In a sort of homecoming, the Jazz House (formerly at 3192 Adeline St.) will host a CD release party for East Bay jazz artists Positive Knowledge on Sunday Feb. 5 at the Ashby Stage.
Positive Knowledge includes Oluyemi Thomas (bass clarinet), Ijeoma Thomas (spoken word and percussion), Ike Levin (saxophones) and Spirit (drums).
“I met Patrick Dooley (artistic director of the Shotgun Players at Ashby Stage) when we were going out and they were coming in,” said Rob Woodworth, founder of the Jazz House. “We were both members in the Ashby Arts District. Our last shows were in October of 2002, when we lost our lease. After producing shows here and there, I decided to start up having a regular monthly event again as of January. We had a show with Tony Malaby, just off tour with Charlie Haden, in a space donated by a friend, just over on the Oakland side, followed by a hands-on workshop the next day, with the participation of local musicians.
“Ike Levin, who had played a very successful show with pianist Joel Futterman for us before, had called up saying he was playing with Positive Knowledge, who I knew about through William Parker’s Vision Fest on the East Coast,” Woodworth continued, “And Patrick came up with a free date at Ashby Stage. I’m very grateful. It’s hard to find locations, whether temporary or permanent, to produce live music of this type. I usually end up warning a few people that it’s not going to be traditional jazz, not the type of stuff you hear on KCSM.”
Woodworth started up the innovative project to feature lesser-known musicians and include younger people in both the audience and onstage—though past shows have also featured such luminaries as saxophonist Sam Rivers. Most recently, Jazz House co-produced a Sunday night series of jazz and poetry with Kimball’s Carnival at Jack London Square. But last-minute announcement of double-bookings (including a wedding) left musicians, poets and audience stranded outside the doors, and Woodworth called it off. “It was a lofty goal, to say the least,” he said. “I love the mixture of jazz and poetry—and we’re still making it happen. Ijeoma’s the poet in this show.”
Woodworth talked about the difficulty of producing off-mainstream music events: “The most important thing is getting back on the track with some regularity, make another attempt to get people to hear the vibe. Otherwise, they won’t be able to make a decision whether they even like this kind of music or not. There’s just not any middle ground anymore, no real places for these guys to go and play. We’ve had shows where only five people showed up, and the musicians would still call me later, asking when they could play again.”
Although, in Woodworth’s view, there’s a need for a venue where both aficionados and new listeners can hear lesser-known players and groups, the obstacles to finding a permanent location can be daunting. Woodward spoke of the owner of a storefront in downtown Berkeley—“an ideal location”—who contacted Jazz House a few months ago. “He believed in what we’re doing. But when he really understood how many hoops had to be jumped through, just dealing with the city to get necessary things done, he withdrew. People still call in, telling me about empty buildings, urging me to do it fly-by-night. But the hole-in-the-wall jazz cafe’s a thing of the past! At least, I don’t have the patience or nerves to book and publicize shows, wondering if I’m going to get shut down by the fire marshal.”
“We’re fundraising now,” Woodworth said, “I just added a ‘donate’ button to our website. We need $40,000 for a sprinkler system and other necessities, once we find a new home. Until then, we’ll produce a show a month at different locations, which I’m always searching for, especially for someone who’ll host us, or donate their space for regular shows. And our supporters have been great, continuing to come despite the loss of our old place. There are some who come all the way from Sacramento or Monterey to catch a show. That’s dedicated support.”
Woodworth announced a show on Friday, March 31, that’s in search of a venue: the Andre Sumelius Trio from Finland. For more information, contact the Jazz House at www.thejazzhouse.com or (415) 846-9432.
Positive Knowledge will perform at a CD release party at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday Feb. 5 at the Ashby Stage. Admission:$15; students, $10; 15 and under, free.