SANTA BARBARA — Down at the intimate brick-lined Joseppi's on State Street, you can catch jazz at least a few times a week. Locals know the place as a kind of comfortable hangout, where the affable owner, Joseppi Scozarro is likely to break out his accordion to play "Stella By Starlight" or "O Sole Mio."
But when the Tom Buckner-Jim Christie quartet launched into their sets on Wednesday night, it wasn't just another gig: The strange blend of regulars, media types and festival organizers lining the walls reminded everyone that this was the opening night of the first Santa Barbara International Jazz Festival, which climaxes Saturday night with a concert by Stan Getz.
It took several years of big ideas, idle promises and wading through red tape, but Santa Barbara finally has its own official jazz festival--a four-night, five-day affair that kicked off Wednesday with shows at Joseppi's and other clubs and restaurants in town.
This weekend's festivities include concerts by David Benoit, Poncho Sanchez and Getz, as well as numerous peripheral free music events around town. Saturday's events include an all-day food fair in the city's downtown De La Guerra Plaza. Organizers have even arranged for a special Amtrak Jazz Train to bring fans from Los Angeles' Union Station today.
The local Jazz and World Music Society--the city's oldest running jazz organization--has lined up acts to play all day Saturday at De La Guerra Plaza, including such noted Los Angeles musicians as Vinniegolia and Lynn Johnston. On Thursday, a long list of local jazz musicians joined with the Santa Barbara City College Jazz Ensemble led by Chuck Woods for an evening at the college's Garvin Theatre.
Joseppi's is the center of a fringe festival which Scozarro has jokingly called the "First Annual Lower State Street International Jazz Festival."
While the celebrity line-up is a bit modest the first time out festival promoter Jack Butefish asserts a long-range optimism for his project.
"It takes time," he said. "There was a lot of skepticism but my whole feeling is that we can create a variety of opportunity for relaxation and food and fun and music." He points to a spot across the street from the outdoor cafe where he is being interviewed. "We're going to be playing down here on the corner, we're going to be in the park and on the street. Each one of these events will have easels pumping the evening shows. We just want to try and make it a fun weekend."
The jazz festival was long in coming. There were some false starts and the stigma of Santa Barbara being a town where jazz hasn't always paid the bills. Early in the 1980s, there was small-scale jazz festival which lasted a few years. More recently a large one-day festival slated in May at the University of California campus was aborted at the last minute due to financial insolvency.
Butefish works with Santa Monica's Group Dynamics, which has primarily promoted sports events but also produced three years worth of Toshiba-sponsored jazz concerts in Japan in the mid-'80s. Butefish's plan, proposed in December, 1986, was to stage a jazz festival that would use an existing start-up fund of $30,000 from the city with the idea of a festival promoting tourism in the off season.
That fund had first been secured in 1985 by Santa Barbara promoter Steven Cloud who has presented hundreds of concerts in town and is now managing jazz artists Keith Jarrett and Charles Lloyd. Cloud had been granted money for a festival in '85, but he backed out due to prohibitive insurance costs.
"Steven Cloud was very supportive from the very beginning," Butefish said, "but very much convinced that this couldn't work. This is really tough, and I share his concern. It definitely hasn't been an easy road, and maybe it takes someone at a certain stage in life who has personal resources and also supportive associates."
From a business standpoint, jazz festivals have long drawn on the support of private sponsors. But the lack of corporate backing and the sudden pullout two months ago of a planned Sonny Rollins appearance put something of a damper on the project. Additionally, jazz agents were cautious about the city's history with jazz.
But Butefish was determined to make the festival fly. A few months ago, he set the wheels in motion. "Some of it was just the expediency of saying, 'Look, let's get on with this thing,' " he said.
Getz's appearance is notable in that the cancer-stricken saxist does limited appearances these days.
"I'm afraid that, even if I didn't have this illness, at this age I'd be getting tired," Getz, a Malibu resident, said. "I never did particularly care for the road and hotel rooms. I never wanted to be away from home, although it's nice to meet people."
As a promoter Butefish has braved stormy bureaucratic waters before. Is Santa Barbara a tough town to crack?