Steve Adelson is on the stick. Literally.
As master of the Chapman Stick (an evolutionary leap forward from the standard six string guitar, played by two free hands in a tapping method that yields otherworldly results) and the driving force behind the Long Beach Jazz Festival, Adelson’s fingerprints—musical, logistical and spiritual—are all over this up and coming celebration of America’s original musical art form.
Now in its ninth year, the Long Beach Jazz Festival utilizes several local restaurants, clubs and the warm, intimate auditorium in the Long Beach Public Library to bring an eclectic blend of improvised sounds to the City by the Sea from September 15th to September 18th.
Adelson’s strength in producing the festival lies in his commitment to variety and originality. His choice of instrument is outside the (music) box, and so are his choices when booking talent. He’s careful to bill the best of the best in local jazz side by side with some of the genre’s international superstars. The result is a widely enjoyed global gumbo of rhythm, fusion and swing that makes Long Beach its home for a blistering post-Labor Day, four-day weekend party.
“(Over the years) the audiences have really appreciated the quality of musicians that have performed,” Adelson said. “The entertainment standard is very high. Of course, positive word of mouth accelerates attendance. We’ve had lots of repeat visitors and more and more newbies.”
The good energy that’s shared by musicians and fans alike has also been a main factor in attracting some of the festival’s biggest names, including bass virtuoso Bakithi Kumalo, world-renowned jazz drummer Omar Hakim (drummer for jazz fusion machine Weather Report) and this year’s new addition, jazz guitar giant Charlie Hunter.
“The musicians enjoy the cozy atmosphere and great community response,” remarked Adelson, who calls many of the festival’s players collaborators and friends. “They are spreading the word to fellow players that we have this very cool four day event. As a result, bigger names in the genre have come on board each successive year.”
Kumalo weighed in on the Long Beach Jazz Fest all the way from South Africa, where he’s participating in a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s groundbreaking world-beat masterpiece, Graceland.
“I’m very excited to play in Long Beach this year,” said Kumalo. “Thanks to Steve, Long Beach Jazz Festival is one of [the year’s] best events. Great location, amazing fans and a great lineup of musicians, I’m so grateful to be part of it.”
Rachel Z of Trio of Oz, featuring Hakim on drums, further emphasizes what Kumalo and so many other players know. Adelson’s passion, knowledge and generosity of spirit give Long Beach Jazz Fest its rising star status among musicians and jazz heads alike.
“I think when a musician promotes a festival it has heart,” said Z. “When we play at Long Beach Jazz Festival it has a feeling of warmth and love for the music that echoes into the crowd and reflects back to the stage.”
Jazz is built on improvisation. From a musical perspective, it’s about having the chops to sit freely in the moment, while keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s coming around the corner. Running an annual (free!) event is no different and Adelson is already peeking down the road to keep the jams alive.
“I didn’t know it would work so well in our first year,” said Adelson. “But we present so many styles of innovative and entertaining music. It’s very gratifying to hear someone say as they leave the auditorium, ‘I didn’t even know this music existed. I love it!’”
“We can grow of course,” Adelson continued. “The main obstacle is financial. We get support from our great local sponsors and The Long Beach Public Library. We could not do it without them. Almost all sets of music are standing room only, so eventually we’ll have to find other venues in town. Long Beach Jazz Fest seems to be growing by itself. Money and space will have to be addressed to get to the next level and beyond. [Until then] we invite the world to join us.”
For full details on all performances, visit LongBeachJazzFest.com.
What is a Chapman Stick?
The Chapman Stick was devised by jazz musician Emmett Chapman in 1969 and first manufactured in 1974. Chapman’s vision was to have the techniques of guitar, piano, bass and drums combined onto a single instrument. The fingers of both hands are utilized on its expansive fingerboard and 8-12 strings to create simultaneous bass and treble lines with drum/piano-like tapping.
Long Beach Jazz Festival Lineup, main stage, Long Beach Public Library Auditorium
Thursday, Sept. 15: ?
7pm Gail Storm (solo piano and vocals)
8pm Bakithi Kumalo group (Paul Simon bassist)
Friday, Sept. 16:?
7pm Vicki Genfan (solo guitar)
8:15pm Chieli Minucci & Special EFX
Saturday, Sept. 17:?
12pm Connie Crothers (solo piano)?
1pm George Cables Trio
2:15pm Charlie Hunter duo?
3:30pm Steve Adelson Stick-Tet (with Bryan Carrott, Frank Bellucci, Nydia “Liberty” Mata)?
5pm Trio of Oz (with Rachel Z and Omar Hakim)
Sunday, Sept. 18:
12pm Mike Barnett Band with Diane Hoffman ?
12:45pm Onaje Allan Gumbs Trio ?
2pm Stephane Wrembel Trio with David Langlois?
3:15pm Oz Noy Trio?
4:30pm Dean Brown Band?followed by Dean/Oz annual jam
Steve Adelson discovered the Chapman Stick in the early 80s and has become one of the premiere Stick players in the world. In addition to recording five albums, Adelson has gigged and taught all over the US and internationally. He also owns The Guitar Workshop Music School in Brooklyn.
Steve Adelson wrote for Twentieth Century Guitar magazine for 12 years, has been published in DownBeat, Jazz Improv and Guitar Player magazines and has issued a method book, instructional videos and concerts DVDs.
Steve Adelson has performed with or opened for Les Paul, Danny Gottlieb, Dean Brown, Tony Levin, Chieli Minucci, Oz Noy, Rachel Z., Steve Howe, Rights Of Strings, Stanley Jordan and plenty more.