Jazz in the foreground
Café Coda’s 1st Monday Jazz nights offer live, local jazz without distractions
“Most of the time, jazz is relegated to the background—it’s almost always secondary to the other activities going on, such as fundraising, garden parties, weddings, eating,” offered Steve Scarborough. “Jazz players are often the most talented of our local musicians, but their performance opportunities are many times limited to providing background ambience at restaurants and social events.”
Indeed, finding a local jazz musician who doesn’t know firsthand the experience of playing for a noisy crowd of people clearly more interested in what they are eating and talking about than the music being played is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Scarborough, a longtime jazz deejay at community-radio station KZFR 90.1 FM, was speaking recently in his capacity as informal promoter and gig emcee of “1st Monday Jazz” nights at Café Coda, which occur—predictably—on the first Monday evening of each month and feature some of the finest players Chico has to offer. And without the noise—Scarborough guarantees a clatter- and chatter-free listening experience focused on the performers “for a person who wants to appreciate jazz. … It’s not like people are there having conversations. They’re not talking about their wedding plans, and shit like that. …
“I gravitated into this job by default,” Scarborough said of his volunteer promotional work. The unabashed jazz lover explained that he was keen to help local bass player Jonathan Stoyanoff—who founded 1st Monday Jazz a year and a half ago (when it was still at now-defunct Café Culture)—promote the monthly event because Stoyanoff has been so busy of late. The new papa and in-demand musician has been playing with numerous groups, including various jazz configurations, as well as local Afro-Ameri-Caribbean outfit Soul Union.
Stoyanoff explained by email that he organizes each 1st Monday Jazz concert around a theme. Having a theme “makes it easier to pull the show together by choosing material from the standard repertoire, although we do include original music and arrangements regularly,” he said.
Past themes include the music of late pianist Bill Evans (featuring local keyboardist Shigemi Minetaka, drummer Casey Schmidt, and Stoyanoff, who is the house bass player), the music of late über-bassist Jaco Pastorius (guitarist and Music Connection co-owner Bruce MacMillan, drummer Calvin Daley and Stoyanoff) and a tribute to local guitar legend Charlie Robinson (which, of course, featured Robinson himself, as well as other heavy hitters).
Other themes have included Gypsy jazz, bossa nova, and a night of West African music, featuring local percussionist and balaphone master Lansana Kouyaté.
Recently, both KZFR and Odyssey Winery & Vineyards have come on board as sponsors of the event. It now functions as a “partial fundraiser” for the radio station, and KZFR is looking into the possibility of broadcasting 1st Monday Jazz shows live from Café Coda, said Scarborough.
Additionally, local sound-man and musician Joe Hammons recently donated recording equipment so that the exciting shows can be captured for posterity. Café Coda employees Will Watje and Tyler Hawkins are the jazz-loving volunteers who, respectively, do sound and make MP3 tracks of the night’s music. At the Jan. 7 show—which will focus on the music of late guitarist Grant Green—an email list will be initiated so that audience members can receive MP3s of the night’s tunes in their inbox.
“I’ve made all of them, except for a couple [of shows],” Scarborough said, speaking of his enthusiastic 1st Monday Jazz attendance. Musicians play a 90-minute set—“no break, straight music.” And since the show runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m., “everybody gets home at a reasonable hour. For a Monday night gig, it’s good; even if you live 30 minutes away, you can get home by 10 o’clock.”