New programming at The Broad Stage, including two concerts this weekend, aims to spur a local resurgence of the uniquely American art form
By Michael Aushenker
Since the earliest practioners of the New Orleans- and Dixieland-style blew their first notes at the dawn of the 20th century, jazz has ridden out ebbs and flows in popularity to emerge as one of America’s most venerable forms of musical self-expression.
This weekend, The Broad Stage in Santa Monica jumpstarts an ongoing program devoted to the art form with a Friday night concert by accomplished pianist Dan Tepfer and, on Saturday, a performance by composer and pianist Emily Bear — at 12 years old, one of jazz’s youngest torchbearers.
Bear’s show comes as part of The Broad’s continuing “Quincy Jones Presents” series, which launched in November to introduce audiences to emerging talent in the genre.
Both are fruits of the venue’s Jazz Council Initiative, a collaboration led by Jones and musician Ben Wendel meant to keep jazz’s lifeline running deep into the 21st century.
With 27 Grammy Awards on his shelf — including a record-setting eight Grammys for producing the 1984 Album of the Year (and the biggest-selling album of all time), Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” — Jones has an eye for talent. In terms of jazz alone, the legendary producer has worked with many of the genre’s most distinguished icons, including Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.
Wendel, a twice-Grammy-nominated saxophonist and pianist, has toured with myriad jazz greats and in 2009 co-wrote the score for John Krasinski’s 2009 film adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.”
The work of the Jazz Council Initiative, said Wendel, was long overdue.
“It’s not just about music. It’s about the whole cultural experience. In an increasingly sanitized, corporate world, jazz is sort of this secret place,” Wendel said. “The Westside was very underserved. We’re literally just getting started. We’re building the infrastructure right now.”
In addition to Jones and Wendel, rounding out The Broad’s Jazz Council are musician and A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert, singer-songwriter Luciana Souza, Thelonious Monk Institute West Coast Director Daniel Seeff, The Jazz Bakery’s Ruth Price and Jeff Gauthier, and Blue Whale owner Joon Lee.
Souza will offer a lecture preceding Tepfer’s improvisational performance of his “Goldberg Variations/Variations,” a fresh take on Johann Sebastian Bach’s 1740s harpsichord composition “Goldberg Variations.”
Jones has described Bear, who composes and arranges her own music and slides gracefully between bebop and traditional jazz during her performances, as “the complete 360-degree package.” He produced the preteen’s sixth album, “Diversity,” last year.
Traveling the country as a musician, Wendel said he is heartened by new interest in jazz occurring beyond New York and Los Angeles: “What I do see is dynamic scenes in Minneapolis, Kansas City and Denver — just vibrant jazz scenes. What I do see is a nice resurgence there,” he said.
But he also recognizes that jazz’s place as a youth culture movement in the 1930s and ‘40s has been since overshadowed by other genres, from the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s to the arrival of funk and disco in the 1970s and the rise of rap in the 1980s.
To him, that’s all the more reason to “bring in the masters and the new blood,” he said.
“Young people appreciating jazz is starting to happen again,” said Wendel, who is doing his best to help propel Westside residents into a Jazz Age of their own. “There’s a lot of room to grow and a lot of opportunity to expand.”
Dan Tepfer starts performs at 7:15 p.m. Friday and Quincy Jones Presents: Emily Bear starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Broad Stage’s Edye Theatre, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets for each show are $25. Call (310) 434-3200 or visit thebroadstage.com.