Kuumbwa Jazz

Interviews with upcoming Kuumbwa Jazz Center artists.

Sep 26

Sour Mash Hug Band - Scott Stobbe Interview

Sour Mash Hug Band will be performing as part of the Club Kuumbwa series at Kuumbwa Jazz, on September 28


The Sour Mash Hug Band has toured the highways and byways of North America for over a decade now. Its a classic American story: in the beginning, a band of kids ride freight trains across the midwest with nothing but a banjo, a fiddle, a washboard, and a washtub bass. They play at your local farmer’s market, dive-bar, or street-corner. They end up in New Orleans, spend some time playing dixieland, go up to Oregon and play old-time and bluegrass for a while, head out to New York pick up a a little Klezmer, hike around Romania searching for old men that know fiddle tunes. Finally they fall in love with the new revival of jazz culture and it’s full circle.

Sour Mash guitarist Scott Stobbe talks about the band’s influences, bicycle tours and being a longtime Kuumbwa volunteer.

Interview conducted by Bennett Jackson


Tell us of the origins of the Sour Mash Hug Band - which is probably the greatest band name ever.  Why be a ‘jug’ band when you can be a ‘hug’ band?

Exactly!  The band has been together for about 10 years and I’ve been in the band for around two years.  [The group] started out in Eugene, Oregon as an old-timey band, then they started train-hopping, doing bicycle tours, and ended up spending a lot of time in New Orleans…eventually doing a regular route between the Pacific Northwest, Bay Area and New Orleans, just travelling and picking up influences from all those places.  It started to evolve from an old-timey band to picking up some New Orleans jazz and ragtime, and also becoming influenced by Yiddish theatre music and klezmer.  Shiri, one of our singers, sings in Yiddish and Mike, our fiddle player, is half Hungarian and has traveled around Eastern Europe…we’ve actually all traveled around there, becoming influenced by Eastern European music as well.  So it’s a blend of all of those things.  And it’s mostly original music.  We have a new album coming out that’s all originals, except for one.

Sounds like this band has spent a lot of time on the road.  You still tour Europe regularly, right?

Yeah, once a year we try to get out there.

When you go out on tour these days, is it still train-hopping and bicycles?

Not so much.  I’d still love to do a bike tour.  I did it once with another band and had a really good time, but as we get older the tours are getting shorter and more organized…though definitely still adventurous.

The band’s genre calling card has been described as ‘hot-jazz, klezmer and cabaret.’  Were you into all that music before you joined the band?

Yeah, I was.  I spent seven years living in Oregon and was playing in a band called the Underscore Orkestra, which played pretty similar music.  I actually knew the Sour Mash Hug Band before I joined, because they had played shows with the Underscore Orkestra…so I was introduced to them and when I moved to CA, I told ‘em “hey, I’m here and I’d love to play with you guys,” so that worked out pretty nicely.

You guys are not strangers to playing in Santa Cruz, but this is your first time playing at Kuumbwa.

That is true, so that’s a big deal.  I’ve volunteered at Kuumbwa since high school in 1997…a long time!

So it’s a homecoming show, of sorts, for you.

It is.  Kuumbwa is such a great place.  I love it.  I love the people that work there, the music there, everything about it.

How did you get started volunteering here?

It was actually through [longtime volunteers] Ken & Linda Kishlansky.  I went to school with their daughter Sara.  I was in the Jazz Band at school and Sara said “you should come to the jazz club where my dad works,” then I started volunteering…and here I am!

You mentioned that there is a new Sour Mash Hug Band album in the works? 

Yeah.  It was recorded in Oakland.  We’re still finishing up the album art and title, but it should be done very soon.

Will you be playing the new material at Kuumbwa?

Yeah, we’ll be playing a lot of the newer material.  We’ve got some great guest players on the album so there may be some special guests at the show.  We’re really excited to [play at Kuumbwa]…it’s such a great place and I’ve seen all these great bands there, so to be up there [onstage] myself is really special.

Kuumbwa Show Info

Club Kuumbwa Info

Sep 10

Patti Maxine Interview

Patti Maxine will be performing at Kuumbwa on September 13


Skilled lap steel guitarist Patti Maxine is an original member of Saddle Up And Boogie, Santa Cruz’s first western swing band and can be heard today in a number of groups, including the Saddle Pals. For this show, Maxine brings her own brand of fabulous to Kuumbwa for an evening of music honoring the local, lap steel guitarists’ genius in improvisation. Backed by some of the state’s best players, the spotlight will be on Maxine as a singer and multi-instrumentalist, moving through covers of many styles, from Hawaiian, folk, Americana, rock, and blues.

Patti has been playing Kuumbwa since the era of the church pew seats and talks her early days in the Santa Cruz music scene.

Conducted by Bennett Jackson


So how did you go about choosing the musicians and special guests for this show?

It was easy to choose the bass player.  Matt Bohn and I have been friends for so many years.  Five of us formed the band Saddle Up & Boogie around 2001.  Matt was the bassist in the band…he’s a wonderful musician and is now a well-known luthier in the area.  Then there are guitarists Jak Noble & Dorian Michael.  I’ve known Jak for more than 30 years.  I made music with Jak in the seventies, then he moved to the East Coast.  He recently moved back and I’ve reconnected with him.  Dorian Michael, the other guitarist, has played with Sherry Austin and myself over the years.  I first played with drummer Rick Alegria in Saddle Up & Boogie, when he would fill-in from time to time.  Alisa Rose is a well respected violinist from the Bay area and I am looking forward to a first time collaboration with her.  There will also be a few surprise guests making an appearance. 

Had you played much western swing prior to your joining Saddle Up & Boogie?

That was my first endeavor in the genre.  When we first started Saddle Up & Boogie, we did a lot of research and listened to all the western swing players, not just Bob Wills.  I learned and listened to a lot of the steel riffs; sat down and dissected them, learned some of the solos and really got quite an education.

