Live jazz lives in Sac

With a wealth of fine local players, and presenters who bring in touring acts, the music is clearly experiencing an exciting upward trend.

Photo by Serene Lusano

Marcus Crowder has written about music and theater in Sacramento for more than 20 years.

The guitarist Charlie Hunter once told me a music scene needs three elements: musicians to play the music, a venue where they can be heard and an audience that will come and support the musicians. Hunter might have added a fourth element that observers of any scene understand is also crucial: presenters who want to facilitate the scene.

Outside of New York, the most successful presenters of jazz in cities like Sacramento have become nonprofit organizations dedicated to or at least interested in featuring the music. Nobody’s making money presenting jazz. Yet locally, the music is clearly experiencing an exciting upward trend.

Leading the way with consistent monthly programming is the Sacramento Jazz Co-op, which maintains a regular schedule of mostly local or Bay Area-based classically mainstream performers. The Co-op has moved its events around the city, currently using the Masonic Temple on J Street for most of its shows.

Adding energy to the scene is the infusion of new talent through saxophonist and composer Jacam Manricks, who has a contemporary and progressive mentality that has been illustrated through his last two recent shows. In the first, he played in a duo with pianist Joe Gilman showcasing music the pair had recorded in the fine album Gilmanricks. In the second concert, Manricks added world-class players—bassist Matt Penman (SFJAZZ Collective) and drummer Clarence Penn (Dave Douglas Quintet)—for a blistering night of music following a recording session the quartet had completed at Manricks’ East Sacramento home studio. It was as fine a night of jazz as has been here in a long time. Both shows were at the Midtown CLARA Studios.

Following soon after was an equally sparkling set by the saxophonist and composer Mike McMullen performing his original music from the recently released CD Picture Book. The performance at Antiquité Midtown also featured pianist Gilman along with veteran stalwarts guitarist Steve Homan and drummer Rick Lotter, who never sounded better.

Local musicians such as Darius Babazadeh, Joe Mazzeferro, Alex Jenkins, Beth Duncan, Dave Bass, Tom Peron, Byron Colborn and Vivian Lee, to name just a very few, are continuously performing in various formats, sometimes producing their own shows. Sac Prep Music Academy is also hosting the Midtown Vanguard Jazz Series, a monthly series of shows featuring both established and younger musicians at the CLARA.

In May, the Harris Center features guitarist Larry Carlton and then trumpeter Herb Alpert and vocalist Lani Hall (already sold out). The Mondavi Center continues to bring the A-list talent: a still vital Chick Corea waking up the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra last week, and the politically woke and explosive trumpeter Terence Blanchard in April.

Of course, these larger listening halls at the edges of the region are hosting the shows only they can bring, and it still feels like there’s a gap in the city center for national touring jazz musicians. The guitarist Ross Hammond has quietly done his part booking internationally known artists such as Myra Melford and Ben Allison to perform at his Gold Lion Arts Studio. The improvisational music showcase Hammond founded, Nebraska Mondays, maintains an active presence at Luna’s cafe.

The sparkling new Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts in Midtown holds mouth-watering promise. SBL Entertainment is booking the venue with Cubanismo!, Keiko Matsui, and the Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra already scheduled. Me’Shell NdegéOcello will play there soon, and while she’s not exactly jazz you can’t be mad about it, SBL brings the Bill Frisell Trio to the Crest in June.

Jazz in Sacramento is all over the map—mainstream, avant-garde, smooth and edgy. It is happening—perhaps not at the progressive depth some want, but still—there are venues, there are musicians and there is an audience.