SFJAZZ Centre Opening

John Fenton

John Fenton is a Jazz Blogger covering the Auckland, New Zealand and South Pacific beat.  He has listened to more jazz than is healthy for any human being and he started writing, supporting local artists and Jazz in general to give something back.  He loves poetry, the creative arts and is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association.  His Blog is JazzLocal32.com  


January 21st 2013 signalled a seismic event in the Jazz world.  The opening of the 35,000 sq. ft. purpose-built San Francisco Jazz Centre.  The New York Times proclaimed, ” We get the feeling that this will approximate how Jazz will look in 2013“.  This is the only free-standing Jazz facility of its kind in America and it is a tribute to all who have worked towards its completion.  The idea for this  centre was conceived 30 years ago by a few prescient dreamers who visualised a future home for the Jazz community.  At the heart of this group was Randall Kline who founded ‘SF Jazz’ out of an earlier incarnation ‘Jazz in the City'(the acclaimed SF Jazz Festivals followed).   Randall Kline is now the Executive Artistic Director of SF Jazz but he will quickly acknowledge that the project would have been impossible without widespread community involvement.


At first glance the SF Jazz Centre appears modest in design as it is not an ornate building.   It is however a fine example of SF modernism, which sits happily in its surroundings, inviting deeper inspection.  As the detail’s revealed you begin to see it with different eyes.  The well-known Californian architect Mark Cavagnero designed the building and part of his remit was to integrate the activities with the community.  He succeeded in this.  Artists in residence (and others) will rehearse in the Joe Henderson Lab, which is at street level, has glass on two sides and is open to public gaze.  The public will also be able to glimpse the performances in the main auditorium as they pass by.

Herman Leonard pics This exchange between onlookers and musicians is at the heart of the design concept.  The main performance auditorium is build in the shape of an amphitheatre which allows eye contact between audience and performers (and obviously making for unimpeded sight lines from every seat).  The acoustics are state of the art and the sound can also be dampened.

Situated in Hayes Valley, the SF Jazz Centre is only a few blocks from the from the famous Fillmore Music District.   More importantly it shares the precinct with the SF Ballet, Davis Auditorium (SF Symphony) and SF Opera.  Immediately opposite is an imposing brick building being renovated to house the School of the Arts.  Huge Herman Leonard pictures emblazon the side of that building, causing Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday and other greats to smile across at the Jazz centre.  This tells passers-by in unequivocal terms that the Corner of Franklin & Fell is where Jazz lives.

I collected my press pass and was given a tour of the building, suddenly aware of the welcoming friendliness of the interior.  Bearing witness were thousands of musicians names – etched into the glass.  I would assume that all are associated with ‘Jazz in the City’ and ‘SF Jazz’ in some way.

tile mural 2 039Upstairs a large tiled mural gave the history of the Bay area Jazz scene.  Names like Hampton Hawes and clubs like the Black Hawk will resonate strongly with Jazz lovers.  This town has a commendable history of producing fine musicians and with SF Jazz’s focus on education we can expect this to continue.

The day unfolded like most San Francisco winter days with sunshine streaming out of an azure blue sky.  Everyone was smiling and back slapping and then out of nowhere came a joyous blast of music.  It was hardly as if the collective mood needed further elevation, but just in case, the ‘Bourbon Kings’ came marching up the street New Orleans style.  At their forefront were mesmerising dancers twirling colourful ribbon-trimmed umbrellas, who swayed and whirled like dervishes in a trance.  Just how many musicians were playing it was impossible to discern, as the scene quickly became a melee of musicians, crowd and excited dogs.   It was the first time that I had witnessed a Second Line style marching band and I will not forget it in a hurry.   It was like watching the history of Jazz marching into the present.

Just before the ceremony a work by Jacob Garchik (The Heavens: Atheist Gospel Choir) was performed – titled ‘Creations Creation’.   This was call and response and when the street musicians called, those on the various balconies responded.  At one point a small terrier dog joined in (two calls on trombone elicited two happy barks, three calls three barks).   This was not planned for, but entirely appropriate in a city that has so many cheerful dogs.

The speeches that followed acknowledged all of those who had worked toward this end and congratulatory messages from the likes of Nancy Pelosi the Democratic Leader gave the proceedings a sense of moment.   The audience overflowed with local dignitaries, among them Jazz legend Bobby Hutcherson and the much respected former Mayor Hon Willie Brown Jr. (also a former member of the State Legislature). His commitment to SF Jazz goes back a long way.  I spoke to Bobby Huthcherson briefly after the ceremony.   He is not in good health but will be performing with McCoy Tyner and others this week at his SF Jazz Centre birthday celebration.  Before we parted company he looked at me with a smile and said.  “When you return to New Zealand, don’t let them put you on a plane to Oakland”.  San Franciscans love the story about the man who purchased an air ticket for Oakland and ended up in Auckland much to his surprise.  SFJC 033

John Santos (Resident Musical Director) said with emotion, “San Francisco you got your soul back”.  Randall Kline also spoke powerfully. “They told us that this couldn’t be done, that the market was not geared toward assisting the arts at this time.  We involved the community and they said go ahead and we succeeded.  This is a powerful message to the markets – markets need to follow the community not the other way round”.  Inside there was a short film and live music performed by the SF Jazz High School All Stars.   If this performance sets the standard then Jazz is in very good shape.  Education, performance, and community involvement are at the heart of this establishment.   With rotating Resident Artistic Directors like Regina Carter, Jason Moran, John Santos, Bill Frisell and others the centre can only do well.

