Thursday, April 17, 2014

High School All-Star Alumni at the New School: Interview with Ben Flocks

As the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars gear up for their visit from New School representatives next week, we present our final New School spotlight interviewee: tenor saxophonist, Ben Flocks. A native of Santa Cruz, California, Ben actually returned to the Bay Area last year to record his first album, Battle Mountain; read on and have a listen to learn more about what Ben has been up to lately...

 How did being a SFJAZZ High School All-Star affect your playing?

Playing with the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars inspired me to lead a life in music. Growing up in Santa Cruz, I was lucky to be mentored by the Leboeuf Brothers and Hans Bernhard, all older members of the All-Stars who attended my high school. I played tenor saxophone with the All-Stars alongside my friend Jesse Scheinin, who I still play with today in New York City. It was great to play with extremely motivated musicians my age who shared my love for jazz. Playing in both big band and combo settings improved my versatility as a musician - until joining the All-Stars, I had little experience playing in a saxophone section, and almost no experience playing with small ensembles. The big band experience taught me subtleties of playing with a large group of people. We learned to play as a team, and bring our distinct musical personalities together to blend, ebb, and flow through the music. The combo setting allowed me to practice improvising at a professional level, and bring in compositions and arrangements to try with the band. Every musician I met in the All-Stars was devoted to their own music, and still consistently helped their band members become the best they could be. Studying with master musicians Yusef Lateef, Joshua Redman, Albert "Tootie" Heath, and so many more, I learned new techniques on my instrument, heard unforgettable rehearsals and performances, and gained a deep appreciation for the history of jazz.

 Tell us about your experiences with All-Star alumni since you graduated High School.

Playing with the All-Stars, I learned a lot, made musical connections, and played some life-changing gigs. Most of all, I met my best friends! Currently my working band features three other All-Star alumni - Sam Reider, Ari Chersky, and Evan Hughes. We recorded my debut album, Battle Mountain, in March 2013 at Tiny Telephone in SF, and it was released this February to rave reviews. I share a deep musical and personal bond with these guys, and I know that I'll never stop hanging and playing music with them. I owe these friendships to my time with the SFJAZZ All-Stars. After I graduated from the Brubeck Institute Fellowship program in 2009, I continued my studies alongside Ari at the New School in New York City. Sam and Evan also lived and studied in NYC at the time. Similar to our experiences with the All-Stars, the New School afforded me opportunities to study with my musical heroes and play in a variety of musical situations with people from all over the world.

You can learn more about Ben's time at the New School by watching this short documentary:

And check out the EPK for Ben's new record Battle Mountain, featuring Sam Reider, Evan Hughes, and Ari Chersky:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WATCH: Sean Jones on the trumpet

Sean Jones dropped by the SFJAZZ Center to talk the trumpet, in light of his upcoming double bill with Christian Scott during The Festival of the Trumpet on Aug 21, 2014, part of SFJAZZ Summer Sessions. Special thanks to San Francisco Performances for facilitating the interview. Part 2 comes out later this week!

Song credit:
"Touch and Go"
Composed by Sean Jones
No Need For Words (Mac Avenue Records)

On Sale for the 32nd Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival and 2014 Summer Sessions opens up to the General Public next Wednesday (4/23) at 11am! Check out the line up!

Friday, April 11, 2014

RECAP: Rosanne Cash + 'Mingus Ah Um' Hotplate at SFJAZZ Center

Rosanne Cash opened her 4-night run at SFJAZZ Center last night, telling deep, lyrical stories inspired by her travels in the South, complete with projected photography (see below). She's back on tonight, and sold out all weekend long!

Meanwhile, Adam Theis & Subharmonic gave Mingus Ah Um the Hotplate treatment in Joe Henderson Lab, without a doubt one of the most ambitious shows in this monthly series we've heard yet!

See more pics on SFJAZZ Flickr. Don't miss Adam Theis' special Solo Sacred Space concert at Church of the Advent (across the street from the Center), part of the 32nd San Francisco Jazz Festival! For more music inspired by the South, check out Resident Artistic Director Regina Carter's upcoming Southern Comfort.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

High School All-Star Alumni at the New School: Interview with Jill Ryan

This week in our spotlight on All-Star Alumni at the New School: Jillian Ryan. Jill played first alto when she was a High School All-Star, as well as lending her flute stylings to the ensemble. She attended Marin School of the Arts, and is now a junior at the New School. 

Where did you travel with the All-Stars? What was it like to play for new audiences?

 We went to the Monterey Next Generation Festival; it was always cool to play for people that hadn't heard us before. Sharing new stuff with new people is exciting and is a big part of why musicians do what we do.

 Do you still play music with any of the HSAS musicians?

 Yes! I play with Natalie Cressman in a band called S P A R K L E R with Peter Apfelbaum, which is a ton of fun! We've got a single release coming out soon -- I'm pumped! And I go to The New School with a bunch of people that were in SFJAZZ as well.

 Who is your biggest musical influence? Do you have a favorite recording by her/him?

That is an extremely hard question to answer because I am influenced by so many people and musicians. But if I had to narrow it down, I would say Stevie Wonder. I say this because I grew up listening to him. My mom and I have always loved his music. One time we actually got pulled over because we were blasting Stevie in the car and speeding because we were belting “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” My favorite song of his, though, is "Visions" off of Innervisions. I love the lyrics and the melody. I'm always becoming influenced by new artists I hear from all genres. I love music!

Check out more on S P A R K L E R here:

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Note From Ishmael Reed (SFJAZZ Poetry Festival, Night #2)

Italian-American poets at the 2nd Annual SFJAZZ Poetry Festival

A beautiful account from SFJAZZ Poet Laureate Ishmael Reed, who curated the 2nd Annual SFJAZZ Poetry Festival over the weekend:

"The great Italian American poet, Sandra Gilbert said, what would those immigrants who entered Ellis Island have thought had they known that one day Italian-American poets would appearing in a beautiful room located in the SFJAZZ. The [Irish-Americans] ended their evening with Sean Casey leading the audience in an Irish song. This was great!"

Sandra Gilbert w/ Ishmael Reed at SFJAZZ Center

Irish-American Night in Joe Henderson Lab

This week features a different kind of poetry... the lyricism of singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, who starts a sold out run in Miner Auditorium this Thursday (4/10), part of her River & The Thread Tour. Keep up with this SFJAZZ Calendar!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

High School All-Star Alumni at the New School: Interview with Jake Botts

SFJAZZ Education is very proud to be expanding its High School All-Stars Alumni program; an important step, considering the waves being made by our illustrious alumni out there in the world. We are continuing to engage these bright young players not only musically, through commissioning pieces as well as utilizing them as clinicians and mentors to our current All-Stars, but also through keeping up with their current projects and plans by way of interviews. You can find several of these monthly interviews already up on SFJAZZ's YouTube channel.

This month, we are doing a spotlight on All-Star Alumni at the New School in New York. The New School is in Greenwich Village and has a world-famous jazz and contemporary music school ( Our first interviewee is Jake Botts, an alto sax player and junior at the New School. While Jake is not a High School All-Stars Alumn, he is an alumn of SFJAZZ, as he spent several months interning with us in 2013.

When did you start playing jazz? Why did you choose your instrument?

I started playing saxophone about 6 months after I had the life-changing experience of hearing a street performer playing outside of a Giants game. I was 11 or 12 at the time, and when my dad and I walked past him, I was instantly drawn to the sound, look, and general aura of the alto saxophone. After hearing me talk about it for months, my parents realized that I was serious about wanting to play. Ever since they got me my first horn, I was hooked. All throughout high school, music was my escape. I always loved jazz and studied it seriously in high school, but it wasn't until I spent my first year of college in Nashville and subsequent year home in the Bay Area when I really started to put the pedal to the metal in terms of my commitment to jazz.

What is your biggest accomplishment as a musician? What are you most proud of?

My biggest accomplishment as a musician so far has been getting the opportunity to make the move to New York City and study at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. So far, I have had so many amazing musical experiences, from studying with some of my musical heroes (Vincent Herring, Jaleel Shaw, Reggie Workman) to playing after hours jam sessions at venues like Smalls with some of the top musicians in the city, to just being in an environment that is competitive and pushes me... Not to mention all the amazing friends and musicians I have gotten to know over the past 7 months since I moved here. Coming to New York has really put me in the best position to learn and grow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Orchestra Wins at the Next Generation Jazz Festival!

SFJAZZ would like to congratulate their High School All-Stars Orchestra on winning the High School Conglomerate Big Band division of the Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterey for the second consecutive year! The Next Generation Jazz Festival, which happened over March 28th, 29th, and 30th, is the youth portion of the world-famous Monterey Jazz Festival, and division winners earn a performance slot at the fall festival. This means that the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Orchestra, under the direction of their incredible Band Director, Paul Contos, will perform at this year’s 57th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival on the Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

In addition to winning the Conglomerate Big Band division, SFJAZZ High School All-Stars also competed in the High School Conglomerate Open Combo division with a set of entirely original works written by the ensemble. All together, four of the All-Stars earned Outstanding Soloist Awards: Matt Wong (piano), Benjamin Ring (drums), Kanoa Mendenhall, and Logan Kane (bass). Benjamin Ring also won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music Five Week Summer Program.

"SFJAZZ considers this second consecutive Next Generation Festival win not only an incredible honor, but a testament to these remarkable young men and women, who are truly speaking the jazz language at an optimal level,” said Rebeca MauleĆ³n, SFJAZZ Director of Education. “The All-Stars never cease to amaze me, not only because they are so musically gifted, but because they also happen to be extraordinary human beings. We know how stressful high school can be as it is, and for these musicians to demonstrate such commitment and focus above and beyond their academic responsibilities says a lot about the kind of people they are.”

You can check out more information on the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars here:, and be sure to keep an eye on the Monterey Jazz Festival’s page to see the amazing lineup alongside whom the All-Stars will perform this fall!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

PHOTO: Hugh Masekela at SFJAZZ Center

Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela gave a pair of uplifting performances at the SFJAZZ Center this week to celebrate his upcoming 75th Birthday. The South African trumpet icon complemented his groovy, feel good music with a resounding message for heightened global awareness and social justice. Most importantly, he had Miner Auditorium getting loose and screaming louder than we've ever heard! All photos courtesy of Scott Chernis unless otherwise noted.

Telling it like it is.

via SFJAZZ Instagram: A fan's gigantic birthday card!

Approaching 75, Masekela still has the moves.

And now, four nights of the Wayne Shorter Quartet! And next week, the Second Annual SFJAZZ Poetry Festival curated by SFJAZZ Poet Laureate Ishmael Reed.