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Kuumbwa And The Magic of Monday Night

Arthur R George By

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Wills, with his background in non-commercial radio, knew about non-profit organization and availability of grants. The process for obtaining non-profit status, Jackson recalls, was much easier in the 1970s. Wills was able to incorporate Kuumbwa as a 501(c)(3) non-profit under the tax code in a single day trip to the Secretary of State office in Sacramento. As a non-profit, the organization could access a unique kind of government assistance, in the form of volunteer time from persons working off court-sentencing for lesser criminal convictions. Electricians, plumbers, contractors could cut time remodeling an industrial space into a jazz room.

Even today, the non-profit access to grants and tax-friendly contributions is crucial to the club's success. Earned income covers only part of operating expenses. "We are very entrepreneurial for a non-profit, but ticket sales, proceeds from the cafe, and rental of the space only cover 70 per cent of our costs. The balance comes from grants, memberships, and other contributions. "If we had approached this as a commercial endeavor," Jackson admits, "we would never have made it."

The Monday nights started with an assist from Todd Barkan, owner of the Keystone Korner in San Francisco in the 1970s. Musicians then were typically booked for a six night run, Tuesday through Sunday. Mondays were dark at Keystone, but Monday-night availability in Santa Cruz could bolster either side of an engagement.

Dexter Gordon played for Kuumbwa at Barkan's suggestion in December 1975 simply because Santa Cruz was en route of Gordon's drive home to Los Angeles, after having returned from more than a decade of self-imposed expatriation in Europe. It was still a year before the great revival in Gordon's career was initiated at the Village Vanguard. Barkan himself years later went on to become director of Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

Over the years, the original founders of Kuumbwa moved on to other pursuits, but Jackson kept showing up day after day, the last man standing of the original crew, for more than 40 years. The club, once just a dream, is forever demanding. "You have to feed the beast, the beast being the venue," he explains. "A building that is not in use is not doing much good. So there's something going on 25 days out of the month: could be jazz shows, wedding receptions, banquets, dinner or business or community meetings."

In 1999, Kuumbwa began to stretch its wings, presenting Diana Krall into the 2000-seat Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, followed in ensuing years by Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and in 2008 Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra into the same hall. While the talent was prominent, the engagements were economically risky. In a city that has only 65,000 residents, it's like asking 1 in 30 to buy a ticket. Yet people appeared grateful to see major names brought into the town, and the shows sold out.

The Monterey Jazz Festival across the bay started in 1958. When its founder Jimmy Lyons retired in 1992, Tim Jackson applied to become general manager and artistic director. Then still only in his 30s, he was hired for his veteran knowledge of how to book and program, and a perception that he had the energy to propel the festival forward. He has since initiated five national tours by all-star bands from the festival, authorized books tracing the history and art of the festival, and directs restoring and digitizing the festival's audio archives at Stanford University.

Jackson continues as artistic director for Monterey after 27 years, and for Kuumbwa as well for more than 40. He is also on the board of directors for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, where he was once employed to sweep the floor on which he slept. As in long ago, he still plays, and performs, on flute; when he's not working Monday nights, keeping the lights on, maintaining magic at Kuumbwa.

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