Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Jazz Happens

This column appeared in the Tri-Valley Herald on February 5, 2008.
When Jim Campana first raised his conductor’s baton in 1959 at Amador Valley High in Pleasanton, the school had just 20 students enrolled in music. By the time he retired two decades years later, 300 students were signed up for band and the popular music courses.

“Friday night football and basketball games came alive thanks to the band,” said Eileen Morley Hofstadt, who was a student at Amador in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “In those days, Jim Campana was always there in his quiet way, inspiring young talent.”

Impressed with Campana’s success and reputation with students and music, the city of Pleasanton asked him to help establish a Pleasanton jazz festival.

“The city recreation department had been interested in having me put together a festival that would include bands from a variety of schools,” said Campana, who is now 81 and lives in Sonora with his wife Rosemary. “But I was so busy I kept putting them off.”

Finally, in 1975, at the Pleasanton Hotel, in what Campana calls a “moment of weakness,” he agreed. The first festival included 30 bands and was held that year at the Alameda County fairgrounds.

"We had a good first festival,” Campana said, “though it rained that day. Fortunately we were able to use the exhibition building and move the instruments and equipment inside.”
Over the years, more and more people gathered to hear the talented students perform. After Campana’s retirement in 1979, the Pleasanton jazz festival was appropriately renamed after the man who made it all possible.

Now in its 33rd year, the Campana Jazz Festival will take place at Amador Valley High School this Saturday, February 9, featuring more than 700 middle and high school students in 45 jazz ensembles from 24 schools around California. Schools from as far away as Folsom and Roseville will compete in the event.

Performances run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by a ceremony where over $7,000 in sponsorships to various jazz camps will be awarded. Wristbands for the festival may be purchased throughout the day for $6 at the Amador Theater lobby. A festival program will be included containing the complete day’s schedule.

Thanks to the vision of co-chairs Carl and Marilyn Palowitch, the festival this year is now part of a larger “Campana Jazz Weekend,” with jazz happening all around Pleasanton.

“In planning for our 2008 festival,” Carl Palowitch said, “we contacted the Pleasanton Downtown Association, the library, and the city of Pleasanton, and together we coordinated our respective jazz events to create a weekend where the public can encounter jazz all around the city.”

Kicking off the weekend this Thursday evening is the Pleasanton Downtown Association’s popular wine stroll, titled Truffles, Tidbits and Wine Tasting.

“Imagine pairing the taste of a chardonnay or cabernet to the sounds of seven jazz ensembles at venues up and down Main Street,” said Christine Salidivar, Executive Director of the association. "We’re excited to bring jazz and wine to our downtown.” Because the wine stroll events almost always sell out, contact the downtown association right away for tickets at 925-484-2199.

Following Thursday’s wine stroll, Pleasanton’s Civic Arts Presents will host on Friday saxophonist and composer Ravi Coltrane at the Amador Theater, who will also give a jazz clinic for Foothill and Amador jazz students that afternoon. Coltrane, the son of jazz legends John and Alice Coltrane, is described as a young jazz pioneer. Tickets may be purchased at the door at 8 p.m. or online at www.civicartstickets.com.

On Sunday following Saturday’s Campana Jazz Festival, the Pleasanton Library will host the Silver Moon Band at 1:30 p.m., followed by the Lee Waterman Latin Band “Jazz Caliente” at 3:30 p.m. These performances are free and open to the public.

Carl Palowitch said that for the first time vocal jazz will be a part of the festival on Saturday. He also noted that many people don’t realize the festival is more than a venue for students to perform.

“This is an educational festival,” he said, “where students come to observe and learn, to attend workshops, and to get instruction from the judges and other music educators.”

The festival each year is a collaboration of many community members, including the Amador Friends of Music, instructors Jon Grantham and Mark Aubel, the Amador Music Department, parent and student volunteers, regional music educators, music camps, local businesses, and others.

This kind of collaboration and love of music is what first brought Campana to town to teach more than 45 years ago. It’s what will bring him back this weekend to attend the festival he created.

“Pleasanton has always been a town that appreciates music,” he said. “I loved my years teaching, and I’m looking forward to coming back to see friends and hear the students perform.”


1 comment:

she said...

LOVE learning all this. -great read

and i've got my tickets for thursday!

"to wine makers - music makers - and campana!" i toast

love, ~s.