Our History

Kuumbwa Jazz History

Since 1975, Kuumbwa Jazz has grown from humble beginnings to one of the most highly respected jazz-presenting institutions in the country. A nonprofit organization, Kuumbwa is dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of jazz through weekly concerts and education programs for all ages. Kuumbwa (pronounced koo-um-baa) is a Swahili word meaning “act of spontaneous creativity.” 

February 1975

A small group gathers to discuss the idea of developing a nonprofit venue bringing jazz to Santa Cruz. They name the organization Kuumbwa Jazz Society and their first fundraising effort consists of selling items at the flea market, raising seed money of about $250.

February 1975

April 1975

Joe Henderson

The “First Annual Santa Cruz Jazz Festival” concert features saxophonist Joe Henderson as well as the local groups Eddie Gale Super Energy Ensemble, Evidence and the Hy-Tones. By year’s end the budget has reached $4,942.

April 1975

June 1976 - February 1977

Dexter GordonNonprofit status is secured and Kuumbwa presents over a dozen concerts. Highlights include Dexter Gordon (backed by the Martha Young Trio) and the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. A grant campaign is launched to find the money to open the long-dreamed-about concert space: the Kuumbwa Jazz Center.

June 1976 - February 1977

February 1977 - May 1977

A 3,000 square foot space is found in the old Parisian Bakery at 320 Cedar Street. Rent is $450 per month and the building had only three walls, no door and giant holes in the floor. With donated materials and labor, the space is transformed in three months.

February 1977 - May 1977

May 25, 1977

Kuumbwa Jazz Center officially opens with three days of concerts by the Hy-Tones, Smith Dobson, the Martha Young Trio, and many other local groups.

May 25, 1977

June 1977 - 1978

Phil WoodsKuumbwa starts to find its presenting and educational rhythm and establishes the Monday night concert tradition, booking artists who have played the weekend in San Francisco. Notable concerts from this era include Phil Woods, Dave Liebman, Zakir Hussain, and David Grisman.

June 1977 - 1978

1979

The Carter administration develops the CETA jobs program, to which Kuumbwa applies and receives funding for administrative and educational staff positions. 

1979

1980 - 1986

Cedar WaltonKuumbwa continues to present jazz and educational programs all while developing an international reputation for artistic excellence and establishing ourselves as a major arts institution in Santa Cruz County. Bobby HutchersonArtists presented in this time-period include McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson,  Betty Carter, Henry Threadgill and hundreds more. Funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the Packard Foundaton, the newly formed Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, and the Santa Cruz City Arts Commission.

1980 - 1986

1987

The first big venue remodel: space is taken from the building next door and the stage is shifted 45 degrees from the original stage right. Funding from the Packard Foundation helps us buy a new Yamaha C7 grand piano, sound equipment, and chairs, increasing our seating capacity from 150 to 200 seats. The Cedar Walton Trio is our opening concert in the re-vamped venue with Cecil Taylor soon to follow…giving that new piano a serious initiation into jazz.

1987

1988 - 1991

The club continues with weekly concerts featuring major jazz artists on Monday nights and local musicians on Friday nights. In 1990, a series of special events is presented to commemorate Kuumbwa’s 15th Anniversary.

1988 - 1991

1993 - 1994

Kuumbwa’s Summer Jazz Camp and Honor Band programs begin.

1993 - 1994

1995

A new sound and lighting system is installed. Kuumbwa’s 20th Anniversary is celebrated with a special exhibit at the Octagon Museum at the McPherson Center for Art and History in Santa Cruz. The Kuumbwa Story, The Kuumbwa Gift is written by renowned author James Houston.

1995

1996 - 1997

More remodeling is undertaken with the support of Packard and Hewlett Foundations, allowing us to improve the restrooms, add interior exhaust fans, repair structural damage in the ceiling, and transform the courtyard with a new patio, wrought iron fencing, painting, signage and a new front door.

1996 - 1997

1998

The administrative office moves to its current location above the Poet & Patriot Irish Pub and the old office is remodeled into a merchandise gift shop.

1998

1999 - 2000

Kuumbwa presents Diana Krall as its first concert at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.

1999 - 2000

2001

A major remodel of the Kuumbwa kitchen is undertaken and the first free Master Class is offered.

2001

2002 - 2004

There is a general decline in business affecting both concert attendance and fundraising. Kuumbwa presents its first concert at the Rio Theater with Cassandra Wilson.

2002 - 2004

2005

Kuumbwa produces two major Civic Auditorium concerts for the organization’s 30th Anniversary: Directions in Music with Herbie Hancock and the Pat Metheny Group. In June, the first Jazz on Film series is presented at the Del Mar Theater, showcasing jazz-based films.

2005

2006

Kuumbwa is one of 17 arts organizations in the nation selected to receive a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as a participant in the Mid-Size Presenting Organizations Initiative. This multi-year grant helped sustain opportunities for artists to create and perform their work and helped Kuumbwa meet long-term financial goals. The MPO Initiative was implemented by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Kuumbwa’s budget tops $1,000,000 for the first time.

2006

2008

Two new education programs are initiated: Artists in the Schools and the Artist-in-Residence. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis is presented at the Civic Auditorium.

2008

2009

A grant from the James Irvine Foundation allows Kuumbwa to concentrate on capacity building, cultural participation and financial sustainability.

2009

2010

The Jazz Alley mural is painted on the wall of Birch Lane by Santa Cruz artist Marvin Plummer.

2010

2011

Kuumbwa Jazz is recognized by DownBeat Magazine as one of the “Great Jazz Venues in the World”, and is continually recognized with this honor.

2011

2012

The venue is remodeled with eco-friendly/green fixtures.

2012

2013

Debut of Club Kuumbwa – a casual, concert series featuring local and/or independent artists, featuring discounted ticket prices and drink specials.

2013

2014

The Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band program doubles its number of annual performances. Artists in the Schools demonstrations are now being offered in elementary schools. Total number of people touched by our education programs more than doubled from 2013 to 2014 (from 2,000 – 4,500). Kuumbwa is certified as a Monterey Bay Green Business.

2014

2015

For the 40th Anniversary the venue is upgraded with a world-class Meyer sound system and Yamaha digital mixing board.

Hear what musicians have to say about Kuumbwa Jazz!

2015

2016

Six NEA jazz masters are featured in concert: Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Lloyd, Kenny Barron, Delfeayo Marsalis and Dave Liebman.

2016