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Board member Kathy Blackbum with volunteers Omi Chandiramani and Kathleen Eschen-Pipes.

About Jazz Society

The Jazz Society of Santa Cruz County is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in Santa Cruz, California. Incorporated in 2000, the JSSCC is a labor of love for its all-volunteer board and staff.

We are deeply indebted to the late Steve Newman, a saxophonist and board president who tirelessly promoted jazz education and performance in our county.

Jazz has a long history in our county, which was documented in this film by board member Ken Koenig. Along with nationally recognized jazz club, Kuumbwa, Santa Cruz has nurtured many young players who have gone in to careers in jazz performance and education.

The board of the JSSCC works to continue keeping jazz in all its forms alive and vibrant in our community.

Our Story

The Jazz Society of Santa Cruz County was founded in 2000 by a group of players who wanted to hold jams that would welcome players of any level. Our story wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the decades of service, vision, and leadership of founder Steve Newman.

Santa Cruz has a long jazz history. The full story is told in Jazz Society board member Ken Koenig’s 2008 documentary, Santa Cruz Swings. Amongst professional jazz musicians, Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center is a well-known stop between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Unlike other cities of our size, Santa Cruz is able to welcome internationally celebrated performers to town due to Kuumbwa’s status as a top destination.

As a result, we also have a strong amateur jazz community, from the high school jazz programs and Kuumbwa’s own educational program, to enthusiasts who may be lifelong players or take up jazz later in life. Santa Cruz’s jazz educational environment has nurtured passionate amateurs as well as professionals working in New York and Los Angeles.

The Backbeat Jazz Jams aim to blur the lines between pros and amateurs, instrumentalists and singers, audience and players. We aim to welcome all who turn up, from pros looking to hang out, socialize, and play with our top-notch band, to beginners who often take the stage reluctantly but then blossom under the support and enthusiasm of our community.

The Jazz Society has always been a grassroots, member-supported community. We were pleased, however, to receive a City of Santa Cruz City Arts Recovery and Design (CARD) Grant in 2022. This grant enabled us to replace our aging equipment, hire top-notch professionals for our jam band, and develop the infrastructure to keep the organization going for at least another generation.

Born to serve amateurs and professionals, students and teachers, instrumentalists and singers, listeners and dancers, the Jazz Society of Santa Cruz County focuses on community. Now that many of the first generation have moved on, younger players are taking up the mantle and serving our community the way they themselves were served.

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