San Ramon library to present fall jazz concerts
By Lou Fancher
The best live sound out loud is found at San Ramon’s newly renovated public library.
Floating on a musical legacy launched in 1996 by former branch librarian Joyce Gunn, live jazz is king — and queen — of special events produced courtesy of the nonprofit San Ramon Library Foundation.
An annual “Adventure in Jazz” concert series begun when the Smithsonian Institution’s first traveling jazz exhibit featuring Duke Ellington was presented at the library — along with 31 public programs and educational activities — will expand this year to include a new gala.
The “A Jazz Affair” celebrations Aug. 26 will include hors d’oeuvres, desserts and wine enjoyed while being entertained by Bay Area jazz standouts including vocalists Kim Nalley and Kenny Washington; violinist Mads Tolling; and musicians Anton Schwartz, John R. Burr, Michael Zisman and Kent Bryson. Funds raised by the event will support the library’s extensive jazz collection and scholarships for young musicians, according to Barbara Natale, a Jazz Committee and Foundation board member.
“The most rewarding aspect of volunteering (on the committee and board) is to promote quality, live music in our area,” says Natale. The jazz programs, she says, enrich the community and offer young musicians opportunities to perform with professionals. Having lived in the Tri-Valley since 1981 and attended live jazz performances on average three times a week, Natale provided recommendations for selecting the artists for the gala.
Washington, Tolling and Schwartz have performed in the jazz series in the past. Natale says all of the artists were enthusiastic when asked to support the foundation’s efforts to fill the library’s recently expanded shelves with books, CDs and DVDs. Schwartz’s father, Tony Schwartz, was an ad man who donated his advertising archives to the Smithsonian.
“There is also a book about the senior Schwartz’s career and his contributions to the national scene,” says Natale, “so Anton is very interested in seeing our libraries succeed and promoting music in the libraries.”
The opportunity to perform in a new space adds extra excitement. Foundation President Linda Henika says, “The venue will be far better because the jazz series was held in a small, cramped area that fit 60 to 80 people at most. Now we can have up to 150, and they’ll be comfortable.”
The renovation has also added two listening rooms that are connected via Bluetooth to a WiFi-enabled Wurlitzer jukebox — and thereby linked to its supply of 45-rpm vinyl singles. The entire jazz collection, one of the country’s 10 largest jazz collections accessible to the public, in 2014 included more than 2,000 CDs, 125 videos, 220 books and a variety of subscriptions to jazz magazines.
“We’ve been closed for 18 months during the renovation, so the numbers are likely the same. We had to ask people to hold off on donations and stop acquisitions, but I expect that will change now,” says Henika.
Attendance at the jazz concerts and in general is also on the upswing.
The gala concert will include two sets of just less than 60-minutes with repertoire from Ellington and compositions associated with Ella Fitzgerald, to mark the 100-year anniversary of her birth. Linked as the two legendary artists are — to each other through jazz — Natale says she would “never presume to tell an artist specifically what to play or sing,” but she did request the program be “a nod” to their music.
Asked if the new, larger space could lead to an expansion of the four- to six-program jazz series, Henika hedged. “That’s up to the jazz committee. We at the board haven’t heard any mention of expanding — but we’re open to their ideas.” In the meantime, there will be plenty of fine live and recorded tunes available to listen to at the San Ramon library.