Western swing players are very akin to jazz musicians.  There’s a lot of sophisticated playing.

That’s right…the person I took steel guitar lessons from, back in Virginia, would give us arrangements of “In The Mood” and all these standards, and I came to realize that steel players were often picking up trumpet parts and sometimes trombone parts…that was a huge lesson for me.

So when you first started playing music in Virginia, were you playing a lot of country music?

Yes, it was definitely country, like Hank Williams senior - the old guys - I actually met Little Jimmie Dickens and Reno & Smiley.  I started taking steel lessons in the early 50s.  I had a six-string Oahu lap steel with a matching amp and I started playing country and Hawaiian; Hawaiian because my teacher’s love was Hawaiian music, so he taught me that right away.  I hooked up with a local band in Roanoke and we played barn dances all over Virginia and West Virginia.

When did you come out to Santa Cruz? 

When I came to California, it was the winter of 1970.  I had met a bartender in Virginia at a bar where I played and he used to come to Lake Tahoe all the time, so through our conversations I was totally intrigued and jumped on a plane…essentially left my life back there.  I came to Tahoe and then made several trips back and forth [to Virginia].  Then I started playing a few steakhouses and met some friends…they talked about Santa Cruz all the time.  So, I came down to see Santa Cruz, pulled into town and there was a street fair going on by the Cooper House and I just caught the vibe.

So that was early 70s?

When I settled here, it was mid to later 70s.

What was the music scene like at that time?

Well there were all these different bars that aren’t around anymore, and I kind of landed in the women’s music and folk music scenes, because at the time I wasn’t playing much steel guitar.  I had left [the steel guitar]…literally left my possessions in Virginia and I had them shipped to me periodically.  I had a standard guitar with me and I had been singing a little bit, so that’s what I started doing…just singing and playing solo.

So about the time when you were getting settled in Santa Cruz was the time that Kuumbwa was beginning to build, since our first concert was held in 1975 and the club opened in 1977.  You’ve played Kuumbwa many times over the years, alongside numerous different musicians, but do you remember the first time you played the club?

I definitely played there when the stage was on the opposite wall from where you enter the club and there were church pews for seats.  I remember that.  I was definitely playing there in that era.

So you’ve seen it in all its incarnations!  Well, people are excited about this show.  It’s safe to say that any concertgoer in the Santa Cruz area has seen you play onstage alongside some musician or band, but this concert will also highlight your singing, something not everyone is aware that you do.

It’s true.  A lot of people have only heard me play steel as I am a featured instrumentalist in two of my current bands: Sherry Austin with Henhouse and The Island Breeze Band. The audience is going to hear another side of me.  We’ll do some standards and some other songs that I’ve always loved and don’t always get to do.  It’s going to be fun.

Kuumbwa Show Info

Jan 18

Allen Toussaint Interview

Allen Toussaint will be performing at Kuumbwa on February 11


Few musicians are as beloved as songwriter/vocalist/pianist/producer Allen Toussaint.  An architect of New Orleans R&B since the 1960s, Toussaint has retained his stature and important role within American music. 2009 brought his highly acclaimed album The Bright Mississippi, marking a high point in his career as a recording artist.  These days Toussaint is hitting the stage and tearing it up with his band, and with a deep well of classic tunes such as “Mother-in-Law,” “Southern Nights” and “Working in the Coalmine” to choose from – it will be hard to sit still for this one.

Allen describes the thrill of hearing other musicians perform his songs, working with producer Joe Henry and coming up with rockin’ guitar parts.

Conducted by Bennett Jackson


The last couple times you played Kuumbwa were solo piano dates, but I understand that  this upcoming show will be with a full band?

Yes, with a small band, but a band indeed.

Does playing with the band versus a solo piano show influence the set-list you perform?

Oh yes, definitely…it’s always nice to have some company up there and some things don’t rock so well without the band, so those things become optional when I have the band with me.  Of course there are some things I do alone that wouldn’t work as well with the band, and they have their place too.

I remember a very evocative solo version of “Southern Nights” that you did at Kuumbwa last time, similar to the original version on your record.  It’s so different from Glen Campbell’s arrangement [which was a #1 hit], but his version works equally well.  Do you enjoy hearing your material interpreted in a way that’s different from your original approach?


I enjoy [it] tremendously when I hear someone doing another version of a song that I’ve written.  Even if it’s very close [to the original] or really far away from it, I really appreciate it all.  I usually like everyone else’s rendition better than my own.

In your career as a songwriter, did you ever write a song that you’d hoped a particular artist would record, but they never did?

I’ve written a couple of Professor Longhair-type songs, because even after he had passed on I’d sill write some songs with him in mind and spirit.

When you’re in the studio with artists from across the musical spectrum, from New Orleans luminaries like Professor Longhair or The Nevilles, to rockers such as Elvis Costello, does the studio environment change?

Well everybody’s there to make music, but there is a different vibe from artist to artist.  Innately you are always who you are, but by being a producer I’m kind of a chameleon.  Whoever is there at that time, whatever is special about them [becomes] most important.  

Speaking of production, your last record - 2009’s The Bright Mississippi - was produced by Joe Henry and featured a lot of classic, early jazz and blues tunes.  When you were working on it, did it feel different to create an album where you weren’t the principal composer of the material?

Yes, and it was a luxury to have someone else be the sole producer of it all.  He chose all these wonderful songs and chose all the musicians and where and when to record.  He did everything but play the piano, and that was quite a luxury, I must say.  And plus, Joe Henry is such a gentleman producer and lovely to work with.

So on the subject of piano, I heard a radio interview with you recently where you mentioned your guitar playing as well.  If I remember correctly they played a Lee Dorsey track that featured you on guitar.  Do you pick up the guitar to do any writing these days? 

I haven’t picked up the guitar in quite a while…I don’t use the guitar for writing at all.   I’m not proficient enough to rely on it when I’m writing, but I do like the guitar very much…I love the feel of the guitar because you get to hold it in your arms.

