CJC in the News

Published articles about the CJC

Jazz venue’s opening week in Berkeley packs in music fans

San Francisco Chronicle
By Andrew Gilbert | March 5, 2018

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

Hovering around the door to Rendon Hall, the intimate 85-seat theater in the California Jazz Conservatory’s new Fiddler Annex, Susan Muscarella looked anxious on Sunday, March 4. Since opening on Wednesday, Feb. 28, the Berkeley venue had been packed every night for concerts focusing on foundational conservatory faculty, like Brazilian pianist Marcos Silva and singer Laurie Antonioli, with disappointed fans turned away at the door.

Sunday’s sold-out show featured another faculty mainstay, trumpeter Erik Jekabson and his 17-piece Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, but Muscarella was fretting about logistics and the show running behind schedule.

“We still have to wrinkle out some irons,” she said, turning a cliche into mysterious koan (which is a pretty good description of jazz).


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Women’s History Month brings a wealth of great concerts to SF Bay Area

…Ashkenaz isn’t the only venue showcasing the Bay Area’s deep bench of groundbreaking women musicians. The California Jazz Conservatory celebrates the opening of its new Fiddler Annex (across the street from its main downtown Berkeley campus) with a talent-packed run of shows, including the Montclair Women’s Big Band on March 1, vocalist Laurie Antonioli and the American Dreams Band with special guest Theo Bleckmann on March 2, and Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir on March 3.

Saxophonist Jean Fineberg, who co-leads the Montclair big band, debuts a new female-centric octet JAZZphoria on March 9, and on March 23 she and trumpeter Ellen Seeling, her Montclair partner, present a free concert marking the end of the weeklong Women’s Jazz & Blues Camp, an intensive program of ensembles and classes in jazz, blues, Latin styles, improvisation, percussion techniques and jazz history.

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California Jazz Conservatory marks 20 years with new concert venue in Berkeley arts district

San Francisco Chronicle
Sam Whiting
| on February 26, 2018

Susana Pineda was studying vocal jazz at a university in Medellin, Colombia, when the American singer Madeline Eastman came to perform in 2013. After the show, Pineda tracked Eastman down for a career tip.

“She said, ‘There’s this really cool jazz school in California,’” recalls Pineda, who followed that lead to the California Jazz Conservatory.

That title suggests something more than what turns out to be the basement of a bookstore in downtown Berkeley. But downstairs, Pineda discovered the only accredited stand-alone music college devoted to jazz and related styles of music in the United States.

“I found everything I needed here,” says Pineda, now 26, with a bachelor’s in jazz studies, a CD and a touring act. “My bandmates, my producers, my mentors and my vocal sound.”

Her only regret is that it ended two months too soon. In December, Pineda gave her final recital in a makeshift concert hall where you can hear the footsteps of people shopping for books overhead.

On Sunday, Feb. 25, the conservatory will emerge from this basement to open Rendon Hall, an intimate, 100-seat performance venue designed to evoke the spirit of Minton’s Playhouse, the famous Harlem club that gave rise to the style of jazz known as bebop.

An expansion of the main campus, which will stay open, Rendon Hall is the centerpiece of a $3.5 million build-out into the ground floor of a brick storefront. Called the Jerry Fiddler Annex, it will include the conservatory’s first-ever music library of 8,000 titles, largely on vinyl with turntables for playing them.

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The California Jazz Conservatory on the March

Susan Muscarella speaks softly and carries big ambitions. Meeting up with her at the California Jazz Conservatory campus on a recent sunny afternoon in downtown Berkeley, she walked me across Addison Street to the new Fiddler Annex, which was in the final stages of construction. With office space, a student lounge, five practice rooms, and a large-ensemble studio, a library overflowing with LPs, CDs, and decades-old copies of Downbeat, and the 85-seat Rendon Hall concert space, the Annex expansion takes Muscarella one large step closer to her master plan.

“We’re making this the Juilliard of the West Coast,” she says, without a hint of braggadocio or hubris. The claim might seem grandiose, but you underestimate this woman at your peril. The CJC’s founder, president, and dean of instruction (and a formidable pianist in her own right), Muscarella has patiently shepherded the institution since she launched it 20 years ago in cramped quarters above a French cafe on Shattuck Avenue. Long known as the Jazzschool (the name still used for the CJC’s popular community music school), the nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation took on a new identity in 2014 when it earned accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music.

