The proving ground for jazz musicians over the decades has been the nightclub stage, the chance to sit in with a group of pros and solo. It’s a high-wire act for the up-and-coming musician, proving themselves in front of a crowd as well as a group that’s heard it all. In Santa Barbara, the tradition is held by one man, Jeff Elliott and his Monday night Jazz Jams.
His name has appeared regularly on SOhO’s monthly schedule, and always on that Monday. So much so that it’s easy to take for granted what Elliot does, which is keep jazz alive in Santa Barbara at the grassroots level.
The Jazz Jam started in the original SOhO location on Victoria street (current location of Hobnob), and was originally run by jazz pianist Theo Saunders.
“I don’t think he could keep up with being the kind of jovial personality needed to run a jazz jam,” says Elliott with a laugh. The first jazz jam era ended in 2001, and Elliott went off to pursue other avenues, but two years ago, SOhO brought him back.
The trumpet player and now multi-instrumentalist Elliott leads a constantly rotating house band of pros (currently Randy Tico on bass, and the Martinez brothers on bass, percussion, flute and more are sitting in), and then makes an open call for anybody to come in and show ’em what they’re made of, musically. That can be anybody from an 85-year-old retiree, a 9-to-5 worker who’s a secret vocalist by night, to the 12-year-old saxophonist who sat in for a very simple chart and held his own.
One of Elliott’s trumpet students in the ’90s used to sit in with the Jam to develop his chops. Adolpho Acosta now tours with the Tower of Power horns. Others have gone off to music schools, and keep in touch with Elliott about their progress.
“I try to mix the experienced players with the beginners,” he says. “You only learn to be a better player by playing with better players. That’s different from a school. You’re up there doing it, creating.”
Elliott’s bio shows a man who has always taken opportunity when presented, which resulted in various world tours (over 40) taken as part of different jazz bands.
He was born in Covina in 1953, and raised in Goleta – he surfed a lot in his youth – and picked up the horn in his teens. As he often mentions, he started taking lessons the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. Stints in music camp in Stockton came and went, with amazing teachers solidifying Elliott’s love of jazz. Elliott has played in groups such as the fusion band Passage and the Eraserheads, and toured and recorded with acts from Jimmy Messina to Flora Purim & Airto. Since his teens, he’s never made money any other way. Currently he lives in Orcutt, and spends his time between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
The Jazz Jam is a link to our history and culture, something he sees we our losing.
“People need to go out and socialize and not go out and watch a TV in a bar. I could do that at home. We take our art forms for granted.”
Mondays is open to the public, and encourages an audience.
“Every night is different,” he says. “It’s like a variety show, a variety of culture. You may see an old guy blowing a mean harmonica and then a 15-year-old girl playing a sax. You will see something amazing.”
JAZZ JAM with JEFF ELLIOTT
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday and Jan 17
Where: SOhO Restaurant and Music Club,
1221 State Street (upstairs)
Information: (805) 962-7776 or www.sohosb.com