San Jose Jazz Shakeup
Organizational Changes Announced Before Winter Jazz Fest
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by Steve Palopoli on Mar 07, 2012
BLOWING IN Oakland trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire collaborates with New York pianist Gerald Clayton at Winter Fest 2012 on Sunday at Theatre on San Pedro Square.
“Purely on a financial level, the deal with 1stACT brings Brendan in as a loan executive for 18 months. So my salary goes out of the budget for 18 months. It allows us to do some really smart things. It frees up some finances. It just makes sense,” Miller explains.
The Jedi-mind-trick part of this move is that Miller is in actuality staying on with San Jose Jazz in a lot of ways. He’ll be on the board of San Jose Jazz and will still be helping out with the group’s financial planning. But Miller, who worked closely with Rawson beginning in 2009 when Miller came on as a consultant for 1stACT for about a year, saw that stepping aside could benefit both organizations, if planned right, and put those considerations before his personal desire to keep doing what he was doing at San Jose Jazz.
“Shuffling me over to another organization wasn’t any part of my plan. It just happened to be that it made the most sense,” he says. “As it turned out, the planets aligned. CMT approached me, [1stACT CEO] Connie Martinez and I started talking about Brendan moving over here, Jazz was in a position where things are pretty solid and well-organized now. It can be a very smooth hand-off. Brendan has already been involved with us for months, being here at our regular staff meetings and working on our strategic plan with us.”
Show Goes On
Rawson sees the current shake-up as the natural result of the search for new arts-organization models, especially in the last four, recession-torn years.
“We might be on the bleeding edge of some of that, but it’s also a story you’re seeing nationally around non-profits arts. There is some needed consolidation, and I think 2008 just made it clear for a lot of folks,” he says.
Coming from Left Coast Live and other live-music ventures, he’s aware of the need for San Jose Jazz to become known for something more than just the once-a-year summer festival, and believes the winter festival—along with other series, like the successful free Wednesday jazz shows at the Hedley Club—will go a long way toward establishing that.
“We’re a festival-driven town,” he says. “People don’t necessarily think of San Jose Jazz throughout the year. But that’s been changing a lot this past year under Michael’s direction, [with] all the things they’ve been doing on Wednesday night and other pieces.”
There is undeniably some crossover between Left Coast Live’s no-wave eclecticism and San Jose Jazz’s rapidly expanding definition of what fits into their programming. Over the last couple of years, San Jose Jazz has become more and more focused on putting hip, emerging artists into the mix at their festivals, and the Winter Fest allows even more room to do that.
“Part of it is how do you carve some space for experimentation to occur, and for the organization to be excited about that?” says Rawson of his goals. “I think that one of the nice parts about doing arts work here in San Jose is that there is music crossing over lots of different areas.”
The Winter Fest lineup this weekend at San Pedro Square offers a wild mix of artists, made even starker by the fact that unlike the summer festival, the acts are divided into structured stages that highlight particular genres. Friday night has jazz vocalist Jamie Davis and blues band Legally Blue (which features Aart de Geus, CEO of Synopsys, on guitar, and Chris Wilder, CEO of Valley Medical Foundation, on bass). Saturday features saxophonist Grace Kelly, JC Smith’s Blues All Stars and more.
Sunday sees a collaboration by Oakland trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and New York pianist Gerald Clayton and will be headlined by San Francisco’s Rupa and the Fishes, the multicultural, multilingual, multigenre project of Rupa Marya. Marya’s band, driven by a boho Gypsy-jazz sound, is in many ways the essence of the underground, musically explosive vibe with which San Jose Jazz is trying to define its newest festival.
“Labels are tricky. I’m not a fan of them,” says Marya. “I understand that people want to know what they’re getting into. What I have found is if you put our band in front of an audience, we tend to find our way.”
Miller says what San Jose Jazz is going for and will build on every year with the Winter Fest is something “very cool, very cutting edge.”
“It might not be a lot of artists you’ve heard of,” he says, “but I guarantee it be will artists you’ll have heard of down the line.”
March 9-11, San Pedro Square, San Jose