.Living Jazz overcomes pandemic blues with ‘Call & Response’

For 36 years, Living Jazz has provided disadvantaged youth, adults and seniors free music programs in Title One Oakland public schools, offering immersive experiences that reignite interest in jazz music and musicians. All this changed when the pandemic struck.

“At the beginning of Covid-19, along with the rest of the universe, we could no longer do the work that we were typically doing,” said Stacey Hoffman, founding executive director of Living Jazz. “All of a sudden we were relegated to the computer and we no longer were able to produce the programs that we had been used to. More importantly, we were not able to do the thing that’s underlying all of our work, which is to propagate community based on accessibility and diversity.”

Like many arts organizations, Living Jazz found themselves disconnected from their base and their mission due to the social-distancing mandates and closed venues. Even as they tried to cope with this “new normal,” other problems began to arise.

“We started recognizing as time went on during the last six months that people were experiencing ‘Zoom fatigue’ and the experience people were having with live music,” Hoffman said. “It seemed to me, people were getting exhausted with online concerts and less enthusiastic about something they would have normally gone out to do many times a week.

“So, we began this conversation about how to think outside of the box to stay relevant. We asked ourselves what we would want to do personally. What would be appealing to us if we didn’t even want to log on to another online concert? We began talking about our own personal desire to have the chance to listen to our jazz heroes, jazz masters and iconic musicians talk about how they personally are reflecting, dealing [with] and adjusting to what’s going on in the world. We felt that providing an opportunity for our community and the broader public to listen in on private, intimate conversations might be something that we could offer that would be different, relevant and bring people to the table.”

Living Jazz came up with the Call & Response series as a way to mitigate the distance between its organization and the community. The series begins Oct. 18, with iconic jazz drummer Teri Lyne Carrington in conversation with legendary jazz drummer Allison Miller on gender justice, followed by Wynton Marsalis speaking for social justice on Nov. 8, singer-songwriter Kurt Elling speaking on philosophy, spirituality and jazz on Nov. 22, and ending with jazz violinist Regina Carter on Dec. 6.

“We wanted to create intimate moments of vulnerability there and give a chance for the audience to ask questions. I mean, how often do you get to ask Wynton Marsalis a question about what’s this time like for him and sheltering-in-place with his family?” said Lyz Luke, Living Jazz’s associate director. “Each of these different artists on the lineup brings such a unique perspective and who they are and what their causes are that they fight for, for example, Teri Lyne Carrington is a huge supporter of gender justice, and so for her to tackle that while getting her perspective on what it’s like for her during Covid times is pretty cool opportunity.”

In a time when so many people seem inaccessible, it’s quite an achievement for Living Jazz to be able to gather such iconic jazz messengers for intimate conversations.

“It’s a matter of family; musical relationships,” Hoffman said. “Once somebody works for us, they feel like they’re part of a family and a community. There’s so much goodwill that I think it’s been more about brainstorming and wondering what the connections are, how these individuals might fit into this kind of programming and what would make sense in terms of the types of conversations it could lead to.”

Along with many other Covid-19 adapted programs, including one bringing live music to people waiting in line at a food bank in West Oakland, Living Jazz’s Call & Response shows that jazz is still open and growing, even as the venues are closed.

“I’m really honored that these jazz legends are stepping in as support for our arts organization and that they truly care about music, education, and youth music education in particular,” Luke said. “They’re doing this as a way to help us get through to 2021 and beyond. ”

“Call & Response” runs from Oct. 18 thru Dec. 6, Sundays at 4pm. Sliding scale; no one turned away due to lack of funds. www.livingjazz.org.

D. Scot Miller
Managing Editor of The East Bay Express, Former Associate Editor of Oakland Magazine and Alameda Magazine, Columnist-In-Residence at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)'s Open Space, Advisory Board Member of Nocturnes Journal of Literary Arts, and regular contributor to several newspapers, websites and magazines. Miller is the founder of The Afrosurreal Arts Movement through his publication of The Afrosurreal Manifesto in The San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 20, 2009.


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