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.”
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.
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.
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.
The Carter administration develops the CETA jobs program, to which Kuumbwa applies and receives funding for administrative and educational staff positions.
1980 - 1986
Kuumbwa 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. Artists 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.
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.
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.
1993 - 1994
Kuumbwa’s Summer Jazz Camp and Honor Band programs begin.
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.
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.
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.
1999 - 2000
Kuumbwa presents Diana Krall as its first concert at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.
A major remodel of the Kuumbwa kitchen is undertaken and the first free Master Class is offered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A grant from the James Irvine Foundation allows Kuumbwa to concentrate on capacity building, cultural participation and financial sustainability.
The Jazz Alley mural is painted on the wall of Birch Lane by Santa Cruz artist Marvin Plummer.
Kuumbwa Jazz is recognized by DownBeat Magazine as one of the “Great Jazz Venues in the World”, and is continually recognized with this honor.
The venue is remodeled with eco-friendly/green fixtures.
Debut of Club Kuumbwa – a casual, concert series featuring local and/or independent artists, featuring discounted ticket prices and drink specials.
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.
For the 40th Anniversary the venue is upgraded with a world-class Meyer sound system and Yamaha digital mixing board.
Six NEA jazz masters are featured in concert: Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Lloyd, Kenny Barron, Delfeayo Marsalis and Dave Liebman.