Kummbwa Jazz Center, the world-renowned Santa Cruz venue for jazz performance is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a year-long concert season featuring legendary jazz masters and emerging new artists.

Starting in February, artists such as acclaimed guitar and vocal duo, Tuck and Patti, Guggenheim Fellow and three-time Grammy nominee, Billy Childs will take to the intimate Kuumbwa Jazz stage, along with newcomers like rising star Chilean saxophonist, Melissa Aldana.

Located in downtown Santa Cruz, Kuumbwa Jazz offers live music aficionados a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with world-class performers; the venue also recently renovated their sound system to provide audiences with the highest quality concert-going experience.

For larger audiences starting in the spring, Kuumbwa Jazz has partnered with midtown’s Rio Theatre to host performers of world music and other musical styles including Brazilian singer, songwriter and guitarist Gilberto Gil and South African a capella ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

On April 7, the festivities will continue with a one-time special event, The Kuumbwa “Dream Band” Concert featuring all-star musicians who have performed at Kuumbwa Jazz over the years. The ensemble will include pianist, Benny Green, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, drummer Eric Harland, bassist Christian McBride, and saxophonist Joshua Redman.

A favorite venue of artists from around the world, Kuumbwa Jazz puts on nearly 150 concerts a year and its Monday night concerts, featuring big-name acts are legendary. But forty years ago, when Kuumbwa Jazz was just starting out, the center operated without a permanent home for two years, producing shows in venues like the old Capitola Theatre (since demolished), The Laurel School (now Louden Nelson Community Center) and San Lorenzo Park before moving to their current location in 1977.

The center, whose name “Kuumbwa” means “act of spontaneous creativity” in Swahili, put on its first show with saxophonist Joe Henderson headlining on April 6, 1975, netting the center a whopping $4 after a collection hat was passed around the audience (the average donation? 35 cents) – co-founder and artistic director, Tim Jackson recalls having to pay Joe Henderson with rolls of quarters.

Jackson’s relationship with Keystone Korner owner, Todd Barker, during the center’s early days helped develop the venue’s reputation for attracting stellar acts to the sleepy beachside town. Acts that would play at the famed San Francisco jazz venue, which existed from 1972 to 1983, would perform at Kuumbwa Jazz either the Monday before or after their Keystone run. Nowadays, Jackson keeps in touch with the booking agents at Yoshi’s Oakland, SF Jazz, San Jose Jazz and other regional talent buyers in the area, which can lead to multiple booking options on a given Monday night.

One of the first nonprofit jazz presenting organizations on the West Coast, Kuumbwa Jazz continues to showcase the best in jazz performance – here’s to another 40 years!

Photo: Saxophonist, Joe Henderson at Kuumbwa Jazz in the early 1990’s. Henderson was the center’s first performer in 1975. Credit: Kuumbwa Jazz Center/Will Wallace