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Kuumbwa And The Magic of Monday Night

Arthur R George By

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The Monday night window is an enticing opportunity for all. —Tim Jackson
Monday nights, otherwise a down time for many music venues, have been magic for the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, CA. Kuumbwa's most prominent shows occur, oddly, on off-calendar Monday nights or midweek, featuring headliners before or after their engagements nearby in San Francisco and Oakland and who are touring up or down the West Coast, going to or coming from bookings in other more major cities.

It's a business plan which has found a way to keep the lights on when many sites are dark after a weekend, and performers would otherwise be idle or traveling. It's similar to New York's venerable Village Vanguard, where 50+ years of Monday nights originating with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis orchestras worked because its musicians were available as other places remained closed on that night.

Tim Jackson artistic director and co-founder of Kuumbwa, and also artistic director and past general manager of the Monterey Jazz Festival, says that the Monday night window is an enticing option for all. Musicians can add another night's employment opportunity at Kuumbwa. "They're already out working, on a tour. They can take the night off and sit around in a hotel, doing nothing, or they can work, playing together another night, in a great town, in a great venue, before a great audience."

Most recently, for example, Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band played the 200-seat Kuumbwa on a Monday, the night before rolling up to the 700-seat San Francisco Jazz Center. Monsieur Perine, the Colombian gypsy jazz trio, came to Kuumbwa the night after a sold-out show at SFJazz. Christian McBride had a Friday in June before the Stanford Jazz Festival the next night. Kurt Elling played a Monday in May after working a weekend in Las Vegas and before two nights at Yoshi's in Oakland.

Reaching Beyond

The off-night engagements also permit the audience to be up close and personal with performers who might be unapproachable in larger halls, and often at a discount from big city ticket prices. The club is close enough to San Francisco and Oakland, perhaps a 90-minute drive, that someone unable to see a show in the Bay Area, or who wants to see more of a performer, can get an extra dose in Santa Cruz. For musicians, the setting can be more relaxed than in a big city. They may choose to earn less than at a larger venue, a smaller surplus on top of a bigger gate elsewhere, which keeps the smaller room affordable and economically possible.

Evenings relaxing in the intimacy of small clubs can ease the pace of a tour. A Kuumbwa engagement is a signature event for performer and audience alike: important for each to see and to have been seen; headliners maintain traction, new performers can establish name recognition: word of mouth is the original social media business app.

Jackson networks through the Western Jazz Presenters Network by which venue operators discuss who they are hearing for their locales, who they find exciting. Jackson also learns from his headliners who among their sidemen might be emerging with interesting projects. He finds musicians to be "incredible human beings," whose ears are continually open and forward looking. He himself is "always sniffing the larger landscape" to find what's next.

Kuumbwa joins with other venues to "co-present" talent; "block booking" across multiple dates and locations plugs gaps in the calendar for clubs and performers alike, and brings performers who might not otherwise ever touch down locally. Agents are thus willing to package a Santa Cruz night into making an outing more lucrative overall. A chain of performances linked through smaller venues like Kuumbwa makes a trip easier to accomplish, supplementing a tour to make it feasible financially. More work for the artist, more revenue for the clubs, a place to be on Monday nights. It all adds up.

The wealth of talent available has spilled beyond the Monday night origins and beyond the Kuumbwa itself. John Pizzarelli is booked for a Friday in August, following two midweek nights at Yoshi's in Oakland as he swings southward to La Jolla, Phoenix, and Newport Beach. Herb Alpert, recalling his jazz-pop crossover Tijuana Brass, joins with wife Lani Hall, the original vocalist for Sergio Mendes' Brasil 66, for a Saturday night in September at the 685-seat Rio Theater, a 1949-era movie theater re-imagined as performance space. Chick Corea is a Wednesday at the Rio in October.

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