A lot of your tunes have such great guitar parts.  Some of the stuff you did with The Meters, like “Ride Your Pony” have very distinct guitar riffs.  Were those riffs created in the studio, or were they something you had composed ahead of time?

To go back back as far as “Ride Your Pony,” [the original] was a little bit before The Meters…that was Roy Montrell on guitar. [sings the riff] that was sort of an embellishment to the bassline…I had those things in mind when I went into the studio and Roy Montrell was a good guitar reader, so I wrote his parts out and he played them very well.  But of course when we got to The Meters and had Leo [Nocentelli] on guitar, I didn’t have to write much out all, because I just loved how funky he did it.  All he needed was to know the [chord] changes.

So are there any plans for a new record, perhaps a follow-up with Joe Henry?

I am planning to do a recording with Joe Henry within this month.  I had a lovely time recording with him and…we have planned a follow-up to River in Reverse[a 2006 collaboration with Elvis Costello] this year.

7pm Show Info

9pm Show Info

Jan 6

Erik Deutsch Interview

The Erik Deutsch Band will be performing at Kuumbwa on January 17


Known to many as the versatile keyboardist in the Charlie Hunter Trio, Erik Deutsch has worked with artists across the musical spectrum, from Norah Jones to Shooter Jennings, Citizen Cope to Rosanne Cash. As a bandleader, he released the album Hush Money in 2009 and Fingerprint in 2007, building up to his most recent release, 2012’s adventurous Demonio Teclado. This new record is filled with funky, slinky grooves and employs vibrant electronic colorings and lush soundscapes from his band of bassist Jeff Hill, drummer Tony Mason and trumpeter Jon Gray.

Erik discusses the recording of his new album, the tarnished legacy of Ike Turner and seeing great shows at Kuumbwa.

Conducted by Bennett Jackson 


Your new album Demonio Teclado sounds great and has killer instrumentation and arrangements.  But one of my favorite things about the album is that it features only two non-original songs, yet they happen to be written by a couple of my favorite musicians: Ike Turner’s “Getting Nasty” and Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.”  How did you come to pick those tunes?

From my years with [guitarist] Charlie Hunter, I saw how much fun he had playing cover songs and how you can connect to the audience in a fun way through that, so I started to incorporate that into my set.  The Ike tune just felt like a really awesome song that needed to be recorded…we’d already been playing it [live] for a couple of years.  The Neil Young song I played one night and it just worked really well and had a great vibe as an instrumental song.

It’s a shame that Ike Turner’s dark personal life has overshadowed a lot of his amazing music and songwriting.

Totally agree with that…but he was a big jerk [laughter].  Unfortunately that’s just the reality…but there’s a reason this guy is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

I was looking at the list of folks that you’ve played and collaborated with, among them being Rosanne Cash, Shooter Jennings & Norah Jones.  There seemed to be a lot of names popping up from the country world.  Are you a big country music fan?

Yeah, I am.  My mom is from Nashville, so I’ve always had Nashville in my blood.  I lived there when I was ten and I actually went to elementary school with Shooter [musician, as well as the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter], so there’s a connection there.  But I mostly grew up in Washington D.C. and there’s no country music there, so I mainly grew up on rock, hip-hop and jazz.  The next place I went was Colorado…where I got a little more connected to folk and bluegrass.  So [playing country] has been sort of a more recent thing, especially playing with Shooter…he’s like a dictionary of country music and he’s a great guy to listen to music with and talk about music with…that’s just been a really great experience.

Does playing with artists who might have different musical backgrounds and sensibilities than you influence the sound of your solo records?

No doubt…everything I do influences [the solo records].  Every time I fall in love with a new artist or style, it’s always going to affect what I’m doing.  When you get to work with great people like Shooter or Citizen Cope, all of it: musically, aesthetically…their style of business…influences me.

You’re based out of Brooklyn now, right?


Did you record the album there?

Yeah, in my building there’s a studio…it’s Jeff Hill’s studio.  He’s the bass player on the record and he’s coming with me to Kuumbwa. 

Did you ever play Kuumbwa when you were on the road with Charlie Hunter?

We played there three times.

Do you have any particular memories of those times playing there?

Well, I’ll tell you this: the first time I ever went to Kuumbwa was in 1999 and I saw Brad Mehldau play solo piano.  He played for an hour or more and then he stopped and said “I’m gonna come back and play my entire new album” and then he came back and played for another 90 minutes.  Then he played an encore.  I’d never seen a solo piano concert that long…he was playing so inspired and the audience was intensely listening and it really struck me at that moment how exceptional [Kuumbwa] was.  When I got to [play] there with Charlie it only reinforced that.  I think it’s one of the great venues in the world and everyone who plays there agrees with that…so I can’t wait to play.

Kuumbwa Show Info

Jul 27

Albert Lee Interview

Albert Lee will be performing at Kuumbwa on August 1

Albert Lee’s name is well-known to guitar aficionados. During the ’60s, before becoming known for his recordings with American country and rock icons, the British guitarist spent his ‘apprenticeship’ years performing in a number of English bands. Later work in the ’70s and ’80s with Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne and more, cemented his reputation as a premier guitar-slinger. When not recording or touring with other musicians, Lee enjoys entrancing fans with his own band, which includes J.T. Thomas on keyboards; Will MacGregor on bass; and Jason Smith on drums. On The Town Tonight is his latest recording.  There will be both a 7pm and 9pm show.

Albert talks about moving to the United States and playing with his guitar heroes, the solos that cemented his reputation as a top tier country player, and how good it is to be playing back in California.

Conducted by Bennett Jackson


Growing up in England, what initially led you to country music?

