In early 1975, locals Tim Jackson, Rich Wills, and Sheba Burney banded together to form a nonprofit organization and open a venue for live jazz music. The trio sold items at the flea market, and with $250 formed the Kuumbwa Jazz Society. After a few years of local fundraising concerts, the group secured a home for jazz at 320-2 Cedar Street in downtown Santa Cruz. Fast forward to 2016, and the Kuumbwa Jazz Center remains a community favorite and nationally recognized venue where the artistry of music is celebrated through performance and education.
Kuumbwa means “spontaneous creation”, in Swahili. For the past 41 years, the venue has provided a welcoming space for live music featuring the creative sounds of local talent and international legends of jazz. The founding members consciously designed the venue to offer the formal experience of a professional concert hall combined with a friendly, casual environment where audience and musicians can interact. The Kuumbwa stays busy year round with a rotating roster of world-class artists sharing classic jazz, related genres, and world musical influences that produce sold out shows and standing ovations.
The 3,000 square foot concert hall has 200 theater-style seats all with easy sight lines to the stage, which was recently updated with new state-of-the-art sound and light systems. The venue also includes an outdoor landscaped courtyard, and a Bar and Café serving dinner specials with locally sourced ingredients. In addition to concerts, the stage and space are also available to rent for a variety of public and private community events, including theater performances, fundraisers, parties, banquets, wedding receptions, workshops, and classes.
The Kuumbwa has established a tradition of presenting renowned artists at other local performance venues as well, including the Rio Theater, the Del Mar Theater, and the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. To mark their 35th Anniversary in 2010, the Kuumbwa collaborated with the Santa Cruz City Redevelopment Agency and Arts Commission to create Jazz Alley – an 80-foot-by-12-foot mural on the wall of Birch Lane, depicting five famous jazz musicians who were regular Kuumbwa guests. The mural was painted by local artist Marvin Plummer, whose work was inspired by the duo-tone style from the 40s and 50s Blue Note jazz album covers.
The Kuumbwa also hosts year round education programs designed to inspire young musicians across Santa Cruz County, and bring novices together with aficionados to share the skills and thrills of jazz music. Programs engage students with professional artists and instructors for lectures, demos, and more, including the Kuumbwa Jazz Camp, High School Honor Band, Artist in the Schools and the Artist-in-Residence Program, and free-to-the-public Master Class series.
All greats have made their name at one club or another, and in addition to headlining world-renowned masters, the center also hosts up-and-coming independent local artists who take the stage through special Club Kuumbwa events. To expand outreach to all ages and welcome a younger crowd, this program features new musicians and bands along with inexpensive drinks, affordable cover charges, and a more informal room arrangement.
Stay tuned for upcoming events by visiting the Kuumbwa Jazz website.