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An Offer We Can’t Refuse

music JazzMafiaAdam Theis’ army of musicians, Jazz Mafia All-Stars, marches to Kuumbwa

Adam Theis is a musical whirlwind. As the kingpin of the Jazz Mafia, a San Francisco-based collective of jazz musicians that routinely backs up everyone from Carlos Santana to Thomas Dolby to legendary rapper Lyrics Born, Theis is at the center of the cyclone. Factor in his symphonic work with his hand-picked orchestra, and you can understand why in 2009, Theis was awarded the sought- after Gerbode-Hewlett Foundation Emerging Composers Grant—which brought his vision of an army of musicians working together one step closer to fruition.

The Northern California native’s ability to multitask various projects can be traced back to his time in graduate school when Theis was majoring in music composition at Sonoma State University. He was also managing and playing in a ’70s/’80s cover band and a swing band called the Savoy Swingers. But it was his jazz collective, Cannonball, that ignited a full-blown jazz scene in sleepy Sonoma.

From outside the National Association of Music Merchants convention in Anaheim, Theis remembers the early years. “Cannonball changed me,” he says. “We did just a one-off gig at a sports bar in Santa Rosa where they had jazz on Sundays. Our first show was really packed and we had a killer response—which is unusual for anywhere in Sonoma County. So we made it a monthly thing and that spun off into a lot of other projects.” Theis realized that if he could create a jazz scene in a place where few people like to go out, he could do it anywhere. He also found out that audiences appreciate familiarity alongside more challenging pieces. “The formula I arrived at was to mix it up a lot.”

Fast forward to 1998 when the young composer/trombonist moved to San Francisco’s Mission District where all his ideas morphed into the Jazz Mafia. Today, the group boasts more than 50 members—there are smaller versions of the larger collective like Shotgun Wedding Quintet and the Realistic Orchestra, but the Jazz Mafia Symphony is the real gem. “We still do shows with the Realistic Orchestra but the symphony has taken on a lot more of our focus,” says Theis. This has resulted in the symphonies ‘Brass Bows and Beats’ and ‘The Emperor Norton Suite,’ that have wowed jazz fans across the country.

On Thursday, Feb. 2, the Jazz Mafia All-Stars head to Kuumbwa Jazz with vocalist Crystal Monee Hall (who also tours with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s band) at the helm.

Asked about the dynamic of a large ensemble, Theis explained, “There are core members who really help manage the band and arrange the music. To book a gig I just send out one email and text—as long as the core members can make a show, I book it. What’s changed is the core members have grown to a higher number—the symphony now has 12 core members.”

Theis appreciates the opportunity to grow with a group of musicians over the span of a decade. “We’re all in this boat together and try to push each other to accomplish new things,” he says. As a bandleader he is also committed to bringing out the best in those he works with. “When I work with new people I want to hear something different, unique.” As a composer and player Theis has learned to work with his rotating cast and not to force his opinion. “I try to involve people a lot, but at a certain point not everything can be designed by committee. I try to make decisions that make the core people happy—and every once in a while I fail, but they understand it.”

As for how he manages to keep so many projects going with so many players, Theis has a simple explanation: “It’s based on trust.”

The Jazz Mafia All-Stars play at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20/adv, $23/door. For more information, call 427-2227.

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We are in the time and under the influence of Sagittarius, sign of the wanderer, good food, good music, and the joy (Jupiter as ruler) that occurs from giving to others while simultaneously giving thanks from our hearts. Having the Thanksgiving holiday during the month of Sag is not a mistake. No other sign understands joy (an aspect of the Soul) as Sag (except Pisces when not in despair). “Sag is a beam of directed and focused light. The beam reveals a greater light ahead, illuminating the Way to the center of the Light,” emitting the Ray of Joyfulness. Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude; in the form of prayers, thoughts, feelings, wishes, hopes and greetings. Gratitude is something we still need to learn. Gratitude creates goodwill. Together, gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution” for humanity and our world’s problems. Gratitude and goodwill are the prerequisites for the reappearance of the Christ, the Aquarian World Teacher. In Ancient Wisdom texts it is written, “being grateful is the hallmark of one who is enlightened.” Gratitude comes from the Soul—the characteristics of which are love and wisdom (Ray 2). Gratitude is scientifically and occultly (mental, not emotional) a releasing agent. Gratitude liberates us and everything around us. Also a service to others, gratitude is deeply scientific in nature, releasing us from the past and laying open our future path leading to the new culture and civilization, the new laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarian, the Age of Friendship and Equality. The Hierarchy lays much emphasis upon gratitude. Let us be grateful this year and this season together. And so now the days of light illuminating the darkness begin (December’s festivals and feast days). Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am grateful for all of you, my readers.

 

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