Athenaeum jazz jams mark 10th anniversary
by Beth Wood
Published - 09/14/06 - 03:59 PM | 2295 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Argentina, Belgium, Cuba, France, India, Mexico, Poland and Venezuela. Detroit, Los Angeles and New York. Jazz-organ trailblazer Jimmy Smith, bassist great Ray Brown, singer Rene Marie, violinist Regina Carter and pianists Danilo Perez, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Brad Mehldau.

What do these locations and standout musicians have in common? The Athenaeum Jazz at The Neurosciences Institute. The places are among many represented at the concerts and the artists above constitute just a handful of the wonderful musicians who have appeared since its inception in 1996.

The Athenaeum marks its 10th anniversary at the Neurosciences Institute tonight with two shows "” 7 p.m. (sold-out) and 9 p.m. "” by the McCoy Tyner Trio. Featuring this legendary pianist, the only surviving member of the groundbreaking John Coltrane Quartet of the 1960s, is a fitting way to celebrate the series' decade of high-caliber jazz.

"We have presented 60 concerts over the last 10 years at the Neurosciences Institute," said Erika Torri, executive director of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library. "There are many wonderful memories of great performances, performers and incredible music, as well as incredible stories. It is very exciting." 

The expansion 10 years ago of the existing jazz series in the library's cozy, small Joan & Irwin Jacobs Music Room to include concerts at the 352-seat Neurosciences Institute was a natural one.

"The Neurosciences venue offered several advantages," recalled Dan Atkinson, the Athenaeum's jazz program coordinator. "One of these is its location, which while close to La Jolla is still very accessible to other parts of the city. Another major consideration was that The Neurosciences Institute provides the hall at no fee to nonprofit organizations."

Torri agreed, adding, "My role was to present it to the board and convince them that we could handle it ... Although we have been around for 107 years, the Athenaeum "” especially at that time "” was not well known in the community.  It was my responsibility to change that and this was one approach: A concert series at the Neurosciences Institute would reach a larger and different audience."

And, as Atkinson pointed out, the state-of-the art venue offered other advantages.

"There are the sense of intimacy and the superb acoustics of the Neurosciences hall, which replicate some of the sense of the concerts that take place in the library itself," he said.

If there's a drawback to the venue that the Athenaeum staff has discovered over the decade, it's not a daunting one.

"The names associated with this series is an ongoing source of humor," said Atkinson. "We have an organization called the Athenaeum presenting jazz at a venue called The Neurosciences Institute. This is definitely an anomaly within the jazz world. Artists sometimes wonder what experimental processes are going on behind the scenes. I remember Paulo Jobim speculating on stage that someone was "˜downloading the Brazilian brain' during his concert!"

While musicians might not immediately connect the word "Athenaeum" to jazz, Torri made clear how well they match up.

"We embrace many aspects in our programming of art and music events, especially if it dovetails with our library collection," she said. "Jazz as a true American art form was a natural for the Athenaeum."

"Of course, I never would be exposed to many of these great performers, if it were not for Dan's fine programming ... We make a good team," Torri added.

Atkinson named three concerts that have delighted audiences the most: Flute Summit, featuring Buddy Collette, Holly Hofmann, Paul Horn and Steve Kujala; the Chucho Valdes Quartet, led by the master pianist of Afro-Cuban jazz; and the Mike Wofford New York Trio. Not only did the performance by San Diego-based pianist Wofford and his top-notch sidemen wow the audience, it is the only one from the series that resulted in a commercially available live album.

Another aspect of the series is the local connection.

"One element of the series has been to present San Diego-based artists in groups they would not typically appear with in their hometown," Atkinson said. "Peter Sprague's involvement in the upcoming Billy Childs date (Thursday, Sept. 28) is a good example and there are many others, such as Holly Hofmann with Ray Brown, Gilbert Castellanos with Anthony Wilson, Charles McPherson with Tom Harrell, and Oscar Castro-Neves with Toots Thielemans."

The pride that Torri and Atkinson have for the series also extends to those who have supported it. Both expressed gratitude to series contributors, especially the Athenaeum Friends of Jazz.

As Atkinson put it, "Their commitment of financial support has played a crucial role in the success of the series."

They also acknowledged the importance of the listeners who have attended so many stellar concerts for the last 10 years.

"Jazz is an interactive art form," Atkinson said. "And a responsive audience brings out great playing in the artists. The musicians who come here immediately perceive that the audience is both knowledgeable and generous in their enthusiasm for the music, and this really inspires them to play their best."


Upcoming concerts:

"¢ McCoy Tyner Trio, tonight, Sept. 14, 7 p.m. (sold-out) & 9 p.m.

"¢ Billy Childs Jazz-Chamber Ensemble, Thursday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m.

"¢ Stefon Harris Presents African Tarantella"¦Dances with Duke, Monday, Oct. 30, 8 p.m.


The series is supported in part by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, the County of San Diego, the Athenaeum Friends of Jazz, the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines and KSDS Jazz 88 FM.

For information and reservations, call (858) 454-5872. 
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