On a good note
Is the North State ready for its very own jazz festival?
“People keep trying to re-create the same thing,” said Ray Laager, referring to the large number of similar-looking (and wildly popular) world-music and multigenre summer fests in Northern California.
But he and his partners are looking to start something different this month when they kick off the inaugural Nor-Cal Jazz Festival, April 26-27. The two-day fest will feature 11 jazz acts from around the North State, and will be split between Redding and Chico, with Saturday’s roster performing at the Old City Hall, and Sunday’s show taking place in the Sierra Nevada Big Room. Featured performers will include San Francisco pianist and multiple-Grammy nominee Mark Levine; a bunch of Chico combos, including improv-funk crew The Bumptet, modern jazz innovators Bogg, and local guitar legends Charlie Robinson & Dave Elke; plus, Redding’s The Usual Suspects; Mount Shasta duo Alison Scull and Victor Martin; and many more.
“There’s nothing [like this] north of San Francisco,” said Laager.
His cohorts in this new venture include his wife and head of the Upstate Community Foundation, Debra Lucero, who is in charge of marketing along with Laager, and local jazz bassist and host of Café Coda’s First Mondays Jazz series, Jonathan Stoyanoff, who is handling the booking.
Sitting in the Naked Lounge for a recent interview, Laager and Stoyanoff were enthusiastic about the potential of bringing a jazz fest to town.
“I think Chico could be a destination for this,” said Stoyanoff who, as a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, has played in a wide range of local and touring groups including The Bumptet. He also has experience playing at some of the bigger jazz events, including the Monterey Jazz Festival with his former funk-fusion crew, Global Funk.
Stoyanoff said he had been thinking about doing a one-day local jazz fest for a while. Once Lucero and Laager added their arts-marketing experience to Stoyanoff’s connections in the greater jazz community, the trio decided to include Redding and expand to a two-day regional festival.
“We really wanted to kind of reach across a pretty broad spectrum,” Laager said. And to that end, Stoyanoff brought in headliner Levine, with whom he’d already been in contact about a possible festival. “He was very excited about it, and interested in being a part of the first one,” Stoyanoff said.
With Levine, they have a real cornerstone to build upon. In addition to garnering a couple of Grammy nominations of his own, Levine has played with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Latin jazz great Cal Tjader, scoring a Grammy playing piano on the latter’s 1979 La Onda Va Bien.
“He’s a world-class piano player—he’s phenomenal,” Stoyanoff said.
For Levine’s festival set (he will be playing only for the Chico date), he’ll perform with two celebrated local musicians and experienced session men, drummer Lew Langworthy and bassist Greg D’Augelli.
Laager said that they’re looking to the S.F. Jazz Festival as a model, and they plan on featuring a similar traveling component in which a mini version of the Nor Cal event would tour around the North State and stage satellite shows during other parts of the year. In fact, they’re already looking into booking shows in Weaverville and Red Bluff later in 2014.
“Kind of our hope for next year is to have four days,” Laager said, with one possible setup being to have one day in Redding followed by a few days in Chico. And, Stoyanoff added, with so many smaller venues in town committed to hosting jazz—Café Coda, the DownLo, 1078 Gallery, etc.—Chico is a prime spot to have music going all day each day, allowing most of the local players a chance to be involved.
“We hope to include everybody,” he said.