Like a pack of funky nomads, the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop has managed to go from venue to venue while keeping it’s "all about the jazz" mantra alive and well.
Since starting in September of 2006, the workshop has gone through five different locations including The Nile and Le Corusse Rouge — the latest being The Mark restaurant — before finding its new home at Temblor Brewing Co. Although Temblor's cavernous yet comfy aesthetic is light years from the warm-red cozy, almost surreal bistro vibe of The Mark, there is one feature about the brewery that makes the workshop's move a positive one: space.
“On behalf of the workshop," said workshop founder and CEO Steve Eisen, "we wanted to thank The Mark for a wonderful two-and-a-half years. They were outstanding and we had some great jam sessions. They were there for us. Temblor will allow us to expand our wings more by virtue that its performance area is much larger and we’ll be able to bring in more high school, and hopefully middle school, big band jazz ensembles and orchestras.”
(With an opening in its weekday lineup, The Mark is now hosting a weekly open-mic night Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. The event is hosted by the Jay Smith Group, including me as house drummer, with sound provided by Professional Live Sound Solutions.)
“We’re incredibly excited about it,” said Temblor’s co-founder Don Bynum. “We've always wanted to have Temblor be supportive of the local music scene ... but having professional musicians like the guys that are going to be here for the Jazz Workshop is a whole other level. I think me, as a musician, and (co-founder) Tom (Maxwell) as a partner and as a musician, are just elated that we can watch these professional musicians in this place do their thing. We are so very excited and hoping we can bring a lot of people to enjoy it.”
The workshop’s main three elements will remain the same every Tuesday. First is a beginning jazz combo class from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. where students of all ages, under the tutelage of saxophonist John Calo, will learn about chord changes and form while performing various jazz standards.
“The kids really thrive on that,” Eisen said.
The second element is a concert from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. by a professional ensemble. Upcoming concerts will be the neo-soul band The JD Experience on July 3 featuring drummer Jason Seals and vocalist Austyn Williams; John Calo’s Summer Fusion Band on July 10; a reunion of the fun local big band Southside Chicago Seven on July 17; The Bakersfield Jazz Orchestra on July 24 and L.A. trombonist Michael Vlatkovich and guitarist Tom McNally who will be backed by an ensemble of top-shelf local talent, including trumpeter Kris Tiner, on July 31. (Visit bakersfieldjazzworkshop.com for more information.)
“These are musicians that really enjoy playing for people that really enjoy listening,” Eisen said. “A musician loves that more than anything in the world when people are actually lending their ears; where the music is about the present tense.”
And lastly, a pro-level jam session will be held from 8:30 to 10 p.m. where musicians of all styles are welcome to sit in and try their hand at swing.
“It’s a formula that we feel is working,” Eisen said. “We have Laura Booker (the workshop's manager) who has a system of organization where she can identify all the players and match them all up by skill and styles.”
The best part? You don’t really have to know a lot about jazz to attend the workshop. Whether it’s the intro combo class or the pro jam, there is something for most musicians — even if you don’t know the difference between hard bop and fusion. Little by little, musicians will try their hand at improvisation, and eventually learn why jazz is sometimes referred to as “the sound of surprise.”
But the workshop’s primary mission is in reaching out to younger students. The health and future of any musical culture is dependent on the youth picking it up. They have to be mentored, fostered and inspired, or else their talent and opportunities will wither. Some schools are frequent visitors to the workshop: The Tevis Junior High School band has performed the workshop’s Christmas concert for the last five years and the Shafter High School band came to the workshop in April with around 30 students at Eisen’s count.
“That's really a big goal of ours: to really reach out into the community," he said. "We can do it with confidence; really beefing up our education division and reaching out and bringing more artists and clinicians and do that with the confidence knowing we have the space.”
The workshop also hosts annual fundraising concerts featuring first-call players that help pay for scholarships given to deserving instrumentalists and vocalists in their advancement of music education. The concerts are usually performances by some real heavy-hitters and you’ll see just about every local jazz who’s-who at them, just like it did most recently at the fundraising concert by keyboardist Haakon Graf.
