An Oakland, CA based non-profit jazz music organization. Building community, cultivating creativity, and enriching lives through the love of jazz.
Since 1984, Living Jazz continues to work towards fulfilling its mission of building community, cultivating creativity, and enriching lives through the love of jazz. Our history is the unfolding story of vision-into-action many times over. The programs of Living Jazz are known not only for their artistic quality, but also for their commitment to building community based on diversity, inclusion and accessibility; the distinctive way in which they encourage and support artists of all skill levels; and the artistic and personal growth they foster in participants of all ages. Throughout its history, Living Jazz has listened to what those in the community wanted and needed while surveying existing programs and working towards designing and developing creative opportunities not currently accessible or available. Over the years, Living Jazz has developed a reputation for designing and launching programs that go on to become Bay Area treasures, as well as for incubating programs to the point of maturity at which they successfully spin off to stand on their own, and continue to develop and grow independently.
In 1984, LJ helped save a faltering small summer music camp for teens and adults originally held in Cazadero, California. By the next year, LJ had brought Jazz Camp West onto solid ground financially and organizationally, as well as incorporated as a non-profit organization. Since that time, LJ has continued to develop and expand the program, which is now recognized as one of the world’s leading jazz immersion programs, serving over 300 people of all skill levels and backgrounds each year.
In 1986, Living Jazz created the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir (OIGC), a 65-member interfaith and inter-racial adult choir that grew out of the popular all-camp gospel choir held at Jazz Camp each summer. Under the direction of Terrance Kelly, OIGC quickly became a popular performance, recording and touring group. After six years of development and expansion, OIGC splintered off from LJ to form its own corporation, continues to experience great success and international recognition.
In 1990, LJ created the Fall and Spring Music Series, a rotating series of workshops originally held at Laney College in Oakland. These workshops were the first accessible educational opportunity that Bay Area residents of all skill levels had to leading jazz artists in the local community. From 1990 to 2001, this jazz education program evolved into an intensive weekend event entitled “RhythmVoice”, and then later known as “Jazz Camp Weekend”. This winter version of Jazz Camp West provided access to over 30 all-star jazz artists and a multitude of classes, workshops, and performances held at Mills College in Oakland for 11 years. With the advent of the Jazz School in Berkeley, which provided year-round access to Bay Area jazz artists, LJ suspended Jazz Camp Weekend, and Stacey Hoffman, Executive Director became a member of the Jazz School Advisory Board.
After the Gospel Choir splintered off to stand on its own, LJ created the Oakland Jazz Choir (OJC) in 1992. This adult performing and touring group was started in response to the growing need for an ongoing, high quality training and performance platform for amateur, semi-professional, and professional jazz singers in the Bay Area. LJ nurtured and developed the choir for the next 14 years, at which time OJC formed its own independent organization and has continued to perform and record.
In 2002, LJ created “In the Name of Love”: The Annual Musical Tribute Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This event was created in response to the lack of a non-denominational musical tribute honoring Dr. King in Oakland. It also fulfilled the desire of Living Jazz for an annual showcase in Oakland for nationally known talent alongside Bay Area jazz talent, within the framework of a collaborative, meaningful event. The event also includes children from Oakland public schools, archival footage of Dr. King, and the presentation of an annual Humanitarian Award presented by a prominent dignitary. It brings together families, children and seniors from extremely diverse backgrounds to share, through music, the inspiration of Dr. King’s teachings. The event also includes the Oakland Community Exhibition, a pre-concert event that provides visibility to 40 Oakland non-profits and businesses. Our 10th anniversary tribute in 2012 experienced a successful transition to the historic Paramount Theatre with a memorable evening including the legendary, Grammy Award winner Mavis Staples, America’s Got Talent finalists POPLYFE, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee presenting the Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award to Mr. B. Derreck Johnson for his work successfully integrating ex-convicts back into the work place.
In 2005, in an effort to help fill the gap in music education in the Oakland public school system, LJ established the Oakland Children’s Community Choir OCCC). A four-month music fundamental and performance program provided completely free of charge, OCCC serves Oakland public elementary schools with little or no access to the arts. Weekly music classes are held during the regular school day for first, second, and third graders and culminate in a high profile showcase as the opening act at the MLK Tribute. This provides an exciting and inspiring goal for the children. OCCC provides beginning level vocal, rhythm, and ear training; basic performance etiquette and stage presence skills; and an understanding of how music has a cultural and historical context. OCCC works to build self-esteem and confidence; to provide an experience of community and connectedness that bypasses cultural and economic boundaries; and provides a music education experience that is joyful and fun, while still reinforcing structure, discipline, and respect for self and others.
In 2008, LJ launched, Jam Camp West. Jam Camp is a 7-day annual summer jazz music and dance program designed specifically for 10-15 year olds of diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. Jam Camp provides an alternative to the traditional band and orchestra camps, where students must already have exposure on an instrument. Jam Camp’s curriculum includes turntables, beatbox, steeldrum, percussion, various styles of vocals and dance, songwriting, and instrumental ensembles taught by ear (not written music). All faculty are professional artists and our staff are comprised of amateur and professional artists looking to serve as mentors and role models. Jam Camp exposes children of all skill levels to a contemporary jazz curriculum in a supportive, inclusive and beautiful natural redwood environment. Jam Camp West currently serves 90 children from broadly diverse backgrounds.
In 2010, LJ launched its newest program Jazz Search West, the Bay Area’s only Jazz Talent Search program to provide recognition and exposure to pre-professional talent, and inspire and motivate emerging artists. Weekly public competitions during the month of March are held in a variety of jazz venues in San Francisco and the East Bay. Each week, vocal and instrumental performers compete in front of a live audience, backed up by a professional rhythm section provided by LJ. A panel of local jazz music professionals serve as judges and provide critical feedback to the contestants. A Grand Finale, open to the general public, caps off the event. Three winners are ultimately selected by our panel of judges, providing prizes designed to further their musical careers.