Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Aug 21st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Kuumbwa Jazz: Small But Mighty

AE_freq_TimJacksonKuumbwa Jazz celebrates 35 years
Starting a nonprofit jazz organization in a little coastal town just south of San Francisco doesn’t seem too promising, and naming it an often mispronounced Swahili word can’t be the best marketing ploy. Still, in 1975, a 19-year-old Tim Jackson joined forces with KUSP programmers Rich Wills and Sheba Burney to do just that. The project would swell into the Kuumbwa Jazz Society, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, and decades of hosting the top jazz musicians from town and from around the globe.

This week, Jackson, the co-founder and artistic director of Kuumbwa as well as the general manager of the Monterey Jazz Festival, and the rest of the Kuumbwa Jazz Society will celebrate 35 years with a free outdoor concert at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 29 at San Lorenzo Park. The party commemorates an unlikely success.

“I think a lot of people thought the idea [for a Santa Cruz jazz society] was far-fetched because we were a group of very young and very inexperienced people at the time,” Jackson says. “I can’t say that there was a vocal portion of the community that thought we would fail or voiced skepticism about it, but I think it was natural for anybody to look at a new organization—particularly one with a funny name like ours—and feel skeptical.”

To clarify, “Kuumbwa” (pronounced koo-um-ba) means “act of spontaneous creation,” and Kuumbwa Jazz sprang up at a time when a lot in Santa Cruz was being birthed: KUSP, Tandy Beal and Company, the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County. Jackson believes it was an era of fresh artistic endeavors in town that nurtured the Kuumbwa, and says that he and his cohorts were in the right place at the right time. “We were lucky to be in a community that was naturally supportive of the type of artistic activity that we were doing,” he begins. “Frankly, it would be much harder to start Kuumbwa Jazz Society today.”

AE_freq_Hy-TonesThis week’s 35th birthday party returns the society to its outdoor roots. The very first Kuumbwa concert with Joe Henderson was supposed to be at San Lorenzo Park in April of 1975, but it got rained out. Still, Jackson recalls, “We went back to San Lorenzo Park more than any other venue. We probably had 15 or so events there in the couple of years leading up to the opening of the Kuumbwa Jazz Center.” The Kuumbwa used to mark every birthday at the park, but now only puts on the massive affair every five years.

Kicking things off on the San Lorenzo Duck Island Stage, Jackson will pick up the flute to perform with his band Real Time, in which he’s flanked by guitarist Jerry Shanahan, pianist Marshall Otwell, bassist Scott McKenna, and drummer Mike Shannon. The band, which uses electric guitar and a Fender Rhodes keyboard, employs a ’70s sound that grooves with a Latin-influenced, funk-oriented approach to jazz. Second up will be fellow area icons in the Hy-Tones—saxophonist Paul Contos, pianist Paul Nagel, bassist Stan Poplin, and drummer Jim Chanteloup. Closing things out will be thunderous newcomers in the eight-piece Frequency Jones, whose retro funk power will be fueled by guest vocalist Tammi Brown. It’s a mixed salad type of lineup that links the forefathers and the fresh of the local music scene, and will confound any listener simply expecting straight-ahead jazz. Following in the tradition of the Kuumbwa’s mindset and mission, the concert keeps one ear forward and one ear back.

“One of the reasons why the Kuumbwa Jazz Society really started was because the Hy-Tones were such an incredible jazz group here in Santa Cruz in the ’70s,” Jackson says of the band that was one of the first to break in the Kuumbwa Jazz Center stage in 1977. “We really wanted to support what they were doing and what a lot of other local musicians were doing at the time. So the Hy-Tones were a focal point in the history of Kuumbwa. They’re a group that we try to resurrect. They’re not a working group anymore but they played five years ago and we brought them back together again for this year.”

As for Frequency Jones, Jackson says he slotted them in for the grand finale duties because he’d heard about the band’s growing reputation as a bearer of good times. Because it’s an outdoor event meant to be fun and family-friendly, it always ends with a larger party band. Jackson says he was won over by enthusiastic comments about Frequency Jones, “especially from my friend Bill Welch over at Moe’s Alley,” and expects them to give a sweet ’n’ soulful funk groove to end the afternoon.

AE_FrequencyJonesWhile the birthday party is outside at San Lorenzo Park, there’s no mistaking that the intimate Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Cedar Street in Downtown Santa Cruz is where the bulk of the organization’s memories—and its future—lies. As a unique venue operating as a nonprofit, it generates about 65 percent of its income from ticket sales, rental of the facility, and food and beverage sales. The other 35 percent comes from grants and contributions from members of the community. Presenting premier shows and jazz education, it has sustained itself as a music institution known to be both welcoming and world class.

In the last couple of years the 200-seat venue has undergone some enticing changes—upgrades have been made to the sound system, lighting system, chairs, and its walls have been washed in a fresh coat of paint. What’s next in the historic jazz club’s evolution? It may not sound pretty, but Jackson says one pragmatic improvement will make things more comfortable, shall we say, behind the scenes. “One project we’re working on for the end of this year is to completely redo our bathrooms and enlarge them,” he reveals. “That’s really been kind of the Achilles heel of the venue for the last year. It’s not a particularly sexy project but I think our patrons will enjoy it.”

As far as the cozy backstage lounge that’s hidden golden jazz heavyweights before and after each set, Jackson says it remains much loved and relatively untouched. “The green room is still the same: small but mighty. It’s got a lot of history.” Just like Kuumbwa Jazz itself.


Photo 1: Tim Jackson by rr jones, Photo 2: The Hy-tones in 1975. Photo 3: Frequency Jones by Charles Mixson


Kuumbwa Jazz celebrates its 35th birthday with live performances by  Real Time, the Hy-Tones, and Frequency Jones at 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29, at San Lorenzo Park, 137 Dakota St., Santa Cruz. Free. 427-2227 or Kuumbwajazz.org.
Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Trending Now

Whether you live by the Vogue bible or choose to go into your day wearing what you slept in, odds are you wear clothes.

 

The Thought Form of Solution

It’s our last week of Leo before the sun enters Virgo (next Friday/Saturday). The planets this week make complex patterns and relationships (vibrational cadences and rhythms) with the outer planets, mainly Neptune—the planet that veils, obscures, protects and finally refines us. Neptune offers us entrance into a deeply spiritual sense of comfort and solace. Neptune is the personality ruler of Pisces (saviors of the world) and soul ruler of Cancer (world mother). “The fish goddesses who leapt from earth (Virgo) to water (Pisces) unitedly give birth to the Fish God (Christ, the Soul) who introduces the waters of life  (Neptune & Aquarius) into the ocean of substance (matter, mother bringing light to the world. Thus does Neptune work.” (Esoteric Astrology).

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Cultures Collide

No surprises, but lots to savor in foodie film ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Kauboi

Japanese-Western themed unites sushi with whiskey and beefgrill

 

How should Santa Cruz develop downtown around the San Lorenzo River?

Santa Cruz | Artist/Show Promoter

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Have Mercy!

Looking for a frisky summer wine at a reasonable price? Look no further than Mercy Vineyards’ 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($20). Richly textured “with an exotic flavor profile,” the wine reveals aromas of honeydew melon and honeysuckle, with anise appearing as a star attraction. Smidgeons of pineapple and honeycomb add a touch of sexiness to this well-balanced, easy-drinking wine, which pairs well with a variety of cuisine —especially ceviche, calamari and other not-too-heavy foods.