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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.”

JCMS Spring Catalog
The Word

“The CJC provides some of the most in depth study of jazz out there. A core curriculum of not two, but four semesters of jazz ear training and hands on jazz theoryand improvisation, culminating in transcription and analysis of the greatest jazz artists of all time. The teachers are wonderful, organized and communicate concepts in a way that clearly transforms each and every student.”

— Lisa Feldman