Tracking jazz in Sacramento can be a little like transcribing a solo by your favorite player. Sometimes the flurry of activity, which while not quite a Coltranish sheet of sound, does feel like a lot of notes in a short period of time. Currently plenty of jazz notes are being played around Sacramento in bars, clubs and concert halls in what feels like a sudden groundswell.
The Sacramento jazz scene has ebbed and flowed (as have other live music scenes) for the last couple of decades.
There has always been a fluidity to local venues and natural generational shift of players. Vivian Lee’s Sunday night series at JB’s Lounge ended one of the region’s longest runs when it went dark in 2014 after 10 years. Luna’s Nebraska Monday series moves into its eighth year. The Shady Lady regularly has jazz in its live music rotation, and there are significant weekend sets at Station 1, a second-story room above Burgers and Brew in West Sacramento. Oak Park’s Arthur Henry’s has regular Friday night jazz, and it’s nearly impossible to keep track of sporadic jazz events at venues such as Shine, Antique Maison, the Crocker Museum, Beatnik Studios and even the On Broadway.
Still, a dedicated room for jazz remains elusive. Pianist Dave Bass who often produces his own concerts wrote in an email: “The state of jazz here is that there are many talented musicians and no true jazz venues – that is to say, a venue that can be relied on to have consistently good music presented in a way that allows the music to be heard.”
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Hoping to do something about that is Sacramento Jazz Co-op, an organization founded by Carolyn Swayze with the goal of finding a place of its own “to further the cause of jazz education and performance.”
A lifetime lover of jazz and former big band singer, Swayze has lived in Sacramento for nearly 20 years. After attending a 2016 sold-out Wynton Marsalis concert at the Mondavi Center, Swayze wondered where all those people came from and, more importantly, if she could get them to come out for jazz in Sacramento.
She specifically wanted a concert setting for jazz, a listening room rather than a place where people came to have drinks or dinner and a band plays off in the corner.
“Instead of complaining, I decided I’m going to see what I can do to expand on the jazz market in Sacramento,” Swayze said.
Swayze studied how jazz was being presented around the country and figured a nonprofit organization was needed. She formed one in September last year.
She spoke with musicians who were responsive and encouraging, eventually deciding on the CLARA Studios auditorium in midtown as the performance venue. She configures the space with tables and chairs to seat about 100 people. There were fundraising concerts in December. (She booked herself for one of them.) The first show drew about 45 people, and the second had more than 60.
The numbers have continued to tick upward, and Swayze hopes to grow the organization through audience memberships. There is another series of concerts this month before the organization settles into a modest schedule of two concerts a month, every other month with $25 tickets.
The concerts have mostly featured top locally based artists such as Darius Babazadeh and Joe Gilman, with some outside guests such as the nationally known vocalist Jackie Ryan and legendary Bay Area saxophonist Mel Martin. The last two shows of the February series feature the Jacam Manricks Quartet (Monday, Feb. 20) and pianist Bass with a sextet (Monday, Feb. 27).
Saxophonist and composer Manricks is a relative newcomer to the Sacramento scene, relocating here three years ago with his wife, who is a research dermatologist for UC Davis, and their three young children. Manricks fronts an impressive resume of achievement but also is likely to a continue raising the bar for local musicianship.
An Australian by way of New York with a master’s degree in jazz composition/arranging from William Paterson University and a Ph.D. from the Manhattan School of Music, Manricks is a formidable modern alto player with a vibrant, slightly reedy tone and a thoughtful broad-based composer. Manricks’ day job is director of jazz theory and composition at the UC Davis.
Manricks has recorded four very solid albums (“Labyrinth,” “Trigonometry,” “Cloud Nine” and “Chamber Jazz”) which include highly regarded internationally known players as collaborators. Here he’ll focus on music from last year’s “Chamber Jazz” with Tim Metz on drums, George Ban Wiess on bass, and Joe Gilman on piano.
“The idea was to put together an album that is concert hall-type material,” Manricks said, “the virtuosity we hear in extremely high-level jazz and classical music with some freedom and space for improvisation.”
Manricks has made some intentionally complex music, and though he doesn’t think he’s dumming it down, he does want his concert selections to be audience-friendly.
“This music combines a lot complexity, but also with a sense of accessibility,” Manricks said.
Gilman has his own wide-ranging reputation based on his respected recordings and a long professional association with late vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Earlier this year when Gilman was asked by SFJAZZ to recreate the Dave Brubeck “Time Out” album, he brought along Manricks to play the Paul Desmond alto parts. The show will repeated here in April.
Gilman has also recorded with Manricks at the saxophonist’s home studio and has high praise for him.
“Jacam’s an incredible musician, and his music’s very challenging,” Gilman said. “I appreciate the opportunity to play that music in an environment where people are going to be listening and appreciate the work the musicians are putting in.”
Jacam Manricks Quartet
What: “Chamber Jazz” CD release concert presented by the Sacramento Jazz Co-op
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: CLARA Auditorium, 2420 N St., Sacramento