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Zon Guitars Creates JD5 Bass for CJC Professor Jeff Denson





Jazz Industry Leader Crafts One-of-a-Kind

Instrument to Fit Denson’s Specifications


“I’m Completely in Love with This Bass,”

Notes Denson, Acclaimed “Master of the Jazz Bass”

August 24, 2017; Berkeley, California; Zon Guitars, a music industry innovator since its inception in 1981 as a custom guitar and repair shop in Buffalo, New York, has announced Jeff Denson as the recipient of a custom crafted JD5 Bass, designed and produced by the industry leader to Denson’s specifications.

“I’m completely in love with this bass,” noted Denson. “What an amazing experience to have an expert instrument maker like Joe Zon craft an instrument to fit my hands and tonal aesthetics!”

Zon Guitars Founder, Joe Zon, welcomed Denson to the Zon family as an artist who “has balanced a full career as both an acclaimed performing musician and as a highly respected educator. We’re delighted to have this custom crafted JD5 in such talented hands as Jeff Denson’s.”

Susan Muscarella, President and Dean of the Conservatory echoed, “Jeff is the epitome of our faculty’s effectiveness. He is not only an accomplished musician, he’s an expert educator as well. Jeff deserves to have this wonderful instrument in his creative hands.”

Denson, labeled the “Master of the Jazz Bass” by jazz critic Lee Hildebrand, has toured extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe with his own groups – including the renowned cooperative trio Minsarah – and has worked with some of jazz’s finest artists, including an ongoing relationship with the legendary alto saxophonist, Lee Konitz, since 2007. On the recording side, Denson has released over a dozen albums as leader or co-leader and is currently working on several new recording projects.

Denson, who earned his doctorate from the University of California San Diego, currently serves as a full professor at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, as well as working as the Artistic Director of Ridgeway Arts, also located in Berkeley.

In pursuit of building the ultimate instrument, Joe Zon used graphite neck material as a way to enhance the sound and stability of his basses. This new technology, coupled with years of experience in repairs, culminated in a design that was immune to neck warp and twist, ergonomic and lightweight, a design that produced a rich, full tone. Today, the bass world has come to know the name Zon as an instrument of quality craftsmanship, innovation and performance.

Denson couldn’t agree more: “This is a master instrument,” he continued. “The body vibrates with each and every note and it’s extremely responsive to the touch. It can really sing but also give a real punch, too. Zon exceeded my expectations with the JD5!”

Zon Guitars is located at 780 Second Avenue in Redwood City, California, 94063. Their website is zonguitars.com. Telephone number is 650/366-3516 and they can be reached by e-mail: customerservice@zonguitars.com.

The California Jazz Conservatory is located at 2087 Addison Street, Berkeley, California, 94704. Their website is cjc.edu. Telephone number is 510/845-5373. They can be reached via e-mail: info@cjc.edu.

Photo Caption:

Jeff Denson and his custom crafted Zon JD5 Bass






Announcing the first ever: “Meet Me Downtown” Day in Berkeley!


The first ever MEET ME DOWNTOWN DAY is Sunday March 20, 12noon to 5pm. Six Downtown Berkeley cultural venues will feature a variety of free activities to give you a taste of their amazing facilities and programing. And Downtown restaurants will offer food and drink specials for event visitors. www.meetmedowntown.info

Explore the stunning architecture and collection of the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive at its new location on Center Street, and watch short films on their spectacular outdoor screen. Experience the newly reopened The UC Theatre with drinks and snacks in its beautiful remodeled interior and be amazed by a demonstration of their Meyer Sound system. Then rediscover showcase Downtown venues with performance workshops at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, interactive bands at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, and live music at the California Jazz Conservatory. Plus you can start it off with yoga, a swim, or workout at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA all for free!

Collect MEET ME DOWNTOWN stickers at each of the art and music venues to unlock specials only available that day at participating restaurants. Collect ALL SIX stickers, and register at the Welcome kiosk at Bart Plaza to enter drawing for a Weekend Extravaganza including two nights at Hotel Shattuck Plaza, dinner at FIVE, and tickets to the Berkeley Rep, Freight and Salvage, and BAMPFA.

