All that jazz

You would think that a city that…

…boasts a world-famous jazz festival each year would also boast a thriving jazz scene. Nonetheless, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee does not exactly presage a Sacramento jazz scene—at least not one that is actively in the public consciousness. Instead, Sacramento’s jazz scene lies just under the radar, seething away quietly, waiting for just the right moment to strike.

It must be remembered that jazz music has suffered from the same corporate hands that have hamstrung country and rock music, bringing musical genius to its knees and replacing it with exposed belly buttons and saccharine melodies. This is, after all, the era of smooth jazz. Think Kenny G, Dave Koz and George Benson. Think gutless and unemotional background music suitable for play in elevators, dental offices and your stockbroker’s apartment.

It is impressive, then, to understand that there is a jazz scene in Sacramento. Case in point: Glenn Hair. Hair founded the Northern California Modern Jazz Association, a group of jazz musicians and supporters attempting to single-handedly educate Sacramentans about the area’s jazz scene.

The Association held a solo benefit show this past weekend at Shiloh’s in Auburn to raise money for its projects. Any arts-related fund-raiser is a worthy event, but the potentially troubling issue is that the event was a tribute to Billie Holiday and Oscar Peterson. In a climate where corporate jazz drowns the airwaves (and the elevators), the fund-raiser’s past-focused gaze seemed somewhat counter to the forward-thinking focus of much groundbreaking jazz. Hair explains this as part of the education process. A guitarist whose jazz influences include John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dave Holland and Chick Corea, Hair likens the Holiday/Peterson tribute to educating the masses. “You can’t expect people to be able to jump right into the avant-garde,” he says. “You’ve got to bring them up to that level.”

Holiday and Peterson are certainly safer—and more recognizable—jazz figures for many ticket buyers, and for what it’s worth the performances were much better than expected. The bottom line is that a Holiday and Peterson tribute can sell $15 tickets in Auburn whereas a couple of relatively unknown original jazz acts might not fare half as well. At a tribute the audience understands exactly what to expect: safe, melodic and recognizable jazz standards. Perhaps this level of expectation is what drove the benefit show to sell out, the packed house cheering Jim Martinez Trio’s note-for-note performances of Oscar Peterson’s lightning fast keyboard runs and Vivian Lee’s perfect renditions of Billie Holiday numbers (and, it should be noted, a crowd-pleasing performance by 10-year old vocalist Lauren Brisbane).

One hopes that the money raised by the event will help the Northern California Modern Jazz Association continue its work, the most exciting of which is the Web site, a clearing house of local (and semi-local) jazz-related shows and musician bios. The gig calendar lists everything from Jim Spero’s solo jazz guitar performances at my local coffeehouse to d baba and the Freedom Funk Fighters’ upcoming date at the G Street Pub in Davis. It is wonderful that there is at last an information clearinghouse for local jazz. The address? Look no further than