There is one safe way to admit you’re into the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee: Call it camp.
Don’t you just love the Jazz Jubilee? They say it’s the world’s largest traditional jazz festival, going strong for 33 years now, and such a proud Sacramento institution, a bastion of … What’s that? You’ve never been? Oh, well, let me tell you … What’s that? You’re not really interested? Oh. I see.
No, seriously. I think I understand. Perhaps, for whatever reason, you have it in your mind that the Jazz Jubilee simply isn’t for you. You’ve endured the yearly barrage of fawning publicity and come away imagining just another assembly of blue-haired, candy-striped, banjo-wielding barber-shoppers and countless same-seeming perpetrators of smoooooth, feeble fuzak. You’ve heard the Jubilee’s new executive director, Jill Harper, say things like “We’re delighted that the Port of Sacramento has provided us with space for about 200 motorhomes and RVs to offset the spaces lost as a result of our move from Cal Expo,” and you’re not reassured.
Nor are you alone. “I’ve never spoken to anyone in the Sac Traditional Jazz Society about this, but I’d have to say that it’s pretty obvious that the Jubilee doesn’t make what you and I know as jazz a priority,” said local guitarist Ross Hammond, who’s been peripherally involved with the festival in years past. “Dixieland is the dominant form of jazz for the duration of the weekend—which is fine, I suppose. But it would be nice for Sacramento to have a true jazz festival that celebrates some of the changes in jazz that have happened in the 90 years since Dixieland’s heyday.”
Touché. “This year we are offering ragtime, blues, zydeco, gospel, Latin jazz, swing and contemporary jazz, in addition to our usual helping of traditional jazz,” Harper promised. She calls it a “musical buffet.” You’re thinking: So, are there heat lamps and a sneeze guard?
“We will be playing modern styles of jazz,” avowed tenor player Darius Babazadeh, whose D Baba Project is among the varied local acts on this year’s roster. True, Babazadeh cut his teeth as a touring sideman with Paul Anka, but the group he now fronts can safely be called experimental and improvisatory. As can several others in the lineup.
Right, now you’re imagining sleepy, just-as-nostalgic Miles Davis tributes; readying snarky quips about the “stillbirth of the cool”; and deciding that the more you think about it, the more the Jubilee seems not like a vital and serious musical institution, but simply another enormous, indiscriminately debasing suburban tourist attraction, at once geriatric and infantilizing, with an undeniable stale-mothball smell mitigated only by a musky whiff of multicultural desperation. And no amount of ad-copy bombast or rote-churned boosterism from the local fish wrap will be able to convince you otherwise.
Jesus Christ, you are a tough crowd.
Here’s what we suggest: Go anyway and consider it camp.
Look, are you not at all encouraged by the knowledge that the weekend offers more than 800 performances over four days? That one of the headliners is a funkaholic New Orleans outfit by the noteworthy name of Bonerama (their healthy horn-section frontline features four trombones)? Will you at least consider the wisdom of one Patrick “Junior” Skiffington, a local 30-year-old ethnomusicology student who was born during a Jubilee weekend (“My dad never let me forget it,” he said); attended the festivals often if indifferently as a child; and, as a bassist, played a few during high school, only to swear off them for years and later, triumphantly, return?
Skiffington doesn’t care if kids his age, as he puts it, don’t dig the Dixieland. “I think it’s one of the most fun things to do in town,” he said. “It’s great to be out hearing bands from around the world playing traditional jazz—some great bands I would never have heard otherwise.” Also, he recommends loading up on Irish coffee before the festivities or beer during them.
OK, now you just can’t admit you’ve changed your mind. You totally want to go. Don’t be embarrassed. No one will even recognize you; it’ll be too crowded.