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Adam Theis and Jazz Mafia play Petaluma Music Festival

Adam Theis
Adam Theis
Adam Theis

The seventh annual Petaluma Music Festival is set for Saturday at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds. The event sports a fine, rootsy lineup featuring the likes of Galactic (who I caught once in Denver; they are awesome), the Mother Hips, Brokedown in Bakersfield, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, David Luning and T Sisters.
The festival also includes two of my favorite Bay Area acts – Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic and Adam Theis and Jazz Mafia featuring Tiffany Austin. Theis is among the region’s busiest (and most innovative) players. As his bio notes:

Adam has been an active member of the San Francisco Bay Area music scene for the past 15+ years. Growing up in Sebastopol, Adam helped create a jazz music awareness in the North Bay while leading many successful bands in his college years. After studying with Mel Graves, Jon English, Wayne Wallace and graduating from Sonoma State University with a degree in Jazz Composition and Performance, Adam hit the road with some of the world’s best ska bands – the Skatalites, Let’s Go Bowling and The Specials. In 1998, he moved to San Francisco’s Mission District and began founding the Jazz Mafia, which now consists of Realistic Orchestra, the Shotgun Wedding Quintet, the Jazz Mafia Symphony, Jazz Mafia String Quartet, Adam Theis and Subharmonic and many other projects.

Here’s further background on the Jazz Mafia that I gleaned from Theis in an earlier interview, as well as his thoughts on jazz’s future.

Question: How did you come up with the Jazz Mafia concept?
Theis: I've always been a fan of keeping myself and my fellow musicians working as much as possible. In my teens, when I was really into skateboarding, I was always organizing groups of skaters to do things like protest unfair treatment by the police, getting skateparks built, making videos and going on trips together. It took me a long time to realize that the same approach could be successful with music but by the time Jazz Mafia started in the early 2000s, I'd had some great experiences with putting together my own small record label, running my own booking business and leading many bands. Moving to San Francisco and being surrounded by so many dozens of incredible musicians just inspired me to continue that work on a greater scale. The more projects I helped create, the more shows I helped book, the more it seemed to solidify the part of the music community I was involved in, so I just continued on that path.

Question: Because you’re someone who clearly relishes pushing the boundaries of jazz, I need to ask: What are the genre’s weak points in the 21st century? What keeps jazz from drawing larger and younger audiences?
Theis: If jazz can't figure out a way to keep an audience live there is no way it will continue to posses the true spirit in which it was created. What made jazz so special was that listeners could go to a small music venue and see and hear these incredible musicians performing up close and personal. This experience is much different than at a large concert hall. I really do feel that jazz needs to be heard live in intimate venues, otherwise it will be relegated to museums and symphony halls and it will stop moving forward. I'd really like to see the Big Money funders of the arts have more of an emphasis on having small music venues for listening to music, (places) where listeners can really feel the music. For this to happen, the clubs need help because there's just plain not that much money to be made booking jazz (or any art music for that matter). I'd just really like to see some of that arts funding go in that direction rather than to present jazz on giant concert hall stages. Almost anyone who gets to experience jazz music in the right setting will then have the opportunity to fall in love with it like I did as a kid going to the small Yoshi's on Claremont in Berkeley.

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