Jazz for Juneteenth at the Guerneville Library
Bob Jones enjoyed a lively jazz band on Saturday but he was among the fortunate few.
At 2 pm last Saturday afternoon, a fine jazz trio played a set of old standards in, of all places, the Maggie Boynton Room of the Guerneville Library. Though the Giants were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, and my favorite golfer, Colin Morikawa, was leading the U. S. Open Tournament, which was played on the historic course in Brookline, Massachusetts, my wife and I got ourselves to the library just as the band began to play. Owing to a dearth of publicity, we were the only ones in the audience for the first half of the hour-long set.
The Sonoma County Library sponsors these cultural enrichment programs from time to time, and there is really nothing more at the heart of American culture than jazz music. It’s born in a mixture of African rhythms and European harmonies and comes to us through the long hard history of slave songs, work songs, chain gang songs, dark city blues and the gospel songs of Black churches. For all that, it often has a happy, hopeful sound. With its variations and improvisations, it’s little wonder jazz has been called the “sound of surprise.” It has also been called the “sound of freedom.”
Whatever you call it, jazz is recognized around the world as the unique American art form. It’s important music, especially last Saturday, the day before Juneteenth (June 19th), which is now a national holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation finally being acknowledged in Texas. President Lincoln had signed the Proclamation over two years and six months earlier, but it could not take effect until the end of the Civil War. If that’s not American culture, what is?
Leading the group was Dave Rocha playing his trumpet and flugelhorn with precision and flare. His cheeks inflate like Dizzie Gillespie’s did, and he sounds to me like he may have listened to a lot of Gillespie in his time. Then there was Randy Vincent, one of the celebrated jazz guitarists in the Bay Area. He’s played with many jazz greats over the years, is on the jazz faculty at Sonoma State University, and is the guitarist of choice when the Santa Rosa Symphony plays Sinatra songs or other jazz-based programs. On stand-up bass was young Dylan Johan, who often plays at Main Street Station, Guerneville’s lively and long-standing live music venue. Dylan is also a luthier, one who builds, repairs, and refurbishes string instruments, and he gives lessons too.
These fellows know how to treat a jazz tune, giving each one its due, which takes about ten minutes per tune. So we had maybe seven tunes played in the hour or so of the concert, tunes like “Days of Wine and Roses,” Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five,” and Carlos Jobim’s haunting “Triste.” They set down the melody, then take turns improvising solos right in the tune’s groove, then they “trade fours,” each one taking four measures as they go through the song. Finally, they “go home” with the basic tune once again. Music, and jazz especially, builds up tensions and then resolves them. There’s something really satisfying about hearing a familiar musical phrase again after the little adventure into the tune’s possibilities. No wonder they call it “goin’ home.”
By the time the band was done, people who heard the music as they were passing by had come in to listen, making eight of us all together. Yep, we were the fortunate few in Guerneville last Saturday afternoon.
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Bob Jones wrote “Keeping the Faith”, a column in local weeklies for fifty years. He was pastor of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Churches for twenty years, living in Guerneville since 1966. His column appeared in Sonoma West Times and News for its entire run.