Jazz fan at large

Online ‘zine helps keep Chico jazz scene connected

WALL OF VIBES Jazz Connection Magazine creator Stephen Fratallone in front of a wall of memories in his Magalia home.

WALL OF VIBES Jazz Connection Magazine creator Stephen Fratallone in front of a wall of memories in his Magalia home.

Photo By Tom Angel

In Chico, whereever there’s jazz, there’s also Stephen Fratallone. From performances by locals at such intimate venues as the Black Crow, Café Flo and Gen Kai to big-name jazz concerts in the Sierra Nevada Brewery’s Big Room and CSUC’s Laxson Auditorium, the ubiquitous Fratallone is there—pen, paper and camera in hand—taking notes, taking photos and taking it all in with a big smile on his face.

Fratallone is the man behind the one-man operation of Jazz Connection Magazine (www.jazzconnectionmag.com), an online local jazz magazine that covers the jazz scene in Chico, Paradise and Oroville, as well as bigger regional venues like Harlow’s in Sacramento and Yoshi’s in Oakland. The man has done interviews with some of the biggest names in jazz—musicians Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Cedar Walton and Christian McBride and well-known critic Nat Hentoff, among them.

Fratallone, who moved to Magalia eight years ago from the Fresno area, is also a stay-at-home dad of two young children—Stephen, 6, and Rachel, 4—whose wife Janice works full time as transit manager for Butte County Transit.

“I had worked for a number of years in various papers and weekly magazines … down in the Simi Valley … doing general assignment—sports, politics, entertainment,” Fratallone told me by phone recently. “I always loved to do entertainment. I love music, particularly jazz music.” It was during his time working for the now-defunct monthly magazine Today that Fratallone “started to see the power of the press,” as he puts it. “I thought, ‘I like this! I can get places you’d never get otherwise…'”

Working for Today, a fairly small outfit, taught Fratallone to “kind of learn to be versatile.” Not having the luxury of being able to send both a journalist and a photographer to the news site taught him that, “When you do an interview, you carry a camera with you.”

After moving to Magalia, Fratallone got the idea to start his own online magazine. “Internet is cheaper,” he explained. “You don’t have to pay for printing. You can have a bigger circulation.” Fratallone “applied for grants, and got … enough to help pay the bills.” Five years ago, the site was born.

Fratallone divides his monthly magazine into five main sections: Features (one of Fratallone’s current articles is an interview with singer Don Cherry, “the only person in history to have had a million-selling hit record … and also to have finished in the Top 10 in the U.S. Open in golf."), Big Band Talk, New Grooves (reviews of recent CDs), Local Scene and Photo Gallery. He also maintains a Calendar of local and regional jazz events.

Speaking proudly of his big-band journalism, Fratallone talks of interviewing “King of the Vibes” Lionel Hampton, singers Kay Starr and Anita O’Day and bandleader Les Brown, to name a few.

“I’ve always loved that music [big band], even as a kid. … I’ve gotten e-mails from people from New Zealand, England, Germany in response to things I’ve written…When Peanuts Hucko [clarinetist with Lawrence Welk and Glenn Miller’s Army-Air Force Band] passed away, I re-uploaded [an old] article. … Some people back in the Midwest were putting together a brochure about Peanuts and e-mailed me asking if they could include the photo section of my article in their brochure.”

The April issue of Jazz Connections will include an interview with Howard Rumsey, bass player with Stan Kenton in the ‘40s.

Fratallone is very animated when talking about the local jazz scene. He runs off a list of local jazz players—Dave Elke, NewmanAmiYumi, Greg D’Augelli, etc.—that he would love to see "in a big blow-out concert, a weekend-long festival" at a venue like the Senator Theatre, "unrestricted by ‘café decorum.' I’d love to see the Senator Theatre be a showcase like Jazz at the Philharmonic," Fratallone enthuses. "Many times I have wished that I were like John Hammond [wealthy promoter of jazz in the ‘30s] and could afford to promote the jazz scene more. … What I try to do in my small way is keep the music going. [The magazine is] my contribution to the lineage of jazz in this area."