Hidden Jazz Club Ventures Into Theater

Berkeley Daily Planet
October 2003

Hidden Jazz Club Ventures Into Theater

By FRED DODSWORTH Special to the Planet (10-07-03)

Some nights a blue light shines in South Berkeley. If you’re in the know, when the light is glowing, you’re in for an enchanting evening at one of Berkeley’s newest hot spots for the underground arts scene, the Jazz House.

Located at the nexus of Adeline and Martin Luther King Boulevard, this six-month-new performance space serves straight up and experimental jazz, community drumming, open jam sessions and avant-garde theater. The lack of signage (except for the blue light that shines when the venue’s open) and the lack of advertising are not the only unusual aspects of this venue. It’s alcohol and smoke free.

It’s open to all ages, and the revenues from this nonprofit performance space fund children’s arts programs throughout the Bay Area.

Run without compensation by two San Franciscans, executive director Rod Woodworth and all around hands-on facilitator Kathryn Golden, the Jazz House hosts John H. Doyle’s production of “The Dutchman” by Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) starting Thursday, Oct. 9.

“We’re here for the community,” said Woodworth when asked why the Dutchman is playing at the Jazz House. “When John came to me and said, look I really want to do this play. I think I can get people through the door. It’s a great intimate space. I love what you’re doing here. Would you consider doing a play? I said, why not? Let’s do it.”

“We have had ‘peAktimes’ here,” said Golden. “They’re an improvisational performance art group with music [riffing off today’s headlines]. It’s kind of a play. It’s an improv play. There’s a great demand for that and we thought this would be one additional element of that type.

“I’m very excited to see this and I’m hoping he’s able to pull a great mix of people both from the community and beyond,” Golden continued. “He’s been great to work with and I’m looking forward to it.”

Theatrical performances at the Jazz House are the exception, not the rule. More typical events held in the last six months include the Nels Cline Singers, Donald “Duck” Bailey, the James Lick Jazz Combo (SF middle school), Tryone Hill of the Sun Ra Arkestra, Berkeley Alternative High Poetry Slam, Larry Ochs and the John Schott Typical Orchestra.

“The East Bay has a poverty of places one can hear this kind of music,” said band leader and guitarist John Schott. “Especially places where people under 21 can hear this kind of music. I have a good feeling about this space and especially about the people who are running it.”

Woodworth works days for a San Francisco ticketing agency and until recently Golden was director of training for SERA Learning, an educational foundation serving at-risk youth. Because of the economic downturn her job was eliminated and she’s currently unemployed.

“All the money that’s raised goes to the kids’ nonprofit groups—opportunities for youth and music combined. Whether they’re the opening act for a band, or getting a clinic or workshop on a weekend afternoon,” said Woodworth.

“The nonprofit’s been around for awhile but when the space became available we saw this as another way to raise funds for the nonprofit. This is more a place for kids to actually perform as opposed to sitting in the classroom, reading the notes.”

Asked why they’d spend their few free hours volunteering for programs that benefits youth, Woodworth explained: “Basically my love of music had a lot to do with it. I’ve seen a lot of kids, especially at the middle school level, who, if they were lucky they might have gotten one performance event a year at their school and that would be only for their parents. I just felt like there was a lot of talent out their in that age bracket who couldn’t get into the bars to play, who really had no where else to go. There needs to be a place where kids could get out there and really, really show what they’ve got.”

“There are not a lot of places for kids to go,” agreed Golden. “There’s also not a lot of places where parents and their kids can go to hear music together. What we really wanted to create here is a space where anybody can go. They could bring their kids of any ages, and hear music. Kind of the way it was in the old New York loft scene in the 70s—an intimate space where anyone could come hear music and sit very close to the performers. That was what attracted me to it, creating an all-ages place that was about music. It’s not going to a restaurant and it’s the background noise. Or a bar and it’s a background noise. This truly is a destination for music fans of all ages.”

“The Dutchman” will be performed at the Jazz House Oct. 9-12, and Oct. 16-19. 3192 Adeline Ave., Berkeley. For more information: www.thejazzhouse.com.