“I started at the Athenaeum in 1989, before there even was a jazz series,” recalls jazz program coordinator Dan Atkinson over lunch in La Jolla. “It hasn’t been a constant series of challenges; there have been long periods of time where we were in a groove, and that’s allowed the program to grow. We started out with four concerts a year, and now we’ve got somewhere between 14 and 18, and we’re using three different venues. Having said that, jazz attracts a niche audience — and I can’t say that audience has grown. That does continue to be a challenge — the audience is limited. We try to bring more people into the music, but it’s also the nature of the thing — it requires more attentive listening, which is not something our culture favors, especially at this time.
“How people get their information has really changed,” says Atkinson. “The way we used to get the word out just doesn’t work. It’s a constantly shifting landscape, so that’s another challenge.”
1008 Wall Street, La Jolla
The Athenaeum features national and global touring acts, so keeping costs down and attendance high are imperatives that can’t be ignored. For larger events, the organization relies on the Scripps Research Institute.
“The rental rate for that hall for a nonprofit is $1600, that’s just to open the doors; then there is the piano rental — so it’s $2000 — and that’s before you pay for the musicians, marketing, lodging, sound system, and engineer.
“It’s not a way to get rich quick,” says Atkinson, not bothering to suppress a laugh. “The goal is not to lose money. We’ve done all right, but there are ups and downs. Ticket income is a big part of the puzzle, but it’s not the only part of the equation. Thank heaven we’ve got support from the City of San Diego, the County of San Diego, and a lot of generous individuals and businesses.”
His passion for jazz also extends to the annual Jazz Camp at UC San Diego, which he founded 14 years ago. It attracts students from all over the globe to study with top professionals in an intensive one-week format.
“People have told me that the program changed their life,” says the soft-spoken Atkinson. “That’s a good feeling. I’m not interested in having everyone become a professional musician, but I know they are going to carry this music with them for the rest of their lives.”
Athenaeum Jazz Events are held at the Music & Arts Library (1008 Wall Street) the Scripps Research Institute (10620 John Jay Hopkins Drive), and Bread & Salt (1955 Julian Avenue). Luciana Souza appears March 17.
“I don’t give a s*#t if I lose money,” the fiercely independent new-music champion insists over the drone of Super Bowl Sunday in North Park. “What I mean is that I’ve lost money on almost all of my concerts — donations make up for some of that, and I can put in some of my own, but not enough to worry me. My hope is to keep the Fresh Sound series going. If I lose a little, then that’s okay — it’s not like I’m there to make money.”
Wright started her concert series in 1997. “My initial idea was to bring the things I learned at UCSD into the community, because they were kind of in a bubble back then. After I moved back to San Diego from New York in 2008, my goal changed. Now I want to bring music to San Diego that we wouldn’t hear otherwise, so now I only present musicians from out of town or out of the country. My mission is to avoid mainstream music. I mean, I even like a lot of it, but that stuff is already known. I want to help make the lesser-known more familiar.
“My guiding concept is to keep it small, which allows me to keep it going. I don’t have a big budget, and I don’t want to go into debt. I have a board of friends, plus my attorney and my accountant and several musicians. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time fundraising, and so far it’s worked!”
Wright relies on personal experience and word-of-mouth when it comes to deciding on whom to invite for Fresh Sound events. “Most often, I’ve already heard them. Occasionally, I get a recommendation from somebody I trust. Sometimes it’s just something I’d like to hear. I try to catch them when they’re on the West Coast, because I can’t pay for travel.
“I never know what the audience size will be, so that isn’t how I measure success. I want the audience to enjoy it, but I also really want the musicians to have a good experience. I work really hard to make sure the musicians have everything they need. The place I work out of is an old bread factory and it doesn’t have much in the way of lights and sound, but I work to get a detailed tech list from the artists — I want them to be glad they were here.”
1955 Julian Avenue, Logan Heights
Fresh Sound operates out of Bread & Salt, the multi-arts complex in Logan Heights. Up next is cellist Ashley Bathgate on March 8, and Rempis, Johnston and Ochs on April 10.
“The Young Lions series is something I’ve been planning for seven or eight years now,” says trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos over the phone following a gig with the San Diego Ballet. “My mission was to be able to have a night and a venue dedicated to young musicians. Now they can showcase their talent and I’m able to present them where they can get the experience and the feeling of a real-life performance.
“I try to feature high school students and even younger people. A couple of weeks ago, we had the Pink Trio — all female musicians. They had a drummer that was 9 years old! The other girls were 11 and 13, and they all attend the International Academy of Jazz, where I teach every Saturday.