San Francisco has long been a mecca for jazz, from ragtime and blues in the Barbary Coast to a traditional revival in the 1940s and innovators in the 1950s. By the early 1980s, The City was home to many world-class artists.
In June 1983, desiring to showcase this talent, young music promoters Randall Kline and Clinton Gilbert launched the inaugural Jazz in the City Festival. The two-day event at Herbst Theatre featured an eclectic, all-Bay Area lineup, but was not a success. Undaunted, the team got the formula right the next year, and Bay Area audiences have enjoyed hearing an amazing mix of musicians – newcomers and well-established – from around the corner and around the world ever since.
Now called SFJAZZ, the nonprofit has become “the world’s leading cultural institution devoted to jazz and related forms of music,” presenting more than 300 concerts annually throughout the region. The coffee table book “SFJAZZ: The First 30 Years,” commemorating the group’s anniversary and celebrating its new permanent home in Hayes Valley, is a beautiful record of, and tribute to, its rich history.
Bookended between critic Jesse Hamlin’s foreword and a useful index, the handsome volume, produced by Chronicle Books’ custom publishing department, is largely pictorial. Credited to three dozen photographers, the images of artists in performance are beautifully reproduced in color and black-and-white. The well-designed volume is a visual delight, even if in places the black text on colored pages is challenging to read.
The narrative chronicles the organization’s development, accented with profiles of masters including drummer Tony Williams, saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Larry Grenadier, and many more. “Youth in Jazz Stars” included are saxophonist Joshua Redman, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and the Le Boeuf Brothers, Remy (saxophone) and Pascal (piano).
A remarkable diversity of artists appear. For example, in 1994, SFJAZZ presented Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan’s reunion at Davies Symphony Hall. Abbey Lincoln and Betty Carter teamed up for the first time at Great American Music Hall. And saxophonist Sonny Simmons, homeless for years and playing for change on the streets, was discovered by artistic director Kline, who invited him to open for Branford Marsalis at Masonic Auditorium.
Each SFJAZZ lineup, from 1983-2012, is listed. The volume also profiles five resident artistic directors as well as board members and staff. The final chapter focuses on the SFJAZZ Center. The innovative, versatile building, which opened in 2013, represented a dream come true for the group, which didn’t previously have a space of its own. “SFJAZZ: The First 30 Years” is not only a treasured souvenir for longtime SFJAZZ members. The handsome publication is a welcome reminder of the ever-evolving legacy of The City’s vibrant jazz scene for casual attendees and neophytes as well.
SFJAZZ: The First 30 Years
By: Susan Wels (text), Jesse Hamlin (foreward)
Published by: Chronicle Books for SFJAZZ