Sep 29, 2011
On Sept. 21, the silence in the Kate Buchannan Room on HSU’s campus was burst by the powerful yet playful tenor saxophone of Donny McCaslin. He and his band, the Donny McCaslin Group, launched the Redwood Jazz Alliance’s sixth season, which runs through April 25, 2012.
In 2005, a group of three HSU faculty members and three Humboldt community members worked together to form the Redwood Jazz Alliance. Those six founding members became the Board for the alliance.
“Everybody on the Board knew somebody else before we got together. We were like the ‘jazz guys’ of Humboldt County,” says Dan Aldag, Professor of Music at HSU. Although they were able to catch a lot of great acts that Center Arts brought to town, many talented, but lesser known acts weren’t coming to Humboldt County.
“You’d have to drive five or six hours to the Bay Area to see them,” Aldag says. “We thought, why not see if we can get these artists to come here?”
But the alliance wasn’t formed just so the ‘jazz guys’ wouldn’t have to drive long-distance to catch a swinging show. In fact, it was formed with the specific idea of bringing in visiting artists to not only perform at affordable ticket prices, but to hold educational workshops on campus as well.
“The artists that we invite tend to be playing music that’s fairly complex. It’s interesting to meet with them at a workshop the next morning to learn about what they’re doing in their music,” Aldag says. “You might have enjoyed the show the night before, but you get another chance to really appreciate and understand the music at the workshop.”
Artists generally hold their workshops the morning after the performance. Anyone from campus and the community is invited to participate. Regardless of whether they are familiar with the artists or whether they attended the performance, Aldag believes there’s something in it for everyone.
“It’s a chance to interact with these world-class artists, to ask them questions and learn about what they do,” Aldag says. “It’s inspiring to be around people who are so passionate about what they do.”
And there’s a lot in it for the artists too, Aldag says.
While many jazz acts perform at nightclubs and other social settings where the music isn’t the main focus, Redwood Jazz Alliance shows tend to bring in audiences that are enthusiastic and open-minded. In fact, the alliance has such a good reputation with jazz artists that more and more of them are seeking out the Humboldt audience.
With an average of six shows per season, there are plenty of interesting and innovative acts to see and hear. Although some may have missed the sixth-season debut with the Donny McCaslin Group, the next alliance show is the David Binney Third Occassion Quartet, set to perform Oct. 6 in HSU’s Kate Buchanan Room.
Other concerts this season will include performances by Ani DiFranco drummer Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth and South Asian infused jazz from Rez Abbasi’s Invocation Quintet.
Aldag credits the alliance’s success to great support from the university and the community. Community members and local businesses sponsor the program to help keep ticket prices at $15 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. Both HSU President Rollin Richmond and Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science, Ken Ayoob have lent their backing to the workshops, while Music Department support includes providing equipment and facilities, as well as additional funding.
“Over these six seasons, it’s been smooth and trouble-free,” Aldag says. “We’ve got quite a winning streak going.”