David Murray on saxophone (298329)
Credit: Ron Scott photo

While the COVID-19 virus has halted live music around the world, ironically it seems to have drawn music lovers closer together. On any given night jazz fans around the world were free to visit their local jazz clubs or concert halls. Now, in the midst of the pandemic international jazz fans have the freedom to travel via livestreaming to view a multiplicity of jazz programs throughout the country immersed in the comfort of their homes.

Living Jazz, the non-profit jazz organization located in Oakland, CA. in an effort to heighten awareness while broadening their audience will present a three-month series entitled “Call & Response.” To move away from the onslaught of livestreaming jazz shows, the series will feature jazz musicians discussing the inspiration behind their music to what it means to be an artist during these challenging times, and how will the business of music continue. It will be a virtual experience with active participation during an open Q&A.

The trumpeter, composer and NEA Jazz Master Wynton Marsalis discusses “Where do we Go from Here?” moderated by Andre Kimo Guess Stone, on November 8. Singer/songwriter Kurt Elling discusses “Spirituality, Philosophy & Jazz” with Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz on November 22. Violinist and composer Regina Carter on “The Convergence of Genres” moderated by a special guest TBA on December 6. For more details visit website www.livingjazz.org.

“This series gives the audience a chance to hear from jazz people about what they are doing during these life-changing times,” stated Stacey Hoffman, founder and executive director of Living Jazz (1984). “COVID-19 has affected everything we do from top to bottom. In continuing our program and addressing new issues we had to think outside the box.”

Their current Pickup Sessions is a perfect example, a collaboration led by Living Jazz in partnership with the West Oakland Food Pantry is a response to issues around food insecurity and the stigma and shame often associated with them. “We employ our artists to play live music to transform the act of standing in line for food, beverages, and essential supplies into a joyous musical celebration as opposed to a negative experience,” said Hoffman. From a historical perspective the music honors not only the people online but the Black neighborhood’s earlier cultural value as a center of West Coast blues, jazz, funk, soul and R&B decimated by government policies.

Both New York City and Oakland were sailing in the same boat when it came to music programs being eliminated in public schools. Fortunately, 18 years ago, Hoffman, under The Living Jazz Children’s Project (LJCP), helped to remedy the problem. “I wanted elementary schools involved because those students are the most impressionable,” explained Hoffman. “I pitched a free program to the principals that was relevant and essential to child development for Title One elementary Oakland public schools.” LJCP consists of both choral and rhythm components (a full year music education and performance program). Over 300 2-3rd graders from 4 Title One schools are given weekly music fundamental classes during the regular school day so that all children can participate free of charge, including children with learning disabilities, visual or other impairments or mobility challenges.

“The project is integrated into the students’ academic program that is weaved into the lens of social justice,” says Hoffman. “We talk about the Civil Rights Movement using original music as a vehicle for cultural awareness and how to be a better person. The rhythm program includes the African diaspora, the country, history and music,” explained Hoffman during our telephone interview. Living Jazz’s efforts also serve adults, and seniors with free music programs in Title One Oakland public schools. “While we are trying to stay relevant during this pandemic we had to modify some of our programs but they are still going on via Zoom.”

Current programs include Jazz Camp West, “In the Name of Love,” the annual musical tribute honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Living Jazz Children’s Project, Jazz Search West and the (Not So) Tiny House Concert Series. If you live in the Bay area or have relatives there, who may be interested in Living Jazz’ many programs visit their website at livingjazz.org.

Recently, a special, virtual edition of the Vision Festival, the best annual celebration of avant garde music, poetry and dance in the country. The Vision Festival Healing Soul was streaming live from Firehouse 12 and La Plaza at the Clemente, on the lower Eastside.

The festival running from Oct. 9-12 lived up to expectations despite the obvious setbacks; very limited live audience devoid of its many vendors (independent record label, one of a-kind hand painted tee shirts and great vegetarian food).

Unfortunately, I was only able to catch the last day of the festival that opened with saxophonist and composer David Murray Trio with bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Ronnie Burrage. The set included original music by Murray that included “Switchin’ in the Kitchen,” “Open the Door,” and “Riffin.’” All the selections were crazy out in a hard-swinging way. It was the first time the musicians had actually played a gig indoors. “During the summer I played some outdoor festivals but this was my first indoor gig but it was very cool and I felt comfortable everyone abided by the distancing rules and wore a mask there were only about 15 people in the audience,” said Burrage. “But man, it felt good playing for live people, we had a great time.”

The last performance featured bassist, composer and poet William Parker’s In Order to Survive Quintet with alto saxophonist Rob Brown, tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, pianist Matthew Shipp, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. All the cats were burning, the comping between Shipp and Parker was outrageous. One of the best livestreaming performances to date.