PLUS enter into a drawing for a free iPad mini by posting your best pictures of you, your friends, and family exploring Downtown Berkeley with #MeetMeDowntownBerkeley on the Meet Me Downtown Facebook page.

Visit www.meetmedowntown.info for schedule of events of the various venues and list of restaurant food and drink specials.

Professor Jeff Denson talks about teaching at the California Jazz Conservatory

Jeff Denson

Jeff Denson is a musician on a mission. With three jazz ensembles, a full professorship at the California Jazz Conservatory and leadership of a nonprofit organization devoted to the enhancement of jazz in the Bay Area, the double bass master, vocalist and composer is among the busiest musical artists in Northern California. The Jeff Denson Quartet will perform Sunday at Silo’s in Napa.

Following a rich academic and artistic journey that took him around the country and the world, Denson accepted his appointment at the conservatory (then the Berkeley Jazzschool) in 2011 and moved to the Bay Area. On the phone from his East Bay home last week, he talked about the local jazz scene.

“I think there’s a fantastic scene in Northern California,” Denson said. “In many ways, it’s kind of an unsung jazz scene on the national and international scale. You have great musicians performing all throughout the Bay Area in large and small venues.

“If not many people know that it’s going on, though, it’s like if a tree falls in the woods and no one’s there. Does it happen? Does it make a sound? That’s one thing I would personally like to help with in whatever small way I can, trumpet and boost people’s awareness of the wealth of music we have here.”

As a bass player, Denson is regarded as a master in both jazz and Western classical traditions. He has recorded 10 albums as leader or co-leader of an ensemble, and a dozen more as a sideman. He has a cherished relationship in performance and in the recording studio with Lee Konitz, the veteran alto saxophone icon.

Denson CJC Ensemble

Denson spoke enthusiastically about the work of the California Jazz Conservatory, where he serves as director of its outreach program. “It’s a major center for jazz education and the only conservatory solely based on the study of jazz in the U.S.,” he said. “Any time you have a city that has a major jazz program, there’s benefits to that.

“Musicians have a place they can go and a community develops around it. You have young musicians going to study with their peers. They go in and out. They leave the school and they have a peer group that they can communicate with artistically and focus on developing a career together.

“We’re nurturing these young artists who are trained and passionate, and they’re going to keep pumping out new blood and new inspiration in the music scene. We have that here in the Bay Area now. That’s a really important component to be aware of. They’re always going to be generating this new vibrant energy.”

“And not only do you have students that are going to be young blood injected into the scene,” Denson added, “you also have people that want to see what’s going on. They’re going to want to go out and check out what the professionals are doing in the city. This helps bolster the audience base. It’s a great cycle.”

Denson’s pride was on full display when he talked about the members of his Quartet. “I have a really great band,” he said, “and we’ve worked a lot together developing a connection, a musical connection. I think that really shows in the recording that we just made, and you’ll hear it in the live show. It’s a great group.”

The Jeff Denson Quartet is Denson on bass and vocals, Dan Zemelman on keyboards, drummer Alan Hall and Grammy-nominated Paul Hanson, whom Denson regards as the world’s premier improvising bassoonist. Their upcoming CD is “Concentric Circles.”

“I really do hope there’s a lot of people out for the show,” Denson said. “This is very unique music we’re performing. It’s challenging, but I think it’s very special. Of course I’m biased, but it’s special music that brings together influences of many things. The true thing about it is the heart behind it, the integrity and the strength of the melodies.”

Sunday, Feb. 21, 4 p.m. Presented by the Napa Valley Jazz Society (NVJS). $45, $25 for NVJS members. Silo’s, 530 Main St., Napa. 707-251-5833. nvjs.org/tickets.

See original article at napavalleyregister.com

2 students give Berkeley jazz school $500,000

Susan Muscarella, founding president of the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, is working with architect Donn Logan to renovate 6,000 square feet of space across the street. Photo: Chris Hardy, Courtesy CJC

It’s always nice when somebody gives your institution $500,000, particularly in the case of the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley. The gift will cover nearly half the cost of renovating the ground floor of the brick building right across Addison Street, where the school will almost double its size with a new club-like performance venue, practice and rehearsal rooms and a second cafe.