A poet laureate and a photography laureate have also been appointed and this impresses me no end.   Jazz, poetry and photography belong together and especially in San Francisco.

In the coming months the following musicians will have residencies:  Bill Frisell, Dave Holland, Hiromi, Zakir Hussain,Brad Melhdau, Bela Fleck and John Santos.  This is interspersed with a program of visiting and local artists.

The opening was on Martin Luther King Jr day and that was no accident.  Martin Luther King understood very well the importance of Jazz and he spoke movingly of its importance.

“Much of our power in the Freedom Movement has come from this music.  It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail.  It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down. And now, Jazz is exported to the world, for in the struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man”.

I urge Jazz lovers everywhere to visit San Francisco (and the SF Jazz Centre).  It is certainly an ideal destination for New Zealanders.  The eleven hour flight is not that onerous and the fact that you can bypass the hell of LAX is the icing on the cake.  Do it people and don’t forget to support the artists in the Jazz clubs and other venues.

The opening night is streamed below by NPR (KQED) and you can listen by following the link.  Grab a beer and nibbles and enjoy – I sure did.


IMG_1648drummer Bourbon Kings 037dancing girl

Happy New Year – JazzLocal32.com


Thanks to everyone who reads and visits JazzLocal32.com and particularly the musicians and Jazz lovers who let me into their lives, many of whom are close friends.

Improvised music is a profound manifestation of the human condition and a loadstone to guide us on. It tells us that we can reach beyond the known and touch an illusive world of new possibilities; but only if we adjust our perspective.

It is the job of musicians, writers, visual artists and poets to challenge, interpret and shock. Jazz musicians understand this better than many Jazz fans. Life can be stunningly beautiful and ordered but profound realisations can also arise from discord. These conditions are not separate but co-dependent refractions from life’s experience.

I dedicate this post to the musical risk takers who ride currents that we cannot see but which we experience through them.

Early Jazz confounded listeners as it was unknown to them. Swing took ten years to replace two beat Jazz and beBop ten years to displace the later. Jazz does not stand still anymore than life does. It is not a museum.

Whether we listen to avant-garde, fusion, funk, swing or post bop it comes from the same restless explorations if played with integrity. My wish for everyone who enjoys this music is that they will become more adventurous.

The Creative Jazz Club in Auckland has a genius for expanding our horizons and by feeding club goers a varied diet it stretches our ears. We don’t have to like everything we hear but we should be respectful of the act of creation.


I am writing this from one of the great Jazz cities of the world (San Francisco) and Jazz is deep in the DNA of this place. On New Year’s Eve there were a lot of unimaginative ear splitting DJ events but Jazz coexisted and held its ground.

To paraphrase John Zorn there are blocks of sound everywhere – it just needs someone to interpret and arrange them. No manifestation of sound is invalid. The musicians do the rest and we are an integral part of the result.

We are all poets and musicians in our way if we stretch out observe and above all listen with fresh ears.

I was in a nice eatery two nights ago and a fine musician Terrance Brewer was playing smoking Jazz guitar. In the first break I went up and told him how much I had enjoyed the group and his playing. Next break he came and spoke with us – giving me two of his CDs as gifts.

The Jazz community is truly a universal family and because I listened and acknowledged the music we connected as kindred spirits.

Happy new year to my jazz family – I love you all.

listen LISTEN

Written on the road from the wonderful liberal San Francisco ( as a guide book said – Republicans and the unhip risk being run out of town).

John Fenton

PS – I now own the domain name JazzLocal32.com


Heavy Metal Bliss – Alan, Roger & Denise

The Roger Fox Wellington Big Band is an in-the-pocket unit and sitting in front of that band is to experience a blast from the Jazz slip stream.   Listening to their hard swinging and tightly focused delivery it was difficult to believe that this was a home-grown band and that they had only been together for around 18 months.    There were of course some veterans in the line up (Colin Hemmingsen – tenor) and above all there was Roger Fox, the man in firm control.   Like all good leaders he teased the very best out of his band.

