The first home-grown, cultural export from the United States that had a global impact was jazz. Before the jazz age, the US was considered industrially advanced with a knack for invention, but culturally it was looked upon as a backwater if not a mere shadow of old-world society.
Jazz was on the cutting edge in the 20th century…pre-prohibition…the soundtrack for post-war swing, then mid-century pop, 70s experimental, 80s revivals and 90s hip hop. What about the 21st century? Is jazz music still relevant? Does it have lasting value beyond the sentimental? Does it reach beyond the traditional definitions? Should it be cherished, nurtured and developed like a resource?
These are thoughts that come fast and hard when conceptualizing the art form as a cultural asset for the community. Jazz needs assistance to thrive in Silicon Valley. Luckily, there is a group of stalwart individuals here dedicated to jazz as a living art form.
This group of nurturers is known as San Jose Jazz (SJZ). They are dedicated to the fundamental mission of jazz and support jazz-adjacent artists and their creations in an effort to keep the art form moving forward in an environment that has become increasingly difficult for working musicians.
San Jose Jazz goes back to 1986. It’s a public benefit corporation that, according to their mission statement, “celebrates jazz as a dynamic, evolving art form and is producer of the annual San Jose Jazz Summer Fest. With its singular music programming and innovative educational offerings, SJZ preserves the jazz tradition while actively supporting the next generation of performers within the genre and beyond.”
It’s a lot to tackle, especially when up against all the money in the world. Housing and affordability are no secret in the south bay, along with the limited number of venues and performance spaces, the place is not friendly to musicians. Musicians need an audience, and jazz musicians need a live audience. It’s perhaps their Achilles heel. The essence of jazz is dependent on tension, feedback, spontaneity and all of that is accelerated by a live audience, which needs a space. Space in Silicon Valley comes at an extreme premium. The cost has been the death of many live music venues and programs that develop talent.
SJZ must compete against the world’s most resource-rich corporations for living space. For SJZ to produce a stage where young or developed artists can connect with an audience and evolve the art form, they need to compete with Venture Capital or Private Equity funded enterprises. The situation is dire, but SJZ is very good at what they do. Against all odds the organization has continued to gather resources, invent new options, support music programs and continue the legacy of what jazz is.
They produce a yearly summer festival which is regarded as one of the best in the country. The walkable festival produced in San Jose’s urban core features over 100 artists playing jazz, blues, R&B, New Orleans, Latin and more. The Summer Fest is a keystone event for SJZ, but it’s just a small fraction of their ongoing work to provide performance space, education and funding for local musicians.
SJZ has been headed by Brendan Rawson since 2012. He’s been responsible for countless iconic festivals and local educational programs and initiatives.
The SJZ Director takes aim at big problems and is dedicated to providing an ecosystem that will support artists. As he puts it, “There does need to be affordable housing. There does need to be jobs in the field. If you keep carving out ways to make it workable for folks, that creates stickiness, where they might think of Austin or Nashville or whatever, but they’ve got a good music job teaching here, got a good stable place here, they’re gigging, they’re working on a creative project…those people inspire others.”
Most recently, Rawson has steered the organization into a post-pandemic reality with a very popular venue: The Break Room , and continued to build on a thriving music education program that encompasses the High School All Stars ensemble with members from 15 high schools in the valley and the much beloved BoomBox Truck mobile venue.
The Break Room is a reimagined office space that serves as a reliable performance space to bridge the gap between the otherwise dwindling inventory of stages in the south bay. The venue is a testament to the imagination and dedication of SJZ staff and members. It’s been acoustically and visually transformed from a meh-inducing office space into a legit venue worthy of top-notch talent and discerning audiences.
The Boombox truck is a mobile/pop-up stage that can turn almost any event into a live music venue. It’s become an iconic element in the downtown San Jose arts scene, making frequent appearances at festivals and happening when weather permits. The Boombox also serves as an educational platform that allows artists to learn production techniques like mixing, lighting and broadcasting.
According to Rawson, “There’s a pipeline of young talent both as music performance and as music production.”
On the education side, SJZ runs several programs and camps that develop and inspire young talent in the community. Its Progressions program focuses on young musicians who are low-income and at-promise, giving them a chance to celebrate their talent through education and performance. There is also a highly regarded Summer Jazz Camp and the beloved High School All Stars ensembles.
SJZ’s comprehensive support structure also includes the Jazz Aid Fund, which is their grant vehicle that allows them to directly contribute financially to musicians. There are 20 grantees in 2024 and six will be chosen to perform their work at The Break Room later in the year. The Jazz Aid Fund is an ambitious endeavor. It is a pipeline of support that allows local artists to develop meaningful creative work. The grant completes a suite of initiatives which hopes to create a flywheel effect to inspire, attract and support local talent.
The upcoming Winter and New Works Fests running through February, will showcase SJZ talent and the organization’s effectiveness and dedication to a thriving music scene in the community. The robust calendar of events is testament to how successful SJZ is in a place that doesn’t prioritize music. Its continued support of musicians at every level ripples throughout the community and makes the south bay a better place for musicians and audiences.
