The First Annual Solvang Jazz Festival

The first annual Solvang Jazz Festival, which takes place at four venues in Santa Ynez Valley on Friday and Saturday, will bring world-class musicians to the sleepy mountain community just a week after the fiftieth anniversary of the famous festival in Monterey. Via the connections of festival creator Stix Hooper, the ex-Crusaders drummer, the SJF has attracted names as big as George Duke, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Barbara Morrison, Roy McCurdy, Patrice Rushen and many more, for an all-star bash at the Festival Theater, plus smaller events at other settings.

Hooper discussed the concerts and the concept via telephone.

Q. What’s your connection to the Santa Ynez Valley?

A. I was sentenced to Los Angeles for 30 years and when I wanted to escape, I’d drive up 101 and stop in Solvang. It’s a very unusual, quaint community and after (eventually) I realized it would be great place for a jazz festival. I nurtured it in my mind but I never made it come to fruition until last year after traveling around the world seeing that there were cities that were comparable to Solvang that were having festivals. So I just knocked on the door and got the council and Chamber [of Commerce] and powers-that-be together and they endorsed it wholeheartedly.

What is it particularly about the Valley that seems to be the right temperament? I ask because people have tried to do things here in the past but few have actually succeeded.

I won’t go so far as to say that it’s the right place, but it’s the right time to make a difference. I think people should rise to the occasion to be a little bit more artistically imaginative of things of quality – particularly of jazz – because jazz is America’s only indigenous art form, but it’s been treated like Rodney Dangerfield. We’ll give it a shot, and if it becomes the first and only then it proves another point that there’s a lot of homework to be done in this country. I’m hoping that I might be able to make a difference and there seems to be a higher level of intellect here and there seems to be an acceptability of artists and art and I wanted to stick my neck out to create some awareness.

Speaking of homework, it looks like you’ve done your due diligence – taking music to schools, talking with the Chamber. You’re not just showing up and putting on a concert.

That’s right. I didn’t want to come to town like a big cigar-smoking entrepreneur and walk away with all the bucks because, again, America is in dire straits. We have PMS – Perpetuation of Mediocrity Syndrome – the bottom line is we’re great at marketing. We can sell Pet Rocks, we can make an audio art into a visual art form. A (musician) almost has to be akin to Cirque du Soleil in order to sing a song and I’m just hoping we can get to a point of appreciating artistry without that.

How did you go about putting together the line up and schedule?

First of all, I needed a concept that I thought would work both in terms of budget and a marquee. The jazz marquee is different than pop; a lot of the jazz artists, people haven’t heard of, but these are some of the greatest practitioners of the art there is, so I wanted to put together an “all-star” thing rather than one big artist that might be more popular. (So) the Big Band Bash creates nostalgia by having a seventeen-piece band in a Cotton Club atmosphere at the Veterans Hall. I also wanted to have a Birdland nightclub thing at the Royal Scandinavian Inn. The Solvang Jazz Consortium band will be gratis at the park hopefully every year. And of course the educational component for the young people who unfortunately aren’t being exposed to this otherwise.

Are you performing?

No, I am the sponsor, the producer and the artistic director with the vision to try to make this happen. I might make a cameo somewhere…but this isn’t about a gig for me.