I was listening to Lonnie Donegan…he was the man.  It was skiffle music, but he was playing guitar…he always had a really nice, old Martin guitar and he was influenced by all the blues and folk figures from the states.  He was playing Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Carter Family songs, but he was doing it with a cool jazz rhythm section with acoustic bass, drums and a really good guitar player who played in the style of Django Reinhardt.  It was exciting music and that’s what got us all playing the guitar back then, and it was a kind of intro to country music.  Then I started to get rock and roll records but was picking up some more country things too.  It’s always been side by side to me, country and rock & roll, but I got particularly good at country guitar playing around the sixties and I formed a little country band about 1968.  But I soon realized I wasn’t going to make a living playing [country music] in England because there was a limited market for it…by that time everyone was going towards blues and Hendrix.  I soon found out, when I got to America in the early seventies, that my style of guitar playing was appreciated more here [in the US], than it was in the UK.

So there wasn’t really an audience in Britain that appreciated country music, like there was for American blues music?

There wasn’t a big following for country, but all of the guitar players I knew certainly picked up on some of the great solos we heard…mostly from Chet Atkins, Hank Garland and James Burton. 

You seemed to really hit the ground running when you made it stateside, but did you face any initial skepticism since you were British and playing this very American form of music?

Well, the first record I did that got recognized here was with a band called Head, Hands & Feet.  I played a couple country tunes on that record, and they quickly got airplay on radio stations all over the states.  There was a DJ in LA who would play one of the tracks three or four times in a row on the radio!  So I quickly got a reputation here as a country player, and realized that this was where I wanted to be [laughs].

It must have been great when you moved to the US and started crossing paths with a lot of the players that influenced you.

It was a real thrill to be playing with those people.  We were just playing local bars in town.  I played once a week at this little bar in Calabasas and it would either be Al Perkins or Buddy Emmons on steel, John Hartford was there, Doug Kershaw would sit in sometimes, even Glen Campbell came out once.  And there I was, accepted by all these people…one of them, so it’s a thrill for me.

Did Buddy Emmons live in LA for session work?

Yeah, Buddy lived out here for a few years, and he was often out on the road, playing bass with Roger Miller.  He’d play a couple things on steel but he was mainly just playing bass with Roger Miller.  I just felt really lucky that I’d landed in the middle of all this…and for some reason I’d always wanted to be in Los Angeles rather than Nashville.

The early Emmylou Harris records you played on were recorded in Hollywood, instead of Nashville, right?

Oh yeah, we did them all here.  I would run into those guys and then ended up joining [Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band] because James Burton was off playing with Elvis and couldn’t play in both bands.  I just fell straight in with that band…it was great.

(Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band - Albert Lee is 3rd from left)

Did you ever get a chance to play with Elvis and/or the TCB Band?

Not Elvis unfortunately, but I worked with all [the TCB Band members] in one situation or another, either onstage or in the studio.  They’re all very good friends.  I played with Glen D. Hardin, Elvis’ piano player, in Emmylou’s band…did some sessions with Ronnie Tutt, the drummer, and played with James [Burton] quite a few times in different situations.  In fact I just got back from England after doing some shows with him…it’s great fun…these are my heroes and it was great to be accepted as part of the family even though I was from England.

Are there any plans to bring the Albert Lee/James Burton tour to the states?

The tour with James was a lot of fun…he is one of my biggest influences, so I jumped at the chance to tour with him.  There are no future plans, but we both would like to do it again.

2012 finds you gearing up for some 70th birthday celebrations – of which, a new album is included.  Will you be performing any new material at this Santa Cruz show?

I’ll be playing tunes from my previous albums and perhaps some lesser-known favorites.  My first instrument was piano, so I love to feature it in my shows.  I’ve had a UK band for many years, but this US band is a relatively new venture for me.  I’ve lived in California for almost 40 years but most of my work has taken me to Europe.  I’m hoping to change that imbalance!

Does this birthday anniversary have you reflecting back on some career highlights?  Are there any particular guitar solos or musical partnerships that you are particularly proud of?

This is my 52nd year on the road, so I have many memories to look back on.  As a teenager in London, I played alongside Eric [Clapton], Jeff [Beck] and Jimmy Page.  We were all influenced by the same kinds of music but of course went in different directions.  Highlights from my career would be working with Clapton for five years, the Everly Brothers for over twenty, Bill Wyman for a dozen or so…my time with Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band introduced me to a new audience in the US and encouraged me to move here in the 1970’s.  Certain solos did introduce my playing to US players…my solos on Emmy’s “Luxury Liner,” Dave Edmunds “Sweet Little Lisa” and my own “Country Boy" enhanced my reputation as a country player.

Did you ever play in the Santa Cruz area with any of those groups?

Yeah, I’ve been through there a couple of times.  In the seventies I played the Catalyst with Rodney Crowell and Emmylou.  It was a good club.  But I’m looking forward to [Kuumbwa].  I’m looking forward to this new venture.  After so many years of living [in California], I’ve never put a [US] band together until now.

We’re glad you’re going to break-in this new project at Kuumbwa.

I’m happy to be working at home for a change.  Working in California is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now, but I always seem to be 5,000 miles away!

7pm show info

9pm show info

Jul 20

Meklit Hadero Interview

Meklit Hadero will be performing at Kuumbwa on July 26

If Joni Mitchell were East African and met Nina Simone for tea in San Francisco’s Mission District, she might end up sounding like Meklit Hadero (pronounced Muh-kleet Ha-dair-O). Born in Ethiopia, raised stateside and nurtured for the last several years in San Francisco, Meklit has a warm and luminous singing voice and a lyrical songwriting pen that moves from the starkly personal to the poetically metaphoric. Her entrancing debut full-length recording, On a Day Like This… was released by Porto Franco Records in April 2010 and embodies her current life in San Francisco.

From Iowa, to Brooklyn, to Florida, to San Francisco, Hadero tells us about her musical soundtrack growing up, including her discovery of classic rock radio!  

Conducted by Bennett Jackson.


What was your first introduction to music, growing up?  I assume that was when you were young and living in Ethiopia?

