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Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society founder Pete Douglas dies at 85

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Pete Douglas, one if the most important jazz curators on the West Coast, passed away on July 12 in Miramar Beach, Calif. He was 85.

Douglas once described his ocean-view soirées this way: "We bring a chamber approach to music in a casual beachfront setting, respectful of both the artist and the audience." Indeed, an afternoon at BD&DS is like listening to incredible live music in a friend's living room.

For the last half century, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society has been, and hopefully will continue to be (see update below), one of the best and most unique venues anywhere in the world to see world-class jazz. As the idiom became increasingly popular throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, jazz performances – outside of the great festivals like Monterey, Newport, Rhode and Montreux – were strongly associated with cocktails (usually watered down) and smoke-filled rooms in an urban setting. Bach Dancing was something else – a little beach house off Highway 1 just an hour south of the Golden Gate Bridge – with the Pacific Ocean literally a Frisbee-toss away.

A remarkable list of musicians have performed at Douglas' 200-seat venue, where no one sits more than 35 feet from the stage: Hiromi, Betty Carter, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson, Art Blakey, Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Etta James, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Carter, Milt Jackson – even classical musicians like Kronos Quartet and Mariano Cordoba – and that’s just a tiny sample of the musicians who have made music at the Bach Dancing over its 50-year history.

I recall one Sunday afternoon scampering to get tickets after hearing Douglas planned to squeeze the Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band into his little space by the ocean. The place didn't seem big enough to accommodate a large orchestra, but somehow it all worked out and a wonderful day of music ensued.

Bach + Dancing + Dynamite = Society: "Say what!?"

In a July 27, 2009 article about BD&DS, I explained story behind the name:

Not surprisingly, the name for Pete Douglas' weekly afternoon gatherings was never focus-group tested on Madison Avenue; rather, the appellation literally burst into the world during a Sixties California beach party.

It all started at Douglas' then-anonymous place on Miramar Beach in Half Moon Bay: a boozy Sunday afternoon of sun, music, friends, and of course, dynamite – which someone had smuggled into the party.

Douglas suddenly felt in the mood to hear Bach and cued up the Brandenburg Concerti. Spirits were high and the music was in 4/4 time, so the revelers began busting a move to the Bach, West-Coast Swing style.

That's when the dynamite explosion went off. Upon hearing the blast, celebrant Bob Swift proclaimed, "We are the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society."

In 1973, Douglas hired the then 19-year-old Tim Jackson, a Santa Cruz resident and musician to take tickets at the door. Jackson has been with the Monterey Jazz Festival for over two decades as general manager, artistic director, and currently artistic director.

“Pete gave me my start in the jazz world in 1973 and has always been a mentor to me,” said Jackson, Artistic Director of Monterey Jazz Festival and Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz. “Pete was a pioneer in jazz presenting and presided over one of the longest tenured jazz venues in the country. His passion for quality music and developing audience engagement – or a ‘scene’ as Pete always said – was paramount and never diminished. He was truly unique and was able to develop a venue that expressed his own personal viewpoint. I will miss that chiseled face with the pipe and Greek fisherman’s cap (Etta James called him ‘Popeye’) and will always remember the spirit he brought to any conversation.”

Douglas is survived by his daughters, Linda Tichenor, Barbara Riching and Virginia Castillo and grandsons, Tony, Aaron, and Andrew Ackerman and Maxwell Riching and his granddaughters, Chelsea and Tina Castillo, and several great-grandchildren. Additionally, Pete is predeceased by his brother John “Jack” Douglas and survived by his brother Roger Dial. In addition to Pete’s family, Pete was loved by his many jazz supporters, including his right-hand manager, Linda Goetz.

A memorial will be announced on the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society’s website at www.bachddsoc.org where memorial donations may also be made to the non-profit organization.

The show will go on – for now (update July 17, 2014)

Finally caught up with Douglas' Assistant Manager, Linda Goetz, who inherited the non-profit BD&DS. She said all scheduled concerts are on until Oct. 26 and that a Memorial Jam is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.

As for what happens after the last concert, Goetz is working with Pete's heirs to see if something can be worked out: "The non-profit Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and its venue, The Douglas Beach House, are probably inseparable," she said. "If Pete’s heirs are not interested in continuing the music in cooperation with the non-profit, it would take a huge fundraising effort to purchase the house from them – a project that would require enlisting the help and support of those who appreciate the value of a small oceanfront venue. We will know more later."

Let's hope for the best.

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