First up was San Francisco based Denise Perrier who was a very pleasant surprise.   It was as if Carmen McCrae had been conjured into our midst.   Denise is very talented and a real crowd pleaser in the best possible way.   Her powerful smokey bluesy voice and sassy manner were the perfect foils for well executed tunes; enhanced by a killer band.   Starting with ‘easy street’ she moved on to a lovely version of Tom Jobims ‘Wave‘ (it is impossible to praise this tune highly enough). Her version of ‘stormy weather’ was  original and tasteful, followed by ‘every day (I have the blues)‘ which was so evocative of Count Basie that I kept expecting Sweets Edison and Pres to do walk-ons.  The other stand-out tracks were Harold Arlens ‘Oh what a beautiful morning‘ – (a brave but good choice) and ‘God Bless the Child‘ – Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog.

Wellington Jazz pianist Anita Schwabe appeared undaunted by the presence of Alan Broadbent standing a mere few feet away and this does her credit.  Anita showed her skill that night and to say that her parents (who sat just in front of us) were proud would be a gross understatement.   Nick Tipping (Charmaine Ford trio) was on upright bass and Lance Philip drums.  This is a band which works hard to keep a tight sound and the payoff was the magic that we all experienced.  The nuances of colour that the band members were able to elicit was down to three things; the perfect charts, the leader and the fact that the band members all doubled on other instruments.   This created a wonderfully rich sound-palette to draw from.

While great credit should go to Roger and his band the night also belonged to Alan’s unbelievably well crafted charts.    As Alan said when he addressed the capacity crowd at the start of the second half, “tonight covers a 40 year journey in music – thank you for sharing it with me’.    Roger had been trying to get together with Alan for many years and had often suggested that they work together.    A while ago, out of the blue, he started receiving ‘charts’ from Alan and he quipped, “I became worried about what it would cost me because there is a lot of money to be made in Jazz and especially big-band Jazz”.   Woody Herman and Basie may have been the sub-text but Alan Broadbent was the heart and soul of the evening.

Kiwi jazz fans love Alan’s work and we boast about his Kiwi beginnings at every opportunity.  Alan has written some of the nicest tunes in jazz, but hearing his arrangements played by gifted Kiwi musicians added a new dimension.  Alan, played a few trio numbers and ‘alone together‘ by Schwartz/Dietz was one of the few standards played.   Among Alan’s compositions we heard ‘Bebop & Roses’ ,’Journey Home’, ‘Don’t ask why’, ‘The long white cloud’, ‘Sugar Loaf mountain’, ‘Far in (74)’, and more.

The second half had opened with ‘Journey Home‘, which is the tile track on the new Roger Fox Big Band CD featuring this nights music.   I urge you to grab a copy now; not only because you will enjoy it, but because you will be supporting the best of Kiwi Music.   Better yet, go and see this band as well and tell your friends to come with you.  See ‘event-finder‘ for gigs.

San Francisco and Kiwi connections

My son and daughter in law have just moved to San Francisco and the goodbyes have been hard.    I watched them go through the departure gate with very mixed emotions – pride at what they had achieved and the inevitable sadness of a loving parent waving goodbye (my son is the CTO and co-founder of an IT company expanding into America).     He reminded me that Darien and I would have two good excuses to visit them as often as we could – family reunification and world-class Jazz.

He is right because San Francisco is one of the worlds great Jazz cities.   The city is at present building one of the worlds biggest dedicated Jazz centres.    It will be the first such centre in America totally dedicated to Jazz performance and education and it is expected to become a world-wide tourist attraction.    San Francisco is the home of the SF Jazz Collective and this amazing group is formed around Jazz Festival time each year.  They feature the compositions of one artist each year and to augment the already stellar lineup they invite a few top rated Jazz musicians to fill the guest spots.   This year they feature the music of Stevie Wonder – whose music is increasingly attaining Jazz standard status.   The bass player is Aucklander Matt Penman; who went through the Auckland School of music a few years earlier than my son.   Matt now plays at the top levels of Jazz and he tours America (and the world) with Jazz super-groups.   He is a core member of the SF Jazz Collective.    I have posted a link for this years San Francisco Jazz Festival which starts this week.    I would certainly pay good money to see the Eliane Elias quartet and that is on tomorrow night.    There are a number of free concerts and many headline acts (seeing hip-chic Ricky Lee Jones would be cool – remember her – married to Tom Waits once).     The big item will inevitably be the SF Jazz Collective though.    I will post a link to their site – so that you listen to a SFJC clip – Stevie Wonders ‘suspicion’.

This city is the home of the famous ‘Yoshi’s’ Jazz club and the Fillmore East (Miles and our own Mike Nock entertained huge audiences of hippies there).    There is a great Festival in mid summer which is in the Bay area – the ‘Fillmore Jazz Festival’.  This is a free festival dedicated to jazz and food and it occurs around the weekend of the 4th July.     I hope to keep you posted on these events as I will be attending vicariously – I have just appointed my son as a forward scout – ‘our man in SF’.