence (African Rhythms) 2011
Jazz Awards nominee: Lifetime Achievement 2012
Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival: Ronnie Wells Jazz Service Award 2013
Jazz Journalists Association “Jazz Hero” Award 2013
Recipient: Jazz Awards - Lifetime Achievement in journalism 2013

Boards Elected To Year Elected
The Board of the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, MD. 2009
The Board of the Jazz Education Network (JEN) 2010
The Board of American Jazz Venues 2011