Well, I left Ethiopia when I was just under two years old, so my introduction to music was probably some unconscious moment that I can’t remember (laughs), but when it comes to growing up with music, it was really listening to cassette tapes [in Ethiopia] and American top-40 radio [after moving to the US in]…the early eighties, so that was a lot of Michael Jackson.  We never really knew who the person was, or their story, it was more about soundscapes, and those things were always a part of my sonic landscape.

I can relate, because when I was growing up we always listened to Michael Jackson’s Bad on cassette in the car!


So when you first came to the US, where did you live?

We were living in Washington DC briefly and then we moved out to Iowa.  We lived in Iowa for about three and a half years.  It was great in some ways and was a real American adjustment period.  Then we moved to Brooklyn in 1986, when I was six years old, and I spent my elementary years there.

When you were growing up in these totally different environments, did you find that they inspired you musically in different ways?

Yeah, growing up in Brooklyn was all about early hip-hop, so I grew up with a lot of that and really loving hip-hop.  In Iowa it was more top-40 radio…and then we moved to Florida which is where I learned what this thing called a ‘classic rock station’ is!

And maybe Gloria Estefan too?!

Well it was north-central Florida not south Florida, so as much as Gloria Estefan was on the radio in general, Gainesville is more like the South.

So more like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Allman Brothers, all that good stuff?

Totally…that’s when I first started listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.  That’s also when I started listening to jazz too, because they had great independent radio in Gainesville, since it’s a college town…that’s when I started sneaking out and going to shows and when my sister introduced me to jazz. 

Were there any particular artists that initially drew you into jazz?

I would say it was Miles Davis.  It was something of his ability to create a space you could stay in for a long period of time, a sonic environment you can settle into.  And not to say that it doesn’t have a lot of movement, but it’s a different kind.

So was it when you started listening to jazz that you started thinking you’d like to be a performer yourself?

I always wanted to, it was just a secret desire.  I performed a lot in elementary school and the first time I ever played a true show was when I was twelve at the 6th grade variety show.   A teacher had given me a tape recording of a record of The Best of Billie Holliday, so I performed “God Bless the Child.”  I always wanted to sing and write songs, I just didn’t really know how.  “How do you become a musician?”  I didn’t really identify with educational music like school band or kids who would just play cover songs, so I didn’t see how to do it.  So then I went to college and got a political science degree from Yale, and when I moved to San Francisco in 2004, I reached the point where I said “I don’t really know how, but I have to start.”  I started taking voice lessons and quickly became immersed in the arts & culture scene here and the Red Poppy House….which very quickly became my creative home.  I become a part of that world and eventually started running that space [Red Poppy House] where people were thinking about the impact of the art in the neighborhood and city.  I really like that.  The idea of art for me is so powerful…like thinking about impact, and maybe my political science degree has something to do with that, and makes me interested in broader arts and culture projects.

You’ve done numerous artist-in-residencies and formed the Arba Minch Collective for Ethiopian musicians.  Is part of your goal to have your work be broader and not solely in music?

It really is.  I like the idea of being engaged in the world and I like that music has so much potential to create an openness in people.  It can ask a lot of questions, or offer interpretations of our world that we can take in at a level that’s not full of stuck ideas about how we should operate, or how the world ought to work.  It’s a much more open place.

Kuumbwa Show Info: http://bit.ly/Qf20RA

Jul 10

The Yesberger Band Interview

Pianist Devon Yesberger will be performing at Kuumbwa with the Yesberger Band on August 9.

The Yesberger Band, an East Coast group founded in 2010 at the Berklee College of Music, is the project of lead singer and pianist Devon Yesberger, supported by good friends Spencer Stewart on bass and Gabriel Smith on drums.  A sensible, groovy and poetic trio, the Yesberger band mixes jazz nuances with bouncy pop. Their energetic live performances are unmatched by most young musicians, and is evidence of a strong passion for the music and a deep friendship between the performers and the audience.

In preparation for his band’s Kuumbwa debut, their namesake frontman Devon recounted for us the trio’s Berklee beginnings in Boston, as well as some of the musical heavyweights they’ve learned from and shared the stage with.

Conducted by Bennett Jackson


What was the impetus for the Yesberger Band?  Were you all Berklee classmates together?

Though The Yesberger Band was formed at Berklee about two and a half years ago, there is some history that dates back to high school between the bassist, Spencer Stewart and myself.  We both participated in the All-State and All-Northwest conferences as members of the Jazz Choir rhythm section from Washington and the surrounding states.  We became close friends and both ended up at Berklee starting in Fall 2009.  We met Gabe, the drummer, via various Berklee ensembles and jam sessions in Spring 2010 and eventually I invited him to come along and jam with us.  [The group] definitely first connected over jazz standards, playing our favorite tunes for a few hours at a time, but we soon began experimenting with the few songs I had written at that point.  I loved the sound so much that I suddenly found myself writing a lot more than I had in the past, trying to bring in enough tunes over the course of the next few months to start playing gigs around town.  It was about a year later that we started recording the Bad Weather EP (Spring 2011) and did our first tour that summer hitting the West Coast with dates opening for Bobby McFerrin and The Yellowjackets, and [in] Gabe’s home state of Michigan opening up for The Temptations at Interlochen, the school that Gabe attended for three years of high school.

Was there an initial common ground in musical influence between the three of you?

I’d say we were all music lovers from the start, who happened to direct the majority of our high school musical (no pun intended) attention towards jazz.  Thus we arrived at Berklee and dove deep into the middle of the active jazz scene, but because of the diverse environment at Berklee, I think we all found ourselves being really interested in all the other music that was motivating so many students at the school.  So we got together and explored how we could connect our jazz roots with our growing appreciation for more contemporary styles, and explore the fusion of different styles.  Sometimes the jazz scene at Berklee could get a little exclusive stylistically, so we all felt refreshed by [rehearsing] some cool covers, as well as work on some originals.  I remember being particularly motivated by Brad Mehldau’s cover of Exit Music For a Film at that time, because Spencer and I had played it during our senior year All-Northwest experience and it was a great example of how contemporary music really can make for some neat arrangements in jazz settings.  Furthermore, we all began to really appreciate lyrics, an art that is plentiful in the jazz repertoire, but often underappreciated by instrumentalists.  Not only did we begin to learn the words to our favorite standards (something we should’ve done long before…) but we also got excited about the lyric heavy cross-genre music we were pursuing.

