San Jose Jazz breaks into Break Room with new concert series

Amid the winter flood of the pandemic with a performance landscape with no live performances, San Jose Jazz decided the time was right to plant some seeds.

On Thursday, the organization begins with a showcase of part of the musical harvest from the SJZ Jazz Aid Fund, which awarded 33 Bay Area musicians grants of $ 1,000 each to create new music.

The SJZ New Works Fest 2021, an online concert series from April 29 to May 8, will feature a program of three 20-minute performances with pianist Tammy Hall from San Francisco, singer Claudia Villela from Scotts Valley and the multi-instrumentalist Ian Santillano from Hayward opened.

The sets are moderated by KCSM-FM 91.1 DJ Greg Bridges and focus on the pieces that were commissioned. They come from longer concerts (which are only available to SJZ members until the end of the year). Each ticket gives access to the New Works Fest, which will air through the end of May.

Originally inspired by a global start-up initiative launched by the Winter Jazzfest in New York City last year, the SJZ board of directors got involved with the Jazz Aid Fund and built on an initial donation from long-time SJZ board member Jan DeCarli.

“I have to credit my board which really started a conversation about how to help musicians who are not working,” said Brendan Rawson, general manager of SJZ. “The determination to help spurred all 17 board members to step in to do something that could grow rapidly.”

The New Works Fest features 12 of the 33 commissions (the other pieces could be presented at a later date, Rawson said). The festival also includes a conversation on Monday 3 May between commissioned artists Villela, Vân-Ánh Võ and John Santos with music journalist and public radio producer Betto Arcos, as well as a screening of the documentary “Linda and the Mockingbirds” from the year 2020 on May 5th. This is about Linda Ronstadt’s longstanding relationship with the Mexican art academy Los Cenzontles in Richmond.

The focus of the festival is the celebration of International Jazz Day on April 30th by SJZ with a livestream performance by Reed player Oran Etkin, who opens the SJZ Break Room. Built from the organization’s downtown San Jose office with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the new venue is an intimate, pop-up video recording and performance space that can accommodate a non-socially distant audience of around 60 people can.

Due to the pandemic, there will be no audience in the break room for Etkins’ concert, but people passing by on San Carlos Street will be able to watch the show in real time via state-of-the-art ultra-short throw projectors. Musicians performing in the room and appearing larger than life can be projected onto a 35 x 14 foot screen made of high quality fabric that slopes down over the windows of the office. For an organization that has always relied on rented venues and temporary outdoor areas, the break room is a breakthrough for SJZ and offers new programming options.

The relationship with Etkin is another smart move by the organization. He was born in Israel, grew up in Boston and now lives in New York City. He has performed for the organization several times, including a 2015 Summer Party show with his Benny Goodman Re-Imaging project. Etkin specializes in bass clarinet and clarinet and is an artist known for his intercultural collaboration.

In April last year, he responded to the COVID shutdown by launching the Open Arms Project, posting a series of singles and videos documenting pre-pandemic musical encounters in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Prague, Paris and Zimbabwe’s capital Harrare. The April 29 performance in SJZ’s Break Room opens a North American phase of Open Arms and introduces a new collaboration in the Bay Area with Javier Santiago on piano and keyboards, bassist Giulio Xavier Cetto and drummer Malachi Whitson.

In search of “young musicians doing fresh and exciting work,” Etkin sought advice from friends in New York with deep local roots. East Bay-raised saxophone star Dayna Stephens suggested contacting Cetto. SJZ sent Etkin music from all the commissioned artists, and that’s how he heard Santiago (who also happens to be Cetto’s roommate in San Francisco).

“I knew Javier would be perfect for this,” said Etkin, who has released three albums on Motéma Music. “He’s a great pianist, a creative musician who works with electronics and different sounds. And Malachi is a wonderful drummer who is doing great things at the Herbie Hancock Institute. Every city has its own tastes, Chicago, LA, New Orleans, and I thought these players could bring their own voices and paint a picture of what’s going on in the Bay Area. “

With a trio with Cetto and drummer Michael Mitchell, Santiago will present his own commission for a New Works Fest program with Ten Spencer, Vân-Ánh Võ and Chris Cain on May 6th. He has been a major presence in the Bay Area since settling in 2017 and felt it was a real show of acceptance to receive an unsolicited scholarship from SJZ.

“It was just refreshing,” he said, “creating the opportunity and not having to be hectic to find the gig.”

Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected]


With concerts, interviews, film screenings

When: April 29th – May 8th

Tickets: Some events are free; other $ 10; Festival Pass, $ 20;

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