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Review for Kuumbwa Jazz Society, Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

I've been a volunteer at the Kuumbwa for enough years now that I can't remember when I started. I initially helped with all of the computer and network stuff and after a six year stint on the Board of Directors I gravitated to the door crew. Before I became a volunteer I would see occasional amazing shows there (Billy Cobham and Tony Williams bands spring immediately to mind) and would have gone more often if I could have afforded it. One thing I learned very quickly as a volunteer is that the organization is totally about the music and that the successful bookings allowed for booking musicians that would not generate much money. Although I've committed myself to working every show I can, there have been a number of times that I didn't want to go down to the club on Monday night 'cuz I was tired after a long day at work and I didn't think the band would be good - these are the magical shows where you get to experience musicians that may be new to you or hear established musicians pushing the boundaries and doing something completely new. I used the think that sometimes the Santa Cruz audience is overly appreciative. Well, I've changed my mind about that. The love that the audience gives the artists is always reflected back and to see a road-hardened old pro musician obviously moved by an appreciative audience is a real treat (not to mention the up-and-coming and local artists). I schlepped Diana Krall and her trio for her first visit to the Kuumbwa (a definite perk!) and when she heard that her single show had been expanded into two shows due to demand (this was before her rise to superstardom) she said something to the effect "how does a little beach town get these incredible performers?" I heard McCoy Tyner say from the stage that "the Kuumbwa is the best club in the world" and also heard Branford Marsalis say from the very same stage that "the Kuumbwa is the second-best club in the world - the Village Vanguard is the best". These artists have played hundreds, if not thousands, of venues throughout the world. Ticket prices for the Kuumbwa are about half of what you would expect to pay in the Bay Area. Members are treated to the occasional free show and the Kuumbwa puts on a free outdoor show for the community every Labor Day weekend. The Kuumbwa is extremely community-minded, they partner with other local arts organizations to jointly present artists at various local venues. The Kuumbwa also rents the facility to other organizations and individuals, sharing the intimate facility with the community and giving the community an incredible asset. The artistic vision of the Kuumbwa, its devoted volunteers, board members and, most importantly, their loyal audience have created a very successful non-profit, the envy of many local organizations. This very success has led to many donations, large and small, throughout the years and the Kuumbwa staff should be extremely proud of the results of their hard work fund raising. The Kuumbwa has suffered in the past from what I imagine is a problem endemic to the non-profit and government worlds: there is a tendency to buy the cheapest solution to a problem, often resulting in a false savings when the item or service craps out soon or fails to deliver the need level of service. I've seen this problem improve dramatically over the years as the Kuumbwa has improved its fortunes, through donations of either money or expertise. It's hard to think of how the Kuumbwa could be improved, most nagging issues are eventually solved (save one, ownership of the venue) but sometimes there are years of suffering through an inadequate PA or the lack of a decent lighting system or improvements to the kitchen. The Kuumbwa staff and board have a constant need of donations to not only keep the dream alive but to improve the organization and venue. I've heard folks complain about this and that about the venue, booking and organization over the years but hey!, this is an extremely successful venture that has continued to do all the right things over the years to keep the Kuumbwa successful and strong, including weathering two major economic downturns. This is why people and organizations like to give money to the Kuumbwa, they know that their contribution will be used wisely. Some folks may not realize how far-reaching the Kuumbwa's economics are. Besides the obvious benefit to the local economy (food,wine,beer,equipment and professional services, just to name a few). The Kuumbwa is helping to keep musicians around the world working and making major contributions to our culture.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

My tenure on the Kuumbwa Board of Directors was definitely a growth experience. Also, I've seen the office graduate from a funky little maintenance room using a 286 PC to a professionally run office with a full-fledged computer network and enough floor space to keep staff from tripping over each other.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

I wouldn't really make any changes. It would be nice to have roomier seating but that would reduce the number of seats and for many, many shows would exclude the public from being able to buy a ticket. I would also like to see the Kuumbwa able to eventually buy the venue to ensure its legacy as a Santa Cruz institution.

Would you volunteer for this group again?


For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A lot

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Quite well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?


What one change could this group make that would improve your volunteer experience?

Free food!

Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)

Absolutely, I continue to be introduced many new people, ideas and art just about every week of the year.

How did this volunteer experience make you feel?

Most excellent.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?


Role:  Volunteer & Part of door crew.