In one of those contradictions that mark so much of human existence, anniversaries are as arbitrary as they are auspicious.
Events occur, time passes and suddenly the number of years since the original incident ends with a 5 or 0. Does that really merit a celebration, a look back at the occurrence whether it be a birth, marriage or rock festival?
Yes, to a degree. Time remains the ultimate factor in lives comprised of ceaselessly passing years. To mark anniversaries, no matter what number the year in question ends in, is a way to underscore individual or societal accomplishments while also acknowledging the merciless sweep of time. Morality and mortality, if you will.
All of which is just a round-about way to note that the SFJAZZ Collective marks its 10th anniversary this month. The ensemble will do so in style with performances Thursday through Sunday at the SFJAZZ Center. Northern Californians also can catch the group October 15 in Chico and October 23 at UC Davis.
The Collective’s lineup has changed over the course of the decade. Today it includes Miguel Zenón (alto saxophone), David Sánchez (tenor saxophone), Warren Wolf (vibes), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Edward Simon (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Obed Calvaire (drums). SFJAZZ has enunciated a distinct mission for the group.
Each year, the ensemble performs a new list of compositions by a modern jazz master and new pieces by the Collective members (commissioned by SFJAZZ). Through this pioneering approach, simultaneously honoring jazz’s recent history while championing the music’s up-to-the-minute directions, the Collective embodies SFJAZZ’s commitment to jazz as a living, ever-relevant art form.
To cultivate its distinctive sound, the SFJAZZ Collective convenes in San Francisco each spring for a multi-week residency. Throughout this extended rehearsal period – a rarity in today’s jazz – the octet workshops the season’s new repertoire and interacts with the Bay Area community through SFJAZZ’s education programs for youth and adults. The Collective then takes to the performance stage, including home season concerts under the auspices of the SFJAZZ Spring Season and a national and international tour, with stops in some of the world’s most prominent concert halls.
Here’s what the Collective’s co-founder, Joshua Redman, told me regarding the group’s conception 10 years ago.
When Redman and SFJAZZ executive director Randall Kline began considering a resident group for the Bay Area series, their first thought was to follow the norm. That is, assemble a band of name players dedicated to performing the landmarks of the repertoire. The Berkeley-based saxophonist, however, soon soured on the concept.
"I said I'd help put it together but I personally was not interested in being involved in it," Redman recalled. "What I was excited about was this idea of really using the resources and the
reach of the institution ... to help foster the creation of new works."
From that impulse, the outlines of a different, bolder ensemble took shape. It must be a true collective, Redman insisted, with each player a composer and an equal.
"It should be as much a cooperative as possible, as leaderless a group as possible," he said. "What we perform is, hopefully, a result of the collective consensus. It's not about any one person's ideas ... it's about everyone contributing equally to the sound and the vision of the band.
"The most important part of this band is the original composition," Redman added, "the fact that we have the opportunity to write for this ensemble and have the opportunity to create and explore our original compositions."
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