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Kuumbwa And The Magic of Monday Night

Arthur R George By

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The scope of the music has also expanded along with added days of the week. Country swing band Asleep At The Wheel was presented at the Rio on a Saturday night in May, followed by chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux on a Thursday. Bluegrass master Del McCoury is playing a Sunday night in July after a Saturday in San Francisco. Country and bluegrass would appear to wander afield from jazz purity, but Jackson responds that one cannot contest the jazz elements in western swing, or the improvisational acoustic flavor of McCoury's bluegrass. "It's close enough to fit."

Kuumbwa has also twice booked the Pacific Mambo Orchestra into the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom, a place with authentic jazz lineage. The Cocoanut Grove, built in 1907, was a regular stop for dance bands in the 1930s and 1940s. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie with Lester Young, Xavier Cugat, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Tommy Dorsey all came through. Their photographs still adorn the walls. The Cocoanut Grove retains a retro grandeur after all that, and Jackson accessed the Cocoanut Grove's extra capacity, its dance floor, and period elegance for a special evening of swell for a contemporary Latin big band.

100% Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is seventy miles south of San Francisco, thirty miles over a mountain from Silicon Valley, but a world apart from each. A review on Yelp says Kuumbwa is "100% Santa Cruz." True, certainly, but that means... what? Santa Cruz is not urban, it's not even suburban. Santa Cruz is uniquely Santa Cruz, quirky in its own way, combining elements that are rarely found together.

Santa Cruz is a beach town, geographically northern California but with a tropical southern California vibe, with surfing coves and sandy expanses, tide pools, and natural arches eroded by the Pacific Ocean; marine science laboratories; a boardwalk and thrill rides 3,000 miles distant from but otherwise much like the Jersey Shore. Santa Cruz is a college town, with a campus of the University of California spread across meadows and woodlands on hilltop acreage above the city, with libraries, and research, and lecture and concert halls; serious academia amid its sylvan setting. And Santa Cruz is a resort town, with a main street of hip, organic restaurants; fashionable boutiques; athletic clothing and surf shops; numerous beachside hotels; and Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of California's most varied and complete independent bookstores.

Kuumbwa is on a mixed-use street tucked a block behind Santa Cruz' main downtown shopping street, Pacific Avenue. The club started in an edifice that had been a bakery, and still shares its building at 320 Cedar Street with a more-visible streetside bagel shop, even as the music room has been named one of the top 150 great jazz venues in the world by DownBeat magazine.

A gently curving canopy arches over the doorway, windows open to a courtyard dotted with a mix of plants. Exterior paint is tan and turquoise, as the club is about a mile from the sand and waters of Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Santa Cruz is at the north end of Monterey Bay, 25 miles in a straight line across to the city of Monterey, home of the Monterey Jazz Festival, a kind of elder to Kuumbwa.

Kuumbwa draws upon all that, as educational center, entertainment place, organic cafe, and intimate concert room. The university up on the hill does not have a major concert series on a scale with Stanford and U.C. Berkeley over the mountain. The place thus fills a cultural niche otherwise lacking. Its cafe serves dinner and pastries, 100 % Santa Cruz style: locally-grown produce, sustainably-sourced meat, fish, and poultry; carrot cake with walnuts and raisins: a vegan tofu-chocolate mousse pie.

Building on the scholarly aspect of U.C. Santa Cruz which with Cabrillo College in nearby Aptos have strong instructional music programs, the guiding idea in founding Kuumbwa, Jackson said, "was that jazz is an art form and deserves as much dignity as chamber music or the symphony."

That academically-friendly entertainment model continues. Half-price student tickets are sold at the door subject to availability. Kuumbwa also offers a jazz camp each summer at Cabrillo for students from grades 8-12, and maintains jazz-in-schools programs to educate future players and listeners. "Club Kuumbwa," a project now on hiatus, gave bands local to Santa Cruz, in music genres that might reside slightly outside of jazz, featured placement on weekend nights with lowered cover charges and drink prices. These position Kuumbwa as an incubator for music and new and independent artists.



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