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The Bach's Beach Vision Of Jazz Heaven

Arthur R George By

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But Douglas had not envisioned himself as a jazz entrepreneur. Music at the Beach House began in 1958 when Douglas, then armed with a sociology degree and working as a probation officer, encountered a teenage probationer who brought a saxophone into their meetings because the fellow's car wouldn't lock. Douglas took a shine to the young man, who had been convicted of stealing a package of baloney, and knew the kid was no kind of criminal. He invited him out to the beach to play; the youngster showed up with other musician friends and jam sessions were born.

That probationer grew up to become Pat Britt, Los Angeles-based saxophonist and producer for jazz reissues under a reincarnated Vee-Jay label and original jazz recordings for Catalyst. Tim Jackson, who went on to open the Kuumbwa Jazz Center further south in Santa Cruz and become artistic director of the Monterey Jazz Festival, started out as an apprentice to Douglas, living out of a Volkswagen van and a sleeping bag on site in trade for working as janitor and ticket-taker. Jackson, who played flute and surfed, was drawn by the waves and stayed for the music. Jackson still serves, now on the nonprofit's board of trustees.

Douglas from the beginning had a kind of open-door policy, inviting in various characters, wanderers, and explorers from many directions passing by, drawn by the beatnik spirit of the time and the music scene. Today that vibe continues as much as it can in this era, including listeners of all stripes, as cool and comfortable and engaging as one may wish for a coastal afternoon. Another of Douglas' jazz sayings, Number 7 of 153: "Hanging out around live music is not a waste of time, as one might have a serendipitous experience." The music may require great attention, but all is otherwise relaxed.

After parting company with the probation department, Douglas worked for the San Francisco welfare department, then transitioned into work as a mortgage broker, real estate agent, and property inspector. The jam sessions continued informally. On the suggestion of a lawyer, a savvy Douglas registered his operation as a non-profit organization in 1964 with the purpose to bring jazz and classical music acts to the public. In 1965, he added a 3-bedroom/2-bath house onto the cottage, and in 1966 opened as the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society charging admission.

In 1968, he had begun offering the space also for weddings, parties, anniversary celebrations, and other events. In 1971 Douglas expanded the facility again, adding a more dedicated listening space with a raised ceiling, balcony, improved lively acoustics, bar seating, and the view of the Pacific.

His jazz aphorism Number 84 states that a small listening venue needs a subsidy over and above ticket sales. Number 85 observes most venues are partially supported by drink and food sales that often distract from the music, but for the Bach, the subsidy was renting the facility for wedding receptions. By 1975 he was fully in the wedding business, doing 40 or so a year, as an adjunct to the music. Without being underwritten by the weddings, there would have been no jazz scene. Wedding, party, and meeting rentals of the space remain important to its continuation now.

The mind-twisting name Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is a kind of faux-pretentious nonconformist absurdity. It arose out of an informal party in 1963. A small group of friends was hanging out on a Sunday afternoon in what had been the original beer joint, drinking and listening to recorded music. Some folks came by with some actual dynamite and suggested exploding it on the beach. The original guests declined to join in, and the dynamiters went off to do their deed. Meanwhile, back at the party, in a change of mood, Douglas put on a recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Someone perceived the music was in 4/4 time, and suggested dancing to it, in a form of West Coast Swing.

Soon came an explosion on the beach. One guest, upon hearing the blast, dubbed the crew the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Douglas recalled, "Of course, we were anything but a society, and fancied ourselves Beat Hipsters of the Fifties who looked with bohemian disdain on any social conformity." Douglas put a sign out in front bearing the incongruous moniker, and the name stuck. Its illogic had a certain allure.


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