“But what makes this gift so meaningful to me is that it came from two of our students,” says Susan Muscarella, the school’s founding president, referring to Kathi Rendon and John Kainlauri, the retired educational administrators who gave the seed money for the 6,000-square-foot project. It’s being designed by Berkeley architect Donn Logan, who designed the facility that opened in the old Kress Building in 2002. Rendon is a singer, Kainlauri plays trumpet, and they’re both longtime students at the Jazzschool, as the conservatory was called before it started its degree program in 2009 and as its vital community music program is still called.

“This would not be possible without Kathi and John,” says Muscarella, a pianist who in recent years has poured her considerable energies into building up the jazz conservatory and getting it accredited, as well as writing a doctoral dissertation through Portugal’s University of Évora on the modern jazz piano trio. She plans to start playing again when her plate isn’t as full.

Right now she’s jazzed about creating the much-needed new space, which will give the students a big band room to rehearse and provide a new 100-seat performance venue that, unlike the school’s multipurpose Hardymon Hall across the street, will be an enclosed space, with tables and chairs. It’s modeled conceptually on Minton’s Playhouse, the storied Harlem club where bebop was born in jam sessions encouraged by Henry Minton, a saxophonist who opened the hotspot in 1938 and later hired Thelonious Monk as house pianist.

“What Minton did was very similar to my personal mission — to support the leading jazz musicians of the day. He fed them, gave them a place to rehearse and perform, and really nurtured the bebop style.” The CJC’s new space, named for Rendon, “will be a club-like setting, but one where you won’t hear the milk being steamed.”

Muscarella hopes to get master metalsmith Russ Williams of Eclipse Design, who made the “Yardbird Suite” sculpture in Hardymon Hall — the notes of the Charlie Parker tune bear the names of sponsors — to create a similar mural for the new room using Monk’s classic “’Round Midnight.” A whole note will go for $50K, a sixteenth note for $100. The new facility, which is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016, will be acoustically enhanced with Meyer Sound panels visually enlivened by Deborah O’Grady’s photographs.

Why a second cafe?

“I’m Italian,” Muscarella says. “We’ve gotta have the food.”

All That Jazz in Berkeley

By Mark MacNamar, San Francisco Classical Voice – March 20, 2014

Here’s a new-new thing: The California Jazz Conservatory — formerly known as The Jazzschool or the Jazz School Institute, or more colloquially, ‘that jazz school over in Berkeley.’ It was, until just recently, a small, unaccredited school, with no formal program of study, and known largely only to aficionados. In fact, the school was perhaps better known for its community outreach program.

Now, ‘that jazz school’ down in the Arts District in Berkeley has become a fully accredited, four-year conservatory, offering a top-rated faculty — including artist-in-residence, Benny Green, once a member of Art Blakey’s famed Jazz Messengers. The conservatory will offer both financial aid and the ability to provide visas to students coming from abroad. The tuition for four years is about $72,000; the degree is a B.A. in Music with a focus on jazz studies.

“I would like to see this become the Juilliard of Jazz on the West Coast,” Susan Muscarella said earlier this week. She founded the school in 1997, which was originally upstairs from La Note restaurant on Shattuck Avenue. And used her life savings to do it.

Muscarella, who grew up in Walnut Creek, studied classical piano as a child and was performing jazz professionally before graduating from Las Lomas High School, in 1968. Her first jazz piano teacher was Wilbert Baranco, a student of Art Tatum’s. She went on to study music composition at UC Berkeley and, in 1984, became director of the Cal Jazz Ensembles. Her preforming career includes time with Sonny Rollins, Sheila E., and Marian McPartland.

To read complete article visit www.sfcv.org.

Berkeley’s Jazzschool elevated to California Jazz Conservatory

By David Becker, Bay Area Jazz Examiner

Congratulations to the institution formerly known as Jazzschool. The Berkeley training ground for world-class jazz talent recently received full accreditation from the National Associations of Schools of Music, putting its degree programs on a par with the nation’s top music schools but in a league of its own due to its focus on jazz.

The new status is reflected in a new name — the California Jazz Conservatory. Community programs will still run under the Jazzschool moniker, and the organization will continue to present concerts featuring top local and international talent…Read More

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