Berklee has some amazing professors, many of which are established/accomplished musicians themselves. Did you or your bandmates have any particularly influential or notable professors?

I have to tip my hat off to Alain Mallet for this one.  He has inspired me in so many ways both as an incredible pianist in just about every style and also as a teacher.  I took an ensemble with him where we studied the music of Paul Simon and Sting ([Mallet] used to be the pianist in Paul Simon’s band in the early 2000’s) and it really made me realize how versatile I could be as a musician – it inspired me to appreciate all styles of music, and try especially hard to have a complete understanding of rhythm.  Not only can this guy rip through any jazz tune, but he can be sensitive and simple for more contemporary pop, or set fire to any Latin rhythm seeing as he seems to know every last rhythmic possibility on this earth.  He really has been an inspiration for me to become a versatile pianist (because I will always appreciate the chance to be a sideman for other people) and a positive bandleader with a constant flow of ideas.  As for Spencer and Gabe, I’m sure they have their inspirations, and I know one for sure is Hal Crook, a rather legendary jazz ensemble teacher at Berklee who really helps his students approach free jazz with clear intent and structure, despite what you might expect based on the discipline (or lack thereof).  Spencer is lucky enough to be part of the Global Jazz Workshop at Berklee and he studies weekly with Danilo Perez…and has regular lessons with John Pattituci who is one of the adjunct faculty for the program. He’ll actually be flying out to the Newport Jazz Festival the weekend before our performance at Kuumbwa to play the main stage with Adam Cruz.

Since Berklee has such a high pedigree for musicianship, does the Yesberger Band do anything in particular to make yourselves stand out amongst such steep company?

We are lucky to have developed a humble confidence that keeps us from feeling like we have to outdo anyone at Berklee.  I think one thing that makes this easy is that we have a bit of a niche at Berklee – we’re the only jazz trio playing original singer/songwriter material that I know of… [and] as a result we’ve been able to go through Berklee without feeling like there were any other bands hot on our heels. There are so many amazing bands at Berklee, but they’re all doing their own unique thing, and as a result, there are way less competitive vibes than you might expect – in fact I feel very encouraged and supported by the community.  It’s so cool to be friends with all sorts of people who are doing amazing things but in such different ways or with such different music…everyone just wants to be able to stand on both feet when they’re done with Berklee and we’re lucky enough to be getting a pretty good head start that makes it feel like we’re easing into the lives of post-college professional musicians. That being said, because we’re at music school and there are such high standards, we definitely rehearse a lot before shows to make sure that we can impress with our clarity and attention to detail.

Kuumbwa Show Info: http://bit.ly/MZer2L

May 4

Laurie Lewis Interview

Laurie Lewis will be performing at Kuumbwa with “Hills to Hollers” on May 21.

Bluegrass legend Laurie Lewis, Cultural Heritage Choir leader Linda Tillery and Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Barbara Higbie have created a vocal trio that taps into the most primordial roots of the American musical experience. “Hills to Hollers” explores American music from the hills of bluegrass and country, to the work songs and hollers of the African-American tradition. Performing with soulful abandon, three-part vocals, and champion musicianship, these women take it to the mat.

Laurie Lewis’ new album Skippin’ and Flyin’ is a tribute to bluegrass legend Bill Monroe.  It turns out that Lewis’ relationship with Monroe got its start backstage at Kuumbwa in the early 1980s.  Laurie took a moment to talk about that meeting and the upcoming “Hills to Hollers” show.  John Sandidge, of Snazzy Productions - and producer of that Bill Monroe show - also recounted for us his recollections of when Monroe graced the Kuumbwa stage.

Conducted by Bennett Jackson


Laurie Lewis Interview

Can you recall the details of your band opening up for, and you meeting Bill Monroe at Kuumbwa?

I had met Bill previously, but I don’t think he would have remembered me before we met at Kuumbwa.  His bus driver at the time, Roland White, was a fan of my interpretation of a song written by Bill’s daughter, Melissa Monroe.  Roland made sure that Bill came into [Kuumbwa] and listened to me sing that song.  As you know, the back room is pretty tiny, and there wasn’t room in there for all the Blue Grass Boys and my 5-piece band.  When we got off stage, we needed to pack up as quickly as possible to make room for Bill’s band.  Bill was seated in a chair, and hoisted my guitar case up onto his lap and opened it or me, so that I could pack up.  He said, “I’ve never done this for anyone before.” and then he told me, “You’re better than you think you are.”

Did Monroe’s playing influence how you approached your music early in your career?

Most definitely.  I was given a copy of “The Great Bill Monroe,” an album of some of his early Columbia recordings, and was totally smitten by Chubby Wise’s fiddling and also by the raw, emotive singing on that collection.  Bill’s mandolin playing may not have influenced me personally too much, but his entire band’s sound certainly did.

Your latest album, Skippin’ and Flyin’ is a tribute to Monroe.  Was there a moment when you realized you wanted to pay homage to him in an album?

I think that it occurred to me to do this when I started hearing people re-recording Bill’s repertoire for the centennial of his birth [in 2011]. I thought about the huge impact his music has had on my music, and I wanted to express that in a personal way…not just by dong a bunch of his songs over again, but by exploring the ways he taught me (unknown to him) to take material from various sources and personalize it.

Will you be doing any tunes from Skippin’ and Flyin in the “Hills to Hollers” show?

Yes, we will be playing at least one song from that album: “The Pharaoh’s Daughter.”  It is about the woman who risked going against her father’s edict to save Moses from death.

How do you, Linda Tillery and Barbara Higbie decide on what material to include in the “Hills to Hollers” repertoire? 

