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Founder Mike Jeffers
In 1994 Mike Jeffers returned to Chicago after attending the University of North Texas (UNT) on a full music/percussion scholarship. He began sitting in nightly at some of Chicago’s legendary jazz clubs, learning the music, connecting with other musicians, and growing as an artist. By 1999 Mike had built a name for himself on the music scene and had several steady weekly gigs along with over 60 private students a week.
A friend, who worked as a computer programmer, mentioned that he should have a website to promote his playing and teaching. He agreed but didn’t know much about the internet at the time. They both investigated what domains were available—yes MichaelJeffers.com was available—but to their shock ChicagoJazz.com was also available. That moment sparked a new thought process for Mike. He was now driven to get as much knowledge as possible on how to start and run a successful business. He learned about developing content, optimizing for SEO, creating content that would drive traffic to a website, and different ways to generate revenue.
In late 2000 the first version of ChicagoJazz.com was launched with a focus on promoting the musicians and venues that create the Chicago jazz scene. It was very simple—just a couple of pages with a list of venues, a profile for Mike and a couple other musicians, and a small jazz calendar. Because there wasn’t anything else around, the site immediately got traffic and Mike was contacted by corporate event and wedding planners looking for help in connecting with musicians. He realized if he added in some additional content features the site had a potential to grow and connect with even more people.
While still playing nightly gigs and teaching 60+ private students a week, Mike started writing content for the site and doing feature interviews with artists. Traffic picked up and the site began to grow in popularity—not only in Chicago but on a national level. However, generating revenue was a struggle, as most of the jazz world was primarily offline.
For the next two years Mike continued to work very long hours creating content and getting more and more traffic to the site—but generating revenue still lagged. To that end, in 2002 Mike teamed up with a friend, Dan Ferris, who was the sales manager at a national publication and a jazz vocalist, to launch Chicago Jazz Magazine. Mike managed to sell enough ads to pay for the first issue and it was premiered at the 2002 Chicago Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend. The feature interview was legendary jazz violinist Johnny Frigo. Other content included a photo gallery by Bill Klewitz, a full schedule of performances at the jazz fest, a few reviews, and a map of Chicago jazz venues.
The new print magazine was distributed for free throughout the weekend to jazz fans at the fest and at 50 venues, bookstores, and music stores in the city and suburbs by Mike and his wife, Christine. The launch was successful, and Chicago Jazz Magazine started regular bimonthly production featuring local and national artists, record reviews, regular columns, and musician profiles.
The following year, 2003, Mike and Ferris met with the city of Chicago and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to solidify a deal for Chicago Jazz Magazine to become the official publishers of the Chicago Jazz Festival program book. In 2004 Chicago Jazz Magazine became the official publisher of the Chicago Blues Festival program book for the city of Chicago—a relationship that continues today.