April 6th

by Tim Jackson (Artistic Director/Co-Founder)

April 6th is a very meaningful and important date in my life. First and foremost, it is the day my daughter Nina was born in 1992, and it is also the date that Kuumbwa Jazz was introduced to the Santa Cruz community on a rainy Sunday afternoon in 1975.

But first, a bit of background…

In the late fall of 1974, I met a guy named Rich Wills. He was a jazz DJ at KUSP. I was directed to Rich by the KUSP Program Director, as I had some interesting tapes of jazz concerts recorded at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society (BDDS) in Half Moon Bay. My friend Pete Douglas, the owner of BDDS, had loaned the tapes to me and we thought it would be cool to get them aired on the radio. Rich made that happen and we became friends. He then informed me of an idea he had about starting a nonprofit jazz organization in Santa Cruz and developing a venue for concerts and education. In 1975, presenting jazz under the banner of a nonprofit was a fairly novel idea and the only jazz nonprofits in the area were the BDDS and the Monterey Jazz Festival.

I had recently returned to Santa Cruz after a nearly year-long backpacking expedition to New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific – surfing and exploring. I was 20 years old. Rich’s idea seemed pretty cool to me, particularly after having lived in my Volkswagen van at the BDDS and helping Pete produce concerts there in the summer and fall of 1973.

Sheba Burney, a KUSP programmer and Rich’s girlfriend, got involved with the idea as well, and we were off and running. We started by calling a couple of general meetings. I remember one at the Veteran’s Memorial Building on Front Street and another on Pacific Avenue at the ID Bank building (now the Sockshop & Shoe Company). Several folks showed up and many ended up staying on as volunteers. Of course, we were all volunteers in those days. Our name, Kuumbwa Jazz, was suggested by James Coleman, and more ideas were soon hatched. First up was raising money and getting our nonprofit status. To bring in some funds, we gathered up all our expendable items at home and took them to the flea market on Soquel Avenue. That raised over $200 (big business to us!). We then enlisted the help of a local attorney, Jack Jacobson, who donated his time to help draft our nonprofit paperwork. Rich then “walked” the paperwork through Sacramento in one day and a couple of months later we had our official 501(c)(3) status!

Now it was time to create a musical happening to launch us into the community. Concepts were vetted, dates were discussed, artist names bandied about, and at the end of the day we decided on a free concert (though donations were gratefully accepted) at the Duck Island Stage in San Lorenzo Park on Sunday, April 6, 1975. Some of the groups on the bill were obvious choices. The Hy-Tones were the favorite quartet of many in town. Their heavily Coltrane-influenced sound ruled the day and the group consisted of some of the best players in the area: Paul Contos on saxophones and flute, Paul Nagel on piano, Stan Poplin on bass, and the late Jimmy Baum on drums. Also on the bill was Dawan Muhammad’s (then known as Dwain Everette) group Evidence. Dawan was a saxophonist who was studying up at UCSC, and the group also had Prince Lawsha on drums. We also invited San Jose-based trumpeter Eddie Gale and his Super Energy Ensemble. Rounding out the local lineup was another Santa Cruz group, The Clean Machine, that featured soprano saxophonist Phil Yost, bassist Dene Davidson, and drummer Bill McCord. So far, so good…however, we felt we needed a “big-name” artist to fill out the afternoon. We knew that world-renowned tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson lived in San Francisco, so Rich volunteered to call him and ask him to come down and play. To our happy surprise he agreed, and for $300 he brought not only himself but his bassist at the time, David Friesen, and the legendary Bay Area trumpeter Warren Gale. We provided the accompaniment of Paul Nagel and Jimmy Baum, both from the Hy-Tones, on piano and drums.

As the big day drew near, I asked my good friend Clarke Shultes (who currently serves on Kuumbwa’s Board of Trustees) to draw a poster for us and he created a doozy – one that still hangs in my office to this day. We borrowed a grand piano from another volunteer, Philip Rockwell, and Santa Cruz Sound agreed to do the live sound. We were ready for action.

As fate would have it, April 6th dawned with a steady rain beating down on San Lorenzo Park. For a moment, we thought it might clear up and started to haul out the piano, but the skies opened up again. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to secure the Laurel School Auditorium (now the Louden Nelson Community Center) as a back-up in case of inclement weather, so our bacon was saved!

The concert was fantastic, and everyone played well in anticipation of Joe Henderson’s visit to the stage. Joe did not disappoint. He showed up in a buckskin jacket with fringe and a tie-dye headband. I remember a couple of the tunes he played, which were always a part of his standard repertoire: his original composition “Recorda-Me” and the great standard “Invitation.” As the afternoon wore on, we passed the hat (or, in this case, coffee cans) and ended up breaking even for the day – although we had to pay Joe his final $20 in quarters. He never let me forget that!

We now had our first concert under our belt, and we felt good. We went on produce several more concerts in 1975, including a couple at (sunnier) San Lorenzo Park. We ended our first year by hosting a concert on November 3rd at the now-gone Capitola Theater, featuring the then expatriate tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon.

However, there is nothing like the thrill of a first show, and April 6th is always a day of remembrance, appreciation, and celebration for Kuumbwa Jazz.

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