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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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