Stacey Hoffman Keeps Jazz More Than Alive
In the Name of Love represents the manifestation of a grassroots music movement for Living Jazz.
Photo by Melati Citrawireja
Since the turn of the century, the East Bay has kicked off the new year with an embracing, soul-steeped celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. known as In the Name of Love. The 16th annual event returns to the Oakland Scottish Rite Center on Jan. 14 with a talent-brimming program featuring vocalists Kim Nalley, Nicolas Bearde, Tiffany Austin, Jessica La Rel, and Amikaeyla Gaston. But to fully understand what In the Name of Love represents, think of the concert as a brilliantly hued flower nurtured by an expansive root system burrowed deep into the California soil.
Produced by the arts nonprofit Living Jazz, In the Name of Love is only the most visible manifestation of an organization that has profoundly shaped the Bay Area music scene for more than three decades. Under the guidance of cofounder and executive director, Stacey Hoffman, Living Jazz has launched numerous influential programs and beloved ensembles, including the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and the Oakland Jazz Choir.
“A lot of people don’t understand our influence over the past 35 years,” said Hoffman during a recent conversation at a cafe on Berkeley’s Fourth Street. “I never used to care whether people knew what we were doing, but I’m close to retirement, and my goal at this point is about leaving this legacy in the Bay Area and hoping people put two and two together.”
Hoffman’s legacy is a veritable grassroots empire, with programs bringing community-building music to kids, teens, and adults around the region. The Living Jazz Children’s Project is a free music education program for low-income public elementary schools that serves more than 300 second- and third-graders, many of whom will be singing in a chorus opening In the Name of Love.
Aspiring professional musicians can get a career boost via Living Jazz’s Jazz Search West, an annual talent search that presents weekly competitions for instrumentalists and vocalists. In the Name of Love headliner Tiffany Austin, who has gained national recognition as one of jazz’s most exciting new voices, placed second in the 2012 finals.
Among all of Living Jazz’s various initiatives, no program has made a more lasting impact than Jazz Camp West, an eight-day jazz program for instrumentalists, vocalists, and dancers held in La Honda’s redwood-shaded YMCA Camp Jones Gulch every June. With nearly 50 faculty members drawn from the cream of the Bay Area jazz scene and 250 participants who range in skill level from beginners to professional players, the immersive environment has fostered countless creative connections.
Over more than two decades writing about music in the Bay Area, I’ve encountered dozens of artists with stories about profound musical relationships forged at Jazz Camp West, like veteran vocalist Linda Tillery who formed an alliance with a teenage guitarist from San Jose, Brett Brandstatt. She first encountered him at Camp Jones Gulch in 2015 when she followed the sound of bottleneck guitar licks that sounded “like there was an 80-year-old black man from South Carolina sitting on the porch,” Tillery said, only to discover a skinny white kid playing for himself. Since then, she has featured him at a series of high-profile concerts.
In a generational shift, vocalist Madeline Eastman is stepping down as JCW’s longtime artistic director. In a major coup, Hoffman recruited powerhouse New York drummer, bandleader, and composer Allison Miller. Miller is accompanying the In the Name of Love vocalists with an all-star Bay Area band