SJZ deserves attention as it continues its herculean task of keeping jazz alive in Silicon Valley. (TM)
Six Musicians at SJZ New Works Fest
The other winners for the 2024 Jazz Aid Fund are:
- Kelyn Crapp-jazz guitarist
- Uriah Duffy-bassist, bandleader
- Kia Fay-vocalist
- Aki Kumar-harmonica virtuoso, blues musician
- Grant Levin-jazz pianist, composer
- Steven Lugerner-multi-instrumentalist, composer, bandleader
- Marcelo Manriquez-bassist, guitarist, composer, jazz and latin jazz
- Ami Molinelli-percussionist and educator
- Lidia Rodriguez-multi-genre, multi instrumentalist, woodwind specialist, jazz educator
- RyanNicole-multi-hyphenate creative,vocalist/rapper, activist
- Scott Sorkin-guitarist, composer, producer, educator and recording engineer in multiple genres
- Zavia Valentina-singer, songwriter, guitarist exploring themes of mental health awareness
- Brandon Walters-drummer and leader of instrumental ensemble Orange Sauce from San Jose
- John L. Worley,Jr.-Yamaha trumpet/flugelhorn artist and leader of Mo Chi Ensemble
SJZ Offers Hot Music on Cold Winter Nights
The New Works Fest features six 2024 $1,000 grant recipients of SJZ’s Jazz Aid Fund.
All Shows are $10, start at 8pm and are in the SJZ Break Room in San Jose. Tickets available at SanJoseJazz.org/tickets/
Chika Di, Fri, Feb 16
Every time I hear a new song by Chika Di, she keeps getting better and better without her older stuff sounding stale. Singer-songwriter Diana Trujillo, born in Medellín, Colombia, blends authentic Colombian music—like the infectious and danceable cumbia rhythm—with other styles like alternative rock, hip-hop and a poppy sensibility that captures the feminine dichotomy of being sweet and badass at the same time. Her former band, La Misa Negra, has toured extensively and shared the stage with Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, Ozomatli and many additionally impressive acts. This rising star has released eight singles and wowed audiences all over the world.
Dahveed Behroozi, Sat, Feb 17
Pianist/composer Dahveed Behroozi makes music that feels like it should accompany your dreams at night. In fact, if I needed to hire someone to be musical director of my nighttime dreams, I would love to give him the gig. Moody, lyrical, jazzy, dynamic, deep-even with all these words it’s hard to evoke the mood his music evokes—I found myself in tears a few times while drifting into the flow of his playing. This SJ native plays all over the Bay Area and the world, focusing on classical, jazz and new music. Having recorded both original compositions and jazz standards, Behroozi, who counts influences as diverse as Bach and ambient, continues to impress.
Hristo Vitchev, Fri, Feb 23
The descriptor “Modern Jazz Guitar” doesn’t do Hristo Vitchev’s music justice. I call it, “if Peter and the Wolf met Jimmy Page in a dark, magical forest and they all decided to jam together in an effort to draw the fairies out of their winter slumber to dance in the firelight.” They draw the fairies, and quite a few jazz greats, into their circle. In other words: dude has chops and expresses evocative, textured music. Originally from Bulgaria, this Bay Area impressionistic guitarist, according to his bio, blends “classical, modern jazz, folk and avant garde” flavoring his musical mix. He will be performing with his pianist, bassist and drummer, which is surely to be a treat, because his recorded music demonstrates his skill as a collaborator.
Sundra Manning, Sat, Feb 24
I am, for real, dancing right now as I type this, because I am listening to a recording of virtuoso keyboardist Sundra Manning performing live at the Fillmore Jazz Festival. Funky, soulful, skillful and uplifting, she has mastered not only the piano but the B3 Hammond organ. Manning will appeal to anyone who loves funk from the old school and the new. Her perfect timing, groovy playing and ability to jam well with others makes it easy to see why she’s performed with such diverse talents like Prince, Sheila E., Peabo Bryson, Peter Tork, MeShell NgeoCello, MC Hammer and En Vogue, to name a few. I’m excited for whatever solo project she’ll do next and hope the grant paves her way.
Marcus Shelby, Fri, March 1
There is so much to say about bassist, bandleader, composer and historian/scholar-artist of the African American experience. But I will start with the music: he is a commanding bandleader with a very tight and flowing sound in terms of his bandleading work. He also has a more intimate-sounding series of pieces that focus on Black lives—past, present and future—as well as social movements, music composition and important beloved historical figures like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King. Currently, he is artistic director at Healdsburg Jazz. I’m not a bassist, but he really sounds like someone I’d call a “bassist’s bassist.”
Ayo Brame, Sat, March 2
Every SJZ event has to have at least one child prodigy, and 16-year-old tenor saxophonist Ayo Brame does not disappoint. A mentee of past Jazz Aid Fund grant winners, including Marcus Shelby—who is performing in Brame’s band—Brame has already played San Francisco’s Black Cat and Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. His floating jazzy melodies seem to cling and adapt to any player he’s onstage with, morphing towards another’s sound while keeping his own distinctive, uptempo rhythms. This up-and-comer sounds like a lifelong jazz musician in recordings, and not a kid. He’s very natural onstage and this grant is just the beginning. (LP)
More from SJZ’s Winter Schedule:
All shows are at the SJZ Break Room, unless noted.
Fri, Feb 2, 7pm, SJZ U19s, free
Fri, Feb 2, 9pm, William Johnston, $10
Sat, Feb 3, 8pm, James Francies, $25
Fri, Feb 9, 8pm, Oran Etkin Open Arms, $25
Sat, Feb 10, 8pm, Delgado Brothers, $25
Sun, Feb 25, 4:30pm, Mostly Kosher (Oshman Family JCC, Palo Alto), $35–40
Fri, Mar 1, 7pm, SJZ U19s, free
Fri, Mar 8, 8pm, Akiko Tsuruga Trio with Bruce Forman & Akira Tana, $28
Sat, Mar 9, 8pm, Blaque Dynamite, $25