February 1975 – A small group gathers to discuss the idea of developing a nonprofit jazz venue to bring jazz to Santa Cruz County. They name the organization “Kuumbwa Jazz Society” and their first fundraising effort consists of taking junk and unwanted items to the flea market and selling them, raising seed money of about $250.
April 1975 – The “First Annual Santa Cruz Jazz Festival” fundraiser features saxophonist Joe Henderson (backed by Warren Gale, David Friesen and local heroes Paul Nagel and Jim Baum) 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.
June 1976 – February 1977 – Nonprofit 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: “Kuumbwa Jazz Center”
February 1977 – May 1977. – A 3,000 sq. ft. space is found in the old Parisian Bakery at 320 Cedar Street. Rent is $450 per month and the building is a disaster zone with 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.
June 1977 – 1978 – Kuumbwa starts to find its presenting and educational groove and establishes the Monday night show tradition, booking artists who have played the weekend in San Francisco. Notable concerts from this era include Richie Cole, Phil Woods, Dave Liebman, Zakir Hussain & David Grisman.
1979 – The Carter administration develops the CETA jobs program, which Kuumbwa applies to and receives funding for administrative and educational staff positions. Some staff members finally get paid!
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, Cedar Walton, Bobby Hutcherson, Pharoah Sanders, Betty CarterHenry Threadgill and hundreds more. Funding comes from as 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.
1987 – The first big 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 “new” 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.
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 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 bathrooms, 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.
1998 – The administrative office moves to its current location above the Poet & Patriot Irish Pub, and the old office is remodeled into a merchandise area.
1999 – 2000 –Kuumbwa presents Diana Krall as its first major concert at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, establishing a regular tradition of presenting major name artists at the Civic Auditorium.
2001 –A major re-model to the Kuumbwa kitchen is undertaken. The first free to the public Master Class is offered.
2002 – 2004 – There is a general decline in business as we all suffer the effects of September 11th and the downturn in the high-tech industry. This affects both concert attendance and fundraising. Kuumbwa presents its first concert at the Rio Theater with Cassandra Wilson.
2005 – Kuumbwa produces two major Civic Auditorium concerts for our 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.
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 us to sustain opportunities for artists to create and perform their work. It also help us meet our long-term goals and maintain financial health. The MPO Initiative was implemented by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Our budget tops $1,000,000 for the first time!
2008 – Kuumbwa initiates two new education programs: Artist in the Schools and the Artist-in-Residence Program. We present Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis at the Civic Auditorium.
2009 – A grant from the James Irvine Foundation allows us to concentrate on capacity building, cultural participation and financial sustainability; all of which is helping to create a strong and secure organization where jazz reigns supreme!
2010 – The Jazz Alley mural is painted on the wall of Birch Lane by Santa Cruz artist Marvin Plummer.
2011 – Kuumbwa Jazz is recognized by DownBeat Magazine as one of the Great Jazz Venues in the World—and continually recognized with this honor yearly.
2012 – Kuumbwa Jazz doubles its restroom capacity and re-models current facilities with all green fixtures.
2013 – Debut of Club Kuumbwa series. CK is a casual, concert series featuring independent artists outreaching to a younger audience with an affordable ticket price, drink specials and a casual room set up that often includes dancing.
2014 – Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band program is re-energized, increasing in talent and doubling the number of performances. Artists in the Schools lecture/demonstrations are now being offered to elementary schools. Total number of people touched by our education programs doubled from 2013 to 2014 (from 2,000 – 4,500). Kuumbwa is certified as a Monterey Bay Green Business Program.
2015 – Kuumbwa Jazz celebrates its 40th Anniversary. The venue is upgraded with a world-class Meyer sound system and Yamaha digital mixing board.
2016 – Six NEA jazz masters are featured in concert: Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Lloyd, Kenny Barron, Delfeayo Marsalis and Dave Liebman.