Each year, the city of San Diego disburses a big pot of money to local arts organizations from the tax charged on local hotel rooms. Among the nearly 80 groups receiving support last year were the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company ($148,000), the Horton Plaza Theatres Foundation ($274,000), the La Jolla Chamber Music Society ($31,000), the La Jolla Playhouse ($120,000), the San Diego Master Chorale ($9,000), Installation Gallery ($20,000) and the San Diego Opera ($300,000).
Jazz, too, received backing, but barely enough to do a handful of decent shows by local musicians. The San Diego Jazz Festival was the only jazz organization funded; it took home a whopping $5,000.
This year, the city has another chance to show how much it cares about jazz, as it gives out about $5 million from the bed tax fund. The San Diego Jazz Festival, a nonprofit group that went through some lean years but is back with a board of directors who help it gain financial support, is asking for $25,000. It would present a series of free local concerts at a variety of locations.
Submitting a very similar idea is the newly named San Diego Jazz Society, formerly the North Coast Jazz Society, which wants $5,000--also for a series of free concerts, primarily in downtown San Diego and Balboa Park.
The two organizations try to seem tolerant of each other, but there’s apparently no love lost.
“All I can say about the San Diego Jazz Festival is more power to them, but I don’t think they have a lock on presenting jazz here,” said John Lawrence, head of the society. “In fact, they were defunct for two years.”
Last year, Lawrence’s group applied for money but didn’t receive any. He was told a “North Coast” organization couldn’t be funded, so he changed the name to “San Diego.” Hence, the new “San Diego Jazz Society,” which could easily be confused with “San Diego Jazz Festival.”
“If I chose to be annoyed, I could be,” said Al Rubottom, president of the San Diego Jazz Festival’s board. “They’ve changed their name from North Coast Jazz Society, which they are, except for a concert at the Educational Cultural Complex last year, to San Diego Jazz Society, which confuses people. That will further dilute people’s perception of who’s doing what; that’s unfortunate. Our efforts over the years to promote jazz and the awareness of a local nonprofit organization have been a tremendous critical success and financial hardship. Someone else waving the same banner is welcome in theory, but what typically happens is goals become confused to other people, to the arts commission.”
Rubottom is referring to the city’s new 15-member Commission for Arts & Culture. This fiscal year, for the first time, it will recommend to the San Diego City Council which arts organizations should be funded and at what levels.
Of course, the best of all worlds would be for both jazz groups to receive money. But there is no way to predict which directions the commission will lean. None of its members, appointed by the mayor, are direct participants in local jazz, nor do any of them jump out as major supporters of the music. The City Council makes all final decisions, and Rubottom doesn’t see much cause for optimism there, either.
“I don’t think we’ve got any allies to speak of on the council,” he said. “I haven’t heard from anyone.”
For $30,000, both the jazz society and the jazz festival would get what they want. And we’d all get some great music. Out of $5 million, that doesn’t seem a lot to ask of the council when it makes its final decision in June.
There are more sparks between San Diego’s yuppie jazz stations than you’ll usually get from their musical lineups. Elario’s is the latest prize in the war between “The Wave,” KSWV-FM (102.9), and KIFM (98.1). After receiving offers from both stations, the jazz club has joined with KIFM to present “Jazz at Elario’s” Wednesday nights.
This is great news for local fans of mainstream jazz. It means that KIFM will, for the first time, be promoting concerts by artists like Kenny Burrell, Kenny Barron and Joe Pass. The first KIFM night at Elario’s March 8 drew an enthusiastic crowd to hear guitarist Burrell with Tommy Flanagan on piano.
In almost any local music store, you won’t have trouble finding albums by the popular jazz musicians featured on local commercial radio. But finding a copy of an album like “Live at Fat Tuesday’s,” the newest from jazz pianist Kenny Barron, is another matter. Tower Records on Sports Arena Boulevard doesn’t have it. Neither does The Wherehouse in Encinitas. Lou’s Records in Encinitas, a small but very hip store, had a few copies but sold them all.
“For some reason, the records don’t seem to be available everywhere,” said Barron, who opened a two-week stay at Elario’s last night. “When ENJA (his record label) entered into a distribution agreement with MUSE, I thought things would be better, but it hasn’t turned out that way.”
Barron, who’s played with people like Lee Morgan, Stan Getz, Buddy Rich, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams over the years, laments the lack of a viable club scene in cities across the nation. He’s taught at Rutgers for 17 years to support his artistic freedom.
Later this year, he’ll tour Europe with sax player Stan Getz, who’s helped awaken his interest in Brazilian music.
“Aside from the rhythms, which are infectious, their approach to harmony is very interesting, the way they move chords,” Barron said. “It’s quite different from North American.”