We just get together and try it out, and see what fits us. If any of the three of us vetoes any particular suggestion, we move on, because there is so much material to draw from we have the luxury of making sure we are all on the same page. We like the material that seems to be from that time in American history when rural people, black and white, played and sang a similar repertoire. We use that as a jumping-off point for forays into all sorts of collaborations.


John Sandidge on Bill Monroe playing Kuumbwa

           Somewhere between 1980 and ‘83, early on in Snazzy Production’s career, we brought Bill Monroe [to Santa Cruz] twice: once to the Crow’s Nest and once to Kuumbwa.  The Kuumbwa show really stands out in my mind, though.  At that time I was not very good about knowing what was going on in this business and I got a call [from Monroe’s management] that asked what time I was picking up Bill from the airport, and I said “well, I’m not…” and they told me I’d signed a contract saying that I would!  I looked it up…and I had!  At that time I owned an old Cadillac limo from the mid-to-late sixties, so I fired up the Caddy and went over the hill and picked up Bill Monroe, all of the Blue Grass Boys, Bill’s new wife, plus all their instruments and packed them into this limo and went back over Highway 17.

            When we hit the summit I turned on the radio to KPIG and they were playing a Bill Monroe tune.  Bill asked “How did you do that?!”  I joked and said “it’s new-fangled radio, I could do that anytime” and Bill says: “Well, have them play another one.”  So we get to Kuumbwa, and Bill had a reputation of being a pretty grumpy guy, but he had his new wife with him and he was just in a great mood and he was hanging out with some kids and the younger musicians while he was there.  We didn’t have a hugely [financially] successful show, but it was just a great experience…to have somebody of that caliber come to town…a guy who invented a style of American music that will last forever.

Kuumbwa Show Info: http://bit.ly/IPtDbI

Feb 3

Interview with Tuck & Patti

Tuck & Patti will be performing at Kuumbwa on Tuesday, February 14 at 7 & 9 pm

For three decades, the unique vocal/guitar jazz duo of Guitarist Tuck Andress and vocalist Patti Cathcart has cast its musical spell worldwide, capturing the hearts of lovers, the respect of jazz buffs, and the jaw-dropping awe of guitarists. This Valentine’s Day, join Kuumbwa in embracing Tuck & Patti’s one-of-a-kind formula of what the Boston Globe’s David Gérard has called “unencumbered yet passionate arrangements display(ing) the sort of panache that elevate them above the ‘jazz brunch’ moniker and underscore their music’s timeless beauty.”

Tuck & Patti chat about their Valentine’s Day tradition of playing Kuumbwa, some of the memorable moments on stage, as well as their new endeavors in teaching and passing along on their craft.  

Conducted by Bennett Jackson


This Valentine’s Day marks another anniversary of your longstanding ‘date-night’ with Santa Cruz.  Do you remember how this tradition of the Valentine’s Day show got started?

Patti (P): The first time I think it just happened that Valentine’s Day fell on a night we were scheduled to play

Tuck (T): Yeah, we used to play there during different parts of the year but 2000 was the year where we first played on Valentine’s Day and we’ve targeted it for that time ever since.

Twelve years!  That’s a good longstanding tradition.

P: We may have missed a few in-between, but we’ve made most of them.  Our music is really suited to it, and its great to see the lovers get together.  We always get requests and have fun…debuting new tunes and stuff like that, and it’s always interesting because both shows [7 & 9 pm] seem to have a different flavor. 

Do you let the set-list unfold on-stage?

P: Yeah, that’s always the best way.  Aside from Valentine’s Day, there’s always stuff happening that [can influence what we play], and if we ever have new tunes to debut we try and do that there. 

Your latest album “I Remember You” (2008) was comprised of standards and Great American Songbook material.  Will you be performing songs off of that record?

P: Yes, we’ll do some of those.  We’re in the process of starting another [record], and there’s some tunes that we haven’t done before that we’ve been playing around with for the past few months, so we’ll throw a few of those in.  We keep it open to where the spirit may lead.

I read that “I Remember You” was mixed at your home studio.

T: Yeah, we’ve been mixing there for a while.

Was it recorded at home as well?

T: Yeah, we’ve recorded everything at our home studios, except for one album: “Dream” that we recorded in San Francisco, but other than that we’ve always recorded at home.

I imagine that having a home studio is very freeing in that you can get to the studio right when the muse strikes, and there’s no record company folks looking over your shoulder!

T: It’s true about not having anyone over your shoulder - though that was never really an issue for us - but we tend to schedule and record as if we were going into another studio…we book ourselves and plan our schedule.  But it is great to be able to do it from home.

So is this new album going to have standards on it as well?

P: It’ll be more like a classic Tuck & Patti record: some covers of tunes by people we love and some originals.  When we did the Great American Songbook CD, you can do an endless number of those tunes, so we’ll do more of those in our future, but we’re going to go to our classic “T & P” sound for this one.

Getting back to the Kuumbwa show.  Over those years of Valentine’s Day concerts, are there any moments that stand out in your memory?

P: One of the things that’s recurred and has been really cool is when someone proposes marriage during the show!  I usually talk to them first and make sure the person they’re proposing to isn’t going to turn them down and make it a traumatic event [laughs]!  A few times we’ve had people come up onstage and do it, but most of the time they ask us to do it in a song, it’s always pretty cool when that happens.

I didn’t know that there had been actual marriage proposals during the show…that’s awesome!

P: Yeah!  Also, it’s become a tradition for a lot of people and after all these years I recognize them.  I don’t know them, but I recognize their faces and I know that its something they try to do with each other each year, and that’s really cool.

It’s a great ‘Kuumbwa community’ event, and our patrons really look forward to it each year.

T: Recently we’ve been beginning a new project for us where we’re teaching, producing, recording and mixing other people’s projects now.  We’ve talked about this literally for decades and haven’t had the time to do it, but now we can.

P: We’ve really been enjoying it…it’s a really neat thing to be doing.

Are those joint lessons that you’re offering?

