Bonnie Wright
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Turn it up!

Dan Atkinson

“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.”

Athenaeum Music and Arts Library

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.

Bonnie Wright

“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.”

Bread & Salt

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.

Gilbert Castellanos

“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.

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Comments

Letter to the Editor March 6, 2016 @ 10:50 a.m.

What's with the totally inappropriate secondary title on this piece? (Jazz Followers Are The Snobs Of The City) I know Robert Bush would never write that. Was it supposed to be some kind of joke? Because we "jazz followers" are not laughing. Thankfully the title didn't make it into the print edition.

Barbara Wise, Rolando

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Letter to the Editor March 3, 2016 @ 3:13 p.m.

“Jazz followers are the snobs of the city”? That's a misguided subtitle to a great article. Let me start with a cliché: Webster’s defines “snob” as “one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior; one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste”.

The real cliché is the subtitle of this article. As a resident of this city for just seven years and someone who was not a big jazz fan before that, I say that the three people interviewed in this excellent Robert Bush piece are examples of just the opposite.

My son took up the drums at an early age. In middle school he began playing with the jazz band and accompanying the jazz choir. When we moved here he entered his freshman year of high school and started taking lessons with Mike Holguin and Duncan Moore. A cynic would say that, well, these guys were paid to be welcoming and friendly. If so, then we got a huge return on the investment. They changed my son’s life.

Then my son heard about a jazz jam that was being held at El Camino in Little Italy on Wednesday nights. We made the trek and he overcame his fears to speak to the band about sitting in with them. He was called up a short time later. The band members - Rob Thorsen, Irving Flores and Gilbert Castellanos - asked what song he wanted to play. I don’t remember what he called. It was probably awkward, dragging, rushing, simplistic - I don’t remember. What I do remember was the band and the audience congratulating him afterwards, telling him to keep it up, and helping to fulfill a young man’s dreams.

El Camino. Seven Grand. Panama 66. Bourré. The Rook. 98 Bottles. The same kind of welcoming atmosphere exists at these and many other places around this city.

I could tell many stories like this about so many more musicians and “jazz followers”. How they welcomed my son to San Diego and the jazz community. How they welcomed me, a rock and singer-songwriter fan and nonmusician, into that community. How the support for youngsters, the admiration for oldsters, and the welcoming of strangers makes a strong case for that community being just the opposite of “snobs”.

So along comes an awesome article with an unfortunate clickbait subtitle (not Bush's fault, right?) that is disconnected with reality.

Reality: Bonnie Wright says, “… 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 familiar”. Not follow the trends. Not do what is popular. Not hoard it for herself. Make it known. Make it accessible. Snob? Hardly.

Reality: Dan Atkinson says of the Jazz Camp at UCSD: ““People have told me that the program changed their life … that’s a good feeling.” I know what he speaks of firsthand. My son attended the Jazz Camp and was able to study with people like Charles McPherson, Holly Hofmann, Willie Jones III, Mark Dresser, and so many others. His first jazz camp came shortly after I lost my job. We couldn’t afford it. Dan Atkinson made it happen anyway.

And Gilbert Castellanos? Trumpet master, bandleader, arranger, the face of San Diego jazz, teacher, example, and so many other words describe Gilbert. One thing that we are all lucky to call him is “friend”. And I don’t mean “Facebook friend.”

My son will be embarrassed about this missive. Those eyerolls you are sensing? Him. He is now twenty-one and well into his career as a jazz drummer and doesn’t need Dad telling stories about him. But this is my story. If you welcome my kids, you welcome me. Thank you, San Diego Jazz, for welcoming me. And thank you for politely looking the other way when my foot-tapping drifts back to the one and the three.

John Shaw, Rancho Bernardo

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