Offside starts tonight!

night1Alex and I have been working very hard on the 2nd annual SF Offside Festival and starting tonight, we get to reap the rewards!

We’ll be at Awaken Cafe for some brand new collaborations and projects tonight—Waystanders, Mucho Stereo, and Wiener Kids Family Band.

night 2Friday night at Duende we’re really proud to present the Mads Tolling Quartet and the Howard Wiley Trio, two leading Bay Area jazz ensembles.

The festival closes Saturday night at the Community Music Center in SF with some Bay Area ambassadors of jazz—Lisa Mezzacappa-Steve Adams DuoSheldon Brown Group, and Dave Mihaly’s Shimmering Leavesnight 3

It’s going to be three nights of amazing local music!

Hope you can join us!

RSVP here

If jazz isn’t what you think it is…

On Tuesday, we announced the line-up for the 2nd Annual SF Offside Festival with the tagline “So, you think you know jazz? Think again!” On the very same day, Canadian jazz writer Peter Hum wrote a blog post in the Ottawa Citizen titled, “If jazz isn’t what I think it is, then what is it?”

Was he responding to our announcement? Not directly, no. It was actually a response to the Victoria International Jazzfest, whose slogan this year happens to be “Jazz ain’t what you think.” But his puzzlement over their slogan surely applies to ours as well.

jazzfestSo, what does Mr. Hum find so puzzling about a slogan that suggests jazz may not be what it is perceived to be? For a start, he’s bored, as many others are, with “that tedious ontological debate about what jazz is,” and thinks that any marketing ploy that tries to capitalize on the idea that jazz “suffers from an excruciating identity crisis, and no one knows what it is,” is doomed to failure.

If, on the other hand, the slogan is aimed at jazz-haters instead of jazz-fans and is shorthand for “Jazz is really good, not as bad as you think it is,” he wonders if there isn’t a more effective way to try to disabuse the haters and draw them in with a message that says something more than just, “You’re wrong.”

The last option he considers is that their slogan is intended to signify that the Victoria Jazzfest is abandoning the grand tradition of instrumental jazz in favor of pop- and soul-infused “crossover vocal stuff,” which, he laments, is what “puts the most butts in seats” these days.

Obviously, I can’t speak for any other festival but our own, and I have no idea what the producers of the Victoria International Jazzfest were thinking when they decided on their slogan. But as far as Offside is concerned, let’s rule out this last option right away. There will be absolutely no “crossover vocal stuff” at our festival, however many butts that might be likely to attract. It’s not that Alex or I have anything against that kind of music—it’s just not what rocks our boat, so to speak. It’s not what excites and compels us, as audience members or as curators and event producers.

So, what does our tagline mean? Is it aimed toward jazz-fans or jazz-haters? Or is it just a “harmless throwaway line,” as Hum might hope?

First, I take full responsibility for the line. When I wrote it, my first goal was simply to say something bold, attention-grabbing, and yes, Mr. Hum, something with sass. It was also, I confess, a play on the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance? Yeah, whatever.

Second, there’s no denying that our tagline blatantly says that jazz may not be what you or I or anybody else thinks it is. Which, of course, begs Hum’s question: well then, what the hell is it? And: is pointing out this identity crisis really the best way to build new audiences? (Indeed, if that’s our marketing strategy, we may as well just hire Nicholas Payton to do our PR. “So, you think you know Postmodern New Orleans Music??” Um, actually, no. I have no clue what that is.)

Now, despite my most excellent taste in music, I’m no authority on jazz. I’m neither a jazz musician nor a jazz historian, and I don’t claim to have any special insight on what does or does not constitute jazz. So, what on earth was I thinking when I wrote that line?

I was thinking about my own journey that ultimately led to me co-founding a grassroots jazz festival, despite certain associations I had with the label that would seem to prohibit that very possibility. Let me explain.