T: We have done that.  We teach guitarists and singers separately, but we coach duos and have even done entire vocal groups together.  One really fun thing to do in the process is to record them and help them make their CDs.

P: We are able to teach via Skype for international students, and it’s been a really wonderful thing to do.  We both love teaching and it’s that time of life where we need to pass it on.

T: Yeah, so many of our great heroes didn’t [teach] much…and we just think it’s so valuable to do that…It’s been really nice to use our experience to help other people.

To inquire more about lessons from Tuck & Patti please visit their website or contact them at info@tuckandpatti.com

Tuck & Patti: www.tuckandpatti.com

Kuumbwa Show Info: http://bit.ly/AbbebD

Jan 23

Interview with Regina Carter

Regina Carter will be performing at Kuumbwa on Monday, February 20

How do you take beautiful, traditional African/world music, infuse it with a modern feel, and stay true to its past, without compromise? Award-winning, classically trained jazz violinist Regina Carter’s latest effort, Reverse Thread (E1 Music, 2010), rises to the challenge. Lauded as one of the finest violinists of her generation, Carter captures both the essence and allure of the original music through a lens of contemporary interpretation. To achieve this end, Carter adds an accordion and a kora—the West African harp traditionally played by village storytellers—to her longstanding rhythm section for an uplifting and stirring result.

Regina thinks back on how the music she heard growing up in Detroit was an impetus for her latest album, as well as playing with a kora for the first time, and early-morning musical epiphanies.

Conducted by Bennett Jackson


When you decided to embark on the “Reverse Thread” project, was there a particular part of Africa whose music you knew you wanted to highlight?

When I got this opportunity, my first thought was to research and record Arab music, especially the Chaldeans, who are Christian Arabs.  That idea came because I grew up in Detroit, which has the largest population of Chaldeans in the US, and that was my introduction to Arab music.  I thought it was so beautiful, with non-Western scale tones…I found it very appealing.  So that was my starting point, and then when I started listening to music in my research, someone at the World Music Institute [in New York City] handed me a CD of music by Ugandan Jews, and I was completely taken by that.  From there the concept went through many, many changes.  At one point I thought it would be music of African cultures from around the world, or music by African composers.  It took many turns, because in collecting music and listening, I would hear something that would lead me to another CD or another part of the world…but in some way I would always find my way back to the African continent.   Of course there’s such a mixture of religions, cultures and languages on the continent, there’s no way I could fit it all on one CD…so I just let the music guide me.  So many times in playing this music, people have come up to me asking: “have you heard this music?”…It’s opened me up to hear other music and has been a journey that will continue to the next record. 

It sounds like the project has taken on a path of its own aside from the actual album itself.

It definitely has!

I’m guessing that due to modern recording and the like, the original recordings that you researched sound quite different than the versions that ended up on your album, despite the melodies being the same.

For most of the tunes, that was the case.  There were a few like “Kothbiro” and “N’Teri” that were pretty much true-to-form, but there were some field recordings and some of the pieces from the Ugandan Jews where the melodies weren’t difficult, but they’re so simple that you think “what am I going to do with this?”  I had to think about where I could take it, but still keep the beauty that’s there in the naked melody.  It’s interesting because you think: “yeah, I can play this” but what can you do to bring life into it?  That’s the most difficult thing.  There are intricate things that you really have to pay attention to, and you can’t overplay…just let the beauty of the natural melody come through.  You also have to arrange it so there’s not too much stuff piled on top of the melody, so it allows it to go somewhere.  We had to do a lot of listening to figure out how to breathe life into the melodies while staying true to the music.

Did you let a lot of that formulating of arrangements take place prior to going into the studio, or was it done on the spot?

It was done prior.  We started the project 2 years before we went into the studio.  We came up with skeleton ideas for the pieces and then started gigging to see how people would respond to it…and to see how we would respond to the arrangements as well.  A lot of times after a gig, I’d wake up early in the morning and I’d know how to cut or move things around, then we’d try it again…and after two years of playing and arranging and letting things happen organically, we went in and recorded it. 

This album prominently features Yacouba Sissoko on kora (a 21-stringed gourd instrument).  Had you played with him, or any kora players, prior to the recording?

Yacouba is an amazing player and I had not played with a kora before.  In fact, the first instruments I used for this project – because I chose the instruments before I chose the material – were accordion and guitar.  But I decided I wanted another string instrument that was different from guitar.  My mentor [violinist] John Blake’s sister recommended Yacouba.  I had called several kora players before and the vibe wasn’t right, but when I called Yacouba he was very gracious and came to a rehearsal and it just worked…he studied the western scale system so he understands our key signatures and can tune to any key we’re playing in, while most kora players only play in 1 or 2 keys…that makes Yacouba even more of a specialist.

One of the things I really like about the instrumentation on “Reverse Thread” is that it takes the kora, which is typically West African, and blends it with the accordion, which is prominent in Southern Africa, making a really unique melange.

Yeah, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but it’s a pretty cool blend of sounds.  I’ve found that when people listen to the record or hear us live, they say they hear zydeco, or other things.  That is basically the whole point of “Reverse Thread” because I think of the human race being a huge garment, and if you pull one string it can unravel the whole garment…basically we’re all connected and you hear that in our music.

Have you had a chance to play this music live in Africa?

Yes, we actually went to South Africa and we’re looking for more festivals and places to play [in Africa].  Playing in South Africa was an amazing experience, it was my second time there and the people loved the project.

Is there material that you wish you had tackled for this project but weren’t able to?  Is there a Volume II on the horizon perhaps?

I’m looking at religious songs from Israel now.  There are a lot of melodies I’ve heard that are beautiful to me, but I know [they’re] not something that’s common to western ears.  But I’ve just found some really beautiful melodies so far…so that’s my plan, but who knows.  I let the music guide me.  I’m better off that way.  

Regina Carter: www.reginacarter.com

Kuumbwa Show Info: http://bit.ly/znz0v1

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