“We have a lot of great jazz players in Bakersfield. A lot of great jazz players," Eisen said. "Per capita, I bet we’re as good as anybody in the country. It’s a small town, but we have some killer musicians. We have just as good of a scene here, I really believe this, than much larger cities.”
The Bakersfield Jazz Workshop is held Tuesdays from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at Temblor Brewing Co., 3200 Buck Owens Blvd, Suite 200. Free admission; backline is provided, but guitarists are encouraged to bring their guitars and cables and drummers their own sticks, snare and cymbals.
Get The Runaround at Riley's
Sleeping Pills (Tampa), Tall Dark and The Runaround, 9 p.m. July 7, Riley's Tavern, 1523 19th St. $5.
Sleeping Pills, a dreamy, goth, slightly surf-rock outfit from Tampa that will perform at Riley’s Tavern on July 7, looks to be fun and entertainingly gloomy. If one of the stars of your music collection is Sisters of Mercy’s “First, Last and Always," check out the Pills’ single “Drift Away.” Tall Dark (formerly Tall Dark & 90) will also perform and is also highly recommended.
But try to make it early. The show is the debut of The Runaround; a new local indie-rock group comprised of three singers/bandleaders/sidemen of some notable local acts: Geoffrey Dyer, the frontman for Liftonpoole and guitarist for The Iron Outlaws (in which I also play); Joey Romley, the frontman for Backup Johnny and keyboardist/guitarist for popular 1980s tribute band Members Only; and Kenny Reeves, who fronts his own solo band and performs with Romley in Backup Johnny. Mike Foster, formerly of Since July and also Liftonpoole, rounds out the quartet on drums and serves as the group’s connecting core, having played with each of the other members.
“Mike comes from a background of playing in church and improvising,” said Dyer. "He’s probably the best listener of any musician I’ve ever played with.”
The band's songs are very interesting because each of the members adds very different elements to the tunes, creating a ragged alchemy. Towering T Rex-guitars meet The Cars-style synth, accordion, tight harmonies and acoustic guitar in some sort of musical time-travel overlap. If you ever wondered what Ben Folds, Ryan Adams and Neil Young would sound like in a band together, here you go.
“Everyone is welcome to bring whatever they’re working on,” Dyer said, “and we all jump in and support each other’s efforts.”
“… There have been no disagreements. I don’t think anyone has ever told anyone else what to play or not play, and I can’t remember any arguments about structures or arrangements. So far, it’s been an atmosphere of trust and respect where anything goes and everyone’s contributions are valued.”
Their music can be found online at therunaroundgroup.com. For now, there aren’t any grand plans, which is refreshing to hear from a local band. Especially one composed of mostly dads (Reeves is the only member sans children) with full-time careers. They want to keep rehearsing and recording, which they’ve been doing simultaneously for the last 11 months at Dyer’s home studio and play a few shows in and out of town. No stress; all fire.
“I’d like for us to consistently, sporadically release new songs that make people happy,” Dyer said. “It would be rad if the music could make someone’s day a little better or be of some practical use to people, like the soundtrack of a summer barbecue where everyone has a good time, swims and burps a little.”
“One thing we joked about at an early session was that at shows we’d have to get up, run around, and switch instruments. The runaround.”
Streets of Bakersfield Comedy Showcase, featuring Agostina Zoida, Chris Flail, Lee Syatt, Eddie Molina and Tony Martins, hosted by Daniel Betts 7 p.m. Friday, Rocket Shop Cafe, 2000 S. Union Ave.; 18 and over; $10 (plus fee) at eventbrite.com.
Zoida is a Southern California-based comedian who's had two comedy specials on Fuse TV and has written for "American Horror Story"(!) and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," which is reason enough to go check out his own brand of sharp observational humor. He's also opened for comedian and local favorite Joey Diaz and is a perfect fit for this scrappy comedy show happening this Friday at the Rocket Shop Cafe. It's a bit of a drive but the funny is worth it. Get there early as the room tends to fill up.