As a kid, my parents were both jazz fans. They liked mostly old style jazz, which was popular in Ireland when they were young—big band swing, bebop, and dixieland jazz. My father loved Ella Fitzgerald, my mother Billie Holiday. They both loved Louis Armstrong. On Sunday afternoons when I was a pre-teen, we would drive out to the harbor town of Howth, on the north side of Dubin Bay, to an old hotel that hosted a weekly jazz jam. I loved going there each week. Until I reached a certain age, that is, and the thought of spending Sunday afternoons with my parents just seemed like the most uncool thing ever.

Skip ahead to my mid-twenties, when I moved to the Bay Area for graduate school. I had a boyfriend at one time who was a professor at another institution and about six years older than me. He was a huge jazz fan, but it was not the kind of jazz I had heard before, certainly not the old jazz I grew up listening to. I remember he would go to Yoshi’s, back when it used to be on Claremont Avenue, to see people whose music I knew nothing about, like Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett. Although I was invited to go, I always declined. I viewed his obsession with jazz in much the same way I viewed his habit of wearing knit cardigans—something I tolerated because I found his “old-man” tendencies vaguely charming, albeit in a rather comedic way. I teased him incessantly about both his love of jazz and his cardigans.

It was probably not till about ten years later that I finally rediscovered jazz for myself. That was when I started to go out regularly to see live music played by local musicians in the Bay Area. The jazz I was hearing—from the straight-ahead to the more adventurous—really ignited my interest and made me realize that I did, indeed, love jazz. How could I not? But certain associations I had with the label made me so closed-minded, I had written off a lot of it as “boring” without ever actually listening to the music. What were those associations? In a nutshell, that jazz was for middle-class, old, white guys who liked to wear cardigans.

“So, you think you know jazz?” is a question directed at my former self just as much as it is directed at anybody else. I thought I knew jazz in my twenties and, as a result, I probably missed out on hearing some amazing music. Back then, I wouldn’t even consider attending a “jazz” concert, never mind a whole goddamn festival. And, I’m pretty sure, there are many others out there who are just like me.

But will our tagline do anything to entice those who are not already sold on the idea of jazz?

Well, I grant Mr. Hum that the line by itself probably won’t have much effect. By the same token, nor will the “Jazz ain’t what you think” slogan. But we didn’t use our line by itself. It was paired with a photo from last year’s festival and, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. To me, this photo subverts expectations, not exactly about what the music sounds like, but rather about who is producing the music, where they’re performing it, and, by inference, who the consumers of that music might be.


For diehard jazz-haters, this piece of visual rhetoric will hardly convince. But for young people in their twenties and thirties, part of the demographic we’re trying to reach with our festival, it presents an alternative picture of what a jazz scene looks like. And it’s one in which they are included. It’s one in which they can see themselves. It’s cool. Definitely not the kind of jazz their parents or their prematurely middle-aged boyfriends might have taken them to.

Of course, a picture of the super cool Esperanza Spalding or Vijay Iyer (who are both playing at the Victoria International Jazzfest) might convey the same message to this demographic, but with one significant difference. The price tag. The kind of festival that books folks of that stature, which, let’s face it, is pretty much every regional jazz festival in the US and Canada, is not going to be affordable to as many young people. Tickets to see Vijay Iyer perform in Victoria, for example, cost more than a full festival pass to Offside.

Interestingly, Iyer recently played a free solo concert at Community Music Center in the Mission, which is where we host the last night of our festival in May. Afterwards, Alex asked him his thoughts about how to build specifically younger jazz audiences, to which he responded: make it affordable. And that is definitely what we are doing with our festival.

We’re also focused exclusively on local musicians and composers. It’s not about flying in big names from out of town. It’s about celebrating the incredible jazz talent found right here in our own backyard.

So, you think you know jazz?

You think you know jazz festivals?

Think again!

2nd Annual SF Offside Festival – May 23-25

We just announced the 2nd annual Offside festival on Here are the deets!

Klaxon Mutant Allstars

So, you think you know jazz? Think again!

Now in its second year, the SF Offside Festival presents three nights of incredible music that at once defines and defies the genre.

Featuring the best and brightest of the Bay Area scene—including local legends Howard Wiley and Marcus Shelby, two-time Grammy Award-winner Mads Tolling, Bay Area bulwarks Dave Mihaly, Steve Adams, Sheldon Brown, and Jaz Sawyer, plus emerging stars from a new generation of composers, Aram Shelton, Lisa Mezzacappa, Jordan Glenn, and Alex Pinto—SF Offside demonstrates why San Francisco is on the cusp of becoming the epicenter for new innovations in jazz.

Night 1 – “Streams” – Thursday, May 23, 8-11pm  
Awaken Café, 1429 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612
Wiener Kids Family Band + Mucho Stereo + Waystanders 

Night 2 – “Currents” – Friday, May 24, 9pm-midnight 
Duende, 468 19th Street, Oakland, CA 94618
Howard Wiley Trio + Mads Tolling Quartet

Night 3 – “Tides” – Saturday, May 25, 8-11pm 
Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, SF, CA 94110
Dave Mihaly & the Shimmering Leaves Ensemble + Sheldon Brown Group +
Lisa Mezzacappa-Steve Adams Duo

Tickets are sliding scale: $10-20 at the door or $25-45 in advance for a festival pass.

Offside banner 13

“A recent three-day gathering of top local talent, wove the area’s diverse talent into one intense weekend showcase, generating buzz for the local scene.”
-NPR’s A Blog Supreme (June, 2012)

“San Francisco is on the cusp of becoming the epicenter for new innovations in jazz, and we have Alex Pinto and festival co-founder Laura Maguire to thank for giving the whole scene a much needed boost.”
Popdose (December, 2012)

“A brilliant cross section of the Bay Area’s thriving jazz scene. . . . This year’s Offside Festival could not have been more successful in demonstrating the vibrancy of the community, drawing a healthy crowd each night to witness the depth of jazz that is often overlooked.”
Untapped SF (May, 2012)

More buzz about Offside…

San Francisco Offside Festival

SF Offside was created to fill a perceived gap in the regional jazz festival circuit. With an exclusive focus on homegrown talent, our mission is to draw attention to the incredible creativity to be found right here in our own backyard, and to build larger audiences for specifically local jazz offerings. The inaugural festival took place May 24-26, 2012, garnering both local and national attention on its very first outing. Our hope is that San Francisco ultimately gets the recognition it deserves as home to a rich, diverse, and exceptionally talented jazz community.

San Francisco Offside Festival is a fiscally-sponsored project of San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the service of chamber music in California.

RSVP on Facebook

SF Offside Spark Series

This month, Alex Pinto and I are presenting four shows in four different venues in the Bay Area. It’s all part of the SF Offside Spark Series, a little taster before our three-night festival in May.

SF Offside logoThe series kicks off this Thursday, March 7, at the Red Poppy Art House with saxophonist Marcus Stephens’ Markstep Trio and drummer Eric Garland’s Hodge Podge Ensemble. Check out my recent interviews with both Stephens and Garland on the SF Offside site. I’ve been having a lot of fun with those and will continue to do features on each of the composers we present this month as part of this series.

On Friday, March 15, at Cafe Royale, we present reed master Aram Shelton’s brand new Golden Age quartet. Included in that program is Shelton’s Kodachrome Music, a suite inspired by the sparse, enchanting landscape of southern Utah.

Then on Saturday, March 23, at the Revolution Cafe, we’re having the Spark Series Jazz Jam. This show opens with the Sonny Sharrock Experience, a new collaborative project featuring saxophonist David Boyce that grew out of last year’s festival. After the first set, we’ll open things up to our many talented friends in the jazz community. The Rev show is also a fundraiser for SF Offside, so a $5-10 donation in the tip jar is greatly appreciated.

The series closes with a show on Wednesday, March 27, at Awaken Cafe in Oakland, which will be our first East Bay show (and certainly not our last!). We’ll be presenting two guitar trios—Roger Kim’s First Day and the Alex Pinto Trio.

Click on the links above or just visit SF Offside for more details on each show. You can also get the full line-up of musicians in the Spark Series here.

I hope to see some of you there!

SF Offside Presents: Secret Sidewalk and the Alex Pinto Trio with David Boyce

Last Friday’s show with Klaxon Mutant Allstars and These Are Our Hours was a great success. We had a packed house and, of course, fantastic music. Thanks to everyone who came out to support, and to both ensembles for bringing it.

This Saturday, November 17, we’ve got another Offside show.

Secret Sidewalk are returning to Viracocha to bring their genre-bending sound, combining electronic music and experimental jazz. To give you taste of their music, here’s their set from the third night of Offside, courtesy of Bay Taper. Can’t wait to hear them perform live again! 

Opening the show will be the Alex Pinto Trio with special guest David Boyce on sax. They will be performing Sonny Sharrock’s seminal album, Ask the Ages. Here’s a track from that album to whet your appetite. 

Coincidentally, November 17 is also the one-year anniversary of the incredible Kneebody show at Viracocha, the first collaboration between me and Alex, which ultimately led to us founding SF Offside together. That was also Alex’s first time playing at Viracocha, so it’s a real pleasure to get to present his trio again, one year later on the dot.

I’m really excited about Saturday’s show. We’re expecting another packed house for this one, so come early, especially if you want to get a seat!

Doors open at 8pm and the show will start sometime around 8:30pm.

Offside 2×5: Klaxon Mutant Allstars & These Are Our Hours

Earlier this year I embarked on a major adventure with Alex Pinto—SF Offside—a three-night festival showcasing some of the best from the local jazz/creative music scene. While we are already working hard toward next year’s festival, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of this year’s incredible experience. In particular, I wanted to bring together the two quintets that debuted at the festival into one night of awesomeness called Offside 2×5.

These Are Our Hours is one of many projects led by composer, saxophonist, and clarinetist Aram Shelton, and includes members of the Oakland Active Orchestra. Alex and I had originally invited OAO to close out the first night of the festival, but given the significant size of that collective, the logistics didn’t work out. We kept talking with Aram about possibilities, however, which ultimately resulted in him putting together this quintet to perform all new compositions, specially written for the festival. And thus was born These Are Our Hours.

TAOH making their debut at SF Offside 2012
Photo by Roger Kim

In addition to Shelton on alto sax, TAOH features one of my current favorites, the very talented Mark Clifford on vibes, highlighted to great effect in Shelton’s arrangements, as well as Theo Padouvas on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass, and Sam Ospovat or Shaun Lowecki on drums—a crew of young and talented players. Since their debut at Offside in May, they’ve been building a strong body of work playing a monthly at Bar 355 in Oakland. One Tuesday recently, I got to see them play the Uptown in Oakland with Alex Pinto’s trio opening, part of the ongoing Active Music Series. That was a great evening of music with a surprisingly full house for a Tuesday night, so I’m excited to hear TAOH play again, particularly at Viracocha, where the sound is so good. They will be playing the first set of the evening.

Meanwhile, check out this nice article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Shelton, whose Chicago quartet recently performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Klaxon Mutant Allstars is an intergalactic confederacy of Bay Area players—trumpeter Henry Hung, saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, keyboard player Colin Hogan, bassist George-Ban Weiss, and drummer Eric Garland—that emerged from the Amnesia Wednesday night jazz jam. While all five write for the ensemble, Hung and Garland do the bulk of the composing. The story of how KMA came to play the third night of Offside is not a whole lot different from the TAOH story. I was talking with George Ban-Weiss about Atomic Roger, his trio with Eric Garland and guitarist extraordinaire Mike Abraham (these three also play together in violinist Mads Tolling’s Grammy Award-winning quartet). Abraham, who took over the Wednesday night jam when Mitch Marcus moved to NY, has since moved to LA, so logistically it didn’t work out for them to play the festival.

KMA playing at Viracocha on the last night of Offside
Photo by Hernando Buitrago

George told me about a new group he, Garland (who now leads the Wednesday jam), and some others had formed, but at that point they did not yet have a name. I knew all the players involved and was already really impressed with Garland as a composer, not to mention bad-ass drummer. So, we invited the group to play at SF Offside, they promptly came up with a name for themselves, then performed an appropriately stellar (or interstellar?) set on the last night of the festival.

We were very lucky to have Bay Taper in attendance that night, so the entire evening was documented. Craig from Wedge Radio also covered the show on his blog.

For a little taste of what’s to come in November, listen to this Bay Taper recording of Klaxon playing a delightful Hung composition called “Jamie Moyer” (Wedge Radio explains the joke for those of us that don’t get sports references). The group also recently spent some time in the studio, so their debut recording will be released some time in the new year.

I’m very excited to be presenting these two quintets in one show. While different stylistically, both have mastered that fine balancing act between structure, melody, and rhythm on the one hand, and openness, improvisation, and inventiveness on the other. The music is accessible while also full of surprises. So, please, save the date!

Offside 2×5: KLAXON MUTANT ALLSTARS & THESE ARE OUR HOURS          Friday November 9th at Viracocha. Doors at 8pm, show at 8:30pm.

It’s going to be a night of ridiculously good, fresh new music.

San Francisco Offside Festival – May 24-26

Alex Pinto and I had a crazy idea—to organize a three-night jazz festival that exclusively celebrates local musicians and composers. The Bay Area is home to such immense musical talent, what’s even more crazy is that nobody ever thought of doing this before. So, in the spirit of creating the change you want to see, we have embarked on this adventure together and have been getting a great response from the local community. We hope to make this an annual offering, but for now we’re focusing on the first venture, which happens in just over two weeks. Here’s all the official details!

Jazz is alive and well and living in San Francisco! So say the creators of San Francisco Offside, and the many talented local musicians taking part in this year’s inaugural festival.

Born of a passion to celebrate the unique creativity and diversity of the local jazz scene, SF Offside has gathered together some of the Bay Area’s most exciting musical talent for an event unlike any other. The three-night festival showcases notable local musicians and composers, like Marcus Shelby, David Boyce, Darren Johnston, Lisa Mezzacappa, Larry Ochs, Erik Jekabson, Aram Shelton, Eric Garland, and many more.

Night One: “Excursions” – Thursday May 24 @ El Valenciano, 1153 Valencia Street

The festival kicks off with three different ensembles with one thing in common—mastery of traditional techniques coupled with fearless commitment to exploring innovative territories. Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa opens the evening with her improvisational “garage jazz” quartet, Bait & Switch. Following is an experimental trio featuring saxophonists Dave Rempis from Chicago (the festival’s only non-local musician!) and Larry Ochs of ROVA with the ubiquitous Darren Johnston on trumpet. These Are Our Hours, a brand new quintet featuring core members of the Oakland Active Orchestra, close the evening with explorations grounded in jazz and free improvisation.

Night Two: “Onward” – Friday May 25 @ 50 Mason Social House, 50 Mason Street

The second night of the festival takes a decidedly contemporary look at straight-ahead jazz and presents three Bay Area composers and their respective trios—bassist Marcus Shelby, trumpeter Erik Jekabson, and guitarist Alex Pinto. Celebrated as a leading light of the Bay Area’s jazz scene, Shelby will perform with a fresh trio that features the talented young pianist Joe Warner and the versatile Tiffany Austin (Martin) on vocals. Jekabson, respected both as a bandleader and as a sideman, brings his post-bop improvisational sensibilities to the mix, while Pinto, a young guitarist trained in Hindustani classical music (who also happens to be the festival’s co-director), has a distinctive modern sound all of his own.

Night Three: “Junction” – Saturday May 26 @ Special Location TBA

The festival closes with an evening of genre-expanding music that intersects jazz in distinctive ways. Secret Sidewalk, an innovate quintet bridging electronic/tape music and jazz, spotlights Marcus Stephens on sax and electronics. Blending rock and jazz strategies, the recently formed Klaxon Mutant Jazz All Stars is an illustrious quintet featuring music by all five members—Eric Garland, Henry Hung, Kasey Knudsen, George Ban-Weiss, and Colin Hogan. Bay Area staple and masters of improvisation, The Supplicants, with guest drummer Hamir Atwal, end the evening with a musical journey that takes many unexpected directions. (The venue for the closing night of the festival will be announced May 21st.)

SF Offside Festival

A co-production of local jazz guitarist Alex Pinto and local music curator Laura Maguire, SF Offside was created to fill a perceived gap in the regional jazz festival circuit. With an exclusive focus on homegrown talent, the mission of SF Offside is to draw attention to the incredible creativity to be found right here in our own backyard, and to build larger audiences for specifically local jazz offerings. The hope is that San Francisco ultimately gets the recognition it deserves as home to a rich, diverse, and exceptionally talented jazz community.


All Quiet on the Western Front?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here even though there has been so much to write about. We had lots of great performances at Viracocha in March—the Live ‘n’ Local show with the Revolution Duo (amazing improvisation with Charith Premwardhana on viola and Matt Szemela on violin), The John Brothers Piano Company, and Wiener Kids; Aaron Novik‘s latest project, Dante Counterstamp; Janam and The Nice Guy Trio; and Karina Denike. Then earlier this month we had The Immortal Billie Holiday tribute show with many great performers including Kally Price and her Old Blues and Jazz Band.

Also this month was the fifth annual Switchboard Music Festival at the Brava Theater. I thought the selection of music this year was exceptionally diverse compared to previous years. Dominique Leone and the Ensemble Epouser did their last ever performance of Stravinsky’s Les Noces. Volti, a choral ensemble dedicated to new vocal music, were absolutely breathtaking. Pop duo Ramon & Jessica were their usual charming, quirky, clever, and versatile selves. I did not get burned out at all this year (it’s a ten-hour festival!), in large part, I think, due to the greater variety of styles. I recall last year, which seemed to lean more heavily toward avant-garde, feeling at a certain point like I just couldn’t take in anymore music, my brain was feeling so fried.

It’s great to see Switchboard grow so noticeably each year, not simply in terms of number of people attending (they outgrew the original small studio in Dance Mission a few years back), but also in terms of how the vision has matured and its execution become more smooth. This year, for example, they projected info about each artist/ensemble on a screen at the back of the stage, which also indicated when there was a break between performances, and how much time we had to grab some food or a drink. That was much appreciated (though I still managed to miss  Dan Cantrell’s performance when a “friend” insisted we walk all the way to Folsom and 24th just for coffee).

The other most notable performance I’ve seen this month was drummer and composer Eric Garland’s Hodge Podge Ensemble this past Sunday night at the Community Music Center on Capp Street. Which brings me to my next topic, The San Francisco Offside Festival, a three-night festival (May 24-26) that me and Alex Pinto are putting together! It celebrates “the creativity and diversity of the local jazz scene” and features many incredible local musicians and composers, including Eric Garland (and also two of his bandmates on Sunday—Lisa Mezzacappa and Colin Hogan). I’ll post something more official about it soon, but meanwhile, click on the link for more details. We are very excited about it.

Between organizing a jazz festival, booking music at Viracocha, trying to keep on top of Live ‘n’ Local, and . . . I don’t know . . . holding down a fulltime job, I’ve been pretty busy. Hence the silence. Whew! It feels like I’m just catching my breath before continuing to march up a steep hill. But march on I will.

More deets about SF Offside coming soon!