A Performance and Education Oasis
Jazz at the Mansion, Oakland, CA, October 25, 2015
Written by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes
In 1984, co-founder and Executive Director Stacey Hoffman had a vision: to empower children and adults, inspire creative growth and unite diverse communities. Living Jazz was created and has established rich programs for the education and performance of music, dance and vocal arts of jazz and related genres. Today, Living Jazz is one of the premiere jazz immersion programs with a stellar staff of world renowned artists, including the Bay Area’s Faye Carol, Marcus Shelby, Bobby McFerrin, Pete Escovedo and Eddie Pasternak.
Asked about her motivation for co-founding Living Jazz, Hoffman said, “The inspiration was originally to save a faltering summer music program that I had attended, but, as the years passed, I saw so many gaps in opportunities for jazz enthusiasts (both in terms of education and performance opportunities), that I began to design and launch programs. Now, 32 years later, I continue to be just as inspired and humbled by our accomplishments and impact.”
Jazz Camp West was the first venture—an eight-day program for instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers set in the redwoods of La Honda in Northern California. Then followed the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Oakland Jazz Choir, Jazz Camp Weekend, Jam Camp West, Jazz Search West and, finally, the Living Jazz Children’s project. Over 50,000 participants, from ages 5-90, have passed through Living Jazz programs. It is open to all skill levels, economic and cultural backgrounds, and provides financial aid to 20% of all students.
A major fundraising gala was held on October 25 for the 7-day Jam Camp West program, designed for kids 10-15 years old. Set in the stunning redwoods of Loma Mar, Jam Camp inspires its students to create, learn and participate in contemporary music and take away lifelong memories and friendships. The opening performer of the event was Leah Dobson, a young jazz singer and former student. Performing “My Funny Valentine,” she is evidence of Living Jazz’s mission statement.
The special musical guest was pianist Jovino Santos Neto, three-time Grammy nominee, arranger and composer. Taking time out of his busy touring and teaching schedule, Jovino is a mainstay at Jazz Camp West where he is an inspiration. He performed two compositions created at Jazz Camp, “De Vez em Quando” (“Once in a While”) and “Ponta Fina.” Backed by jazz virtuosos David Flores on drums, Ami Molinelli on percussion and Scott Thompson on bass, Jovino paid tribute to his mentor Hermeto Pascoal with a version of the lovely ballad “Campinas,” and set the crowd on fire with a rousing original Brazilian samba entitled “Festa de Erê.”
I spoke with Living Jazz student and jazz pianist Lorenzo Kristov, who enjoys the “all-immersive nature of the week-long camps.” He couldn’t speak highly enough of the “no ego, family atmosphere and supportive nature” of Jazz Camp West. Similarly, Faye Carol, a longtime teacher, raved about her experiences. Living Jazz is a SF Bay Area jewel with excellent goals and the means to deliver on them.
For more information about Living Jazz, visit livingjazz.org.