Wednesday, June 10, 2015

High School All-Stars Alumni Interview: Kanoa Mendenhall

Many of you know that last month, High School All-Star Kanoa Mendenhall took the coveted Education Award at the SFJAZZ Gala. This High School All-Stars scholarship stands alone at SFJAZZ as our only peer-nominated award; the pack itself identifies the star in its midst. What you may not have picked up on were the myriad other honors that this young bassist racked up during the spring of her senior year: 2015 Ravinia Steans Institute Fellow, member of the 2015 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and Downbeat Student Music Award for Arranging. You might find it hard not to get attached to this incredible player and brand new alumna just as she plans to depart to study at Columbia University & Juilliard School’s partner program in the fall… but we’re fairly sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of her.

Kanoa with SFJAZZ CEO, Don Derheim © Drew Altizer

Your primary instrument is bass; have you ever played any others? What made you decide to focus on the bass?

"Back when my father was teaching high school, I would love to try all the instruments in the band room...bassoon, euphonium, oboe, and violin were all on my wish-list, but after listening to Oscar Pettiford playing the cello, I was hooked. I then started playing the trombone through my 5th grade band program, went through a phase strictly devoted to the Japanese shamisen, and finally in middle school I landed on the bass because my dad needed a bass player to play on his gigs. Right now I'm trying to learn Brazilian guitar and working on piano, but I will always remain on the bass because of the tone and feel, and its versatility in music."

© Drew Altizer

Congratulations again on being given the SFJAZZ Education Award this May at the annual gala! Your family has some well-respected Bay Area musicians in it -- what was their reaction?

"Thank you! It's a huge honor to receive this award and to perform with members of the SFJAZZ Collective at this year's Gala. My parents (both pianists) are happy for me and thankful for the support SFJAZZ has given us over the past four years."

Kanoa with All-Stars Orchestra Director, Paul Contos, and SFJAZZ Director of Education, Rebeca Mauleón © Drew Altizer

What will you miss about the San Francisco music scene and performing jazz in the Bay Area when you head to college this fall?

"I have learned so much on the bandstand from the pros and my peers here in the Bay Area. Many of these musicians have become family to me. I'll miss going to rehearsals every Tuesday and playing with my SFJAZZ friends, but I know I'll see many of them in NYC."

© Drew Altizer

What are you most looking forward to in New York? At school? Outside of school?

"I have never had a steady bass teacher because of my family's frequent moving, but now I have the opportunity to study regularly with some great teachers. NYC is a cultural epicenter - I can't wait to explore the museums, the parks, and the food! I love the Bay Area's laid-back nature, but New York's intensity will hopefully challenge me in new ways both musically and academically. My high school life has been centered around music, so I'm looking forward to taking interesting courses at Columbia while studying music at a world-class conservatory."

Monday, June 8, 2015

2014-15 Season: By The Numbers

50th Anniversary of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme

John Coltrane © Bob Thiele

216 bottles of champagne to ring in 2015 (Maceo Parker's Funky New Years)

155 Sold Out Performances

Red Baraat © Ronald Davis

19 #ThankYouJoni Artist Testimonials

Dozens of #ThankYouJoni Notes Below the Joni Mitchell Art Installation

© Got Light

1 Epic Second Line Parade (SFJAZZ Gala), Courtesy of Brass Band Mission

11th SFJAZZ Collective Album: The Music of Joe Henderson & Original Compositions

53 Performances by the High School All-Stars, Nationwide

SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Combo collaborates with the
SF Ballet School Trainee Program © Erik Tomasson

1st Place at the Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterey Awarded to High School All-Stars Orchestra. Combo Awarded 2nd Place.

High School All-Stars Spring 2015 Concert © Scott Chernis

11,000+ SFJAZZ Members

Charles Lloyd's Wild Man Dance (Member Discount Performance)
© Grason Littles

100+ Education Events at the SFJAZZ Center in 2014-15, Serving Nearly 9,000 People

The Amigos Family Workshop © Scott Chernis

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Listen: San Francisco Jazz Festival Playlist

With so much new music dropping right now, we've compiled a "highlights" playlist for the 33rd Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, for your enjoyment—the soundtrack to your Summer. See you all at the SFJAZZ Center June 9-21!

Friday, May 15, 2015

High School All-Stars Alumni Interview: Noah Garabedian

For those of you who were acutely feeling the absence of High School All-Stars alumni interviews, we have a wonderful May installment for you. Many of you may know of the New York-based band, the Amigos, either by way of one of last summer’s alumni interviewees, Sam Reider, or by way of the Amigos’ upcoming SFJAZZ Family Matinée engagement on May 16th. Amigos’ bassist, Noah Garabedian, is more than simply a slice of the Amigos’ pie; the Brooklyn-based alumn fronts his own sextet, Big Butter And The Egg Men. Noah also works with Jazz At Lincoln Center, the Weil Institute at Carnegie Hall, is part-time faculty at The New School, and has served as adjunct faculty at NYU. Impressive CV? Read on to learn about Noah’s musical journey following SFJAZZ and you’ll see that you don’t know the half of it.

What is your favorite memory of your time in the High School All-Stars?

“I have two favorite memories: the first was when we played at Lincoln Center in NYC in the Essentially Ellington competition. It was a true thrill to play on that stage, and our band was slamming that year; there were some really wonderful players in it whom I still play with today. My second favorite memory is when we performed at a ballet at the Yerba Buena Center: we all had to wear Santa Hats because it was holiday time, and we set up on a stage that was below ground. When it was our time to play, they elevated us and we played a bunch of music from Duke's Nutcracker Suite. It was hilarious and really fun.”

Can you describe your current sextet project? What were the influences that generated it?

“It is a sextet with bass, drums, two tenor saxophones, alto saxophone, and trumpet: All of the musicians in the band are friends of mine, which is very important to me; we share a lot of musical interests and hang out together frequently. The writing is influenced by everything from New Orleans Jazz, to Afrobeat, to J.S. Bach. The name of the band is a nod to the tune made famous by Louis Armstrong, "Big Butter And Egg Man," and I try to maintain the spirit of collective improvisation that New Orleans Jazz popularized within our ensemble. We released our first album in September 2014 on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, and hopefully will be recording more soon.”

You have a degree in Ethnomusicology; what was your focus and (how) does it inform your musical performance?

“I entered UCLA not really sure of what I wanted to study or pursue. Eventually I gravitated towards the ethnomusicology department because I wanted to remain involved with music, but learn about it and approach it from a different perspective than a performer. In the beginning of my time in the Ethno department I was drawn towards music from West Africa, Mexico, and Appalachia in the Southeastern US. The department had wonderful faculty from all around the world who led performance ensembles, so I got to play in all sorts of inspiring groups on different instruments, and learn from experts. The department also had an incredibly extensive library full of video and audio recordings that previous students and famous ethnographers made while doing research in the field. After my first two years I became more serious about jazz again and ended up doing my final project on jazz bass. But through studying world music, I deepened my understanding and appreciation of jazz, which combines African rhythms with European harmonies, making it a truly original American art form. Also learning about how cultural identity and music are intertwined, and understanding the relationship between them has profoundly informed my work in and passion for music, especially my own original compositions.”

As a teacher at several NY universities, what are some of the concepts and skill that you feel are most important for young jazz musicians to grasp these days?

“The musical way to answer this is pretty simple; young musicians should make sure they develop their ears, compose music, keep an open mind, and listen to a lot of music. The other side to your question is a little more complicated. Young musicians actually need to understand what being a musician means; it is a financially difficult life, and can be very frustrating at times. It is important to learn how to be self-sufficient and learn about everything from taxes to web design. A lot of musician friends I have do something else on the side to add a little more financial support for themselves: teaching music, tutoring academics, web design, or anything else part time. But most importantly, just be yourself and pursue music because you love the music, do not pursue it for any other reason.”

Keep up with Noah's musical projects at

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

#ThankYouJoni Interviews: Brian Blade, Judith Hill, Joe Jackson & More

The SFJAZZ Gala 2015 honored the legacy of Joni Mitchell on Friday, May 8 with the SFJAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award. We grabbed a number of #ThankYouJoni interviews with artists who performed in the All-Star Concert, including co-director Brian Blade, singers Judith Hill and Joe Jackson, as well as Joni collaborators Tom Scott and Mark Isham. Watch them all on YouTube.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Greg Leisz reflects on touring with Joni Mitchell

"I think what she really teaches other people is that you should just find your own artist in you. She is to me the definition of an artist..." Greg Leisz reflects on touring with Joni Mitchell.

Leisz performs at the SFJAZZ Gala 2015 All-Star Concert tomorrow, Friday, May 8th, where Joni will be honored with a SFJAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award (to be accepted by Wayne Shorter).

What would you say to Joni? ‪#‎ThankYouJoni‬

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

#ThankYouJoni Art Installation in Hayes Valley

#ThankYouJoni Portraits

On Saturday, May 2nd, SFJAZZ installed a #ThankYouJoni Art Installation in the windows of the San Francisco Unified School District Building (opposite SFJAZZ Center) where the Herman Leonard jazz portraits have resided since the opening of the Center back in January, 2013.

This tribute to Joni Mitchell, part of the SFJAZZ Gala 2015 honoring Joni with a Lifetime Achievement Award (to be accepted by Wayne Shorter), sparked numerous #ThankYouJoni messages and well-wishes from Joni fans on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as on the fence beneath the art installation!

Why #ThankYouJoni? The phrase arose organically from interviews we've been conducting with artists at the SFJAZZ Center since February. The #ThankYouJoni YouTube Playlist below compiles all of these interviews. You can also watch them, and learn much more, at

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Chris Turner remembers how he discovered Joni Mitchell

"An artist without a genre attached, from electronic music, to soul music, to folk music, to jazz music, that's something that Joni Mitchell has done throughout her career, and continues to do..." 

Oakland's own Chris Turner remembers how he discovered Joni Mitchell.

How did you discover Joni? ‪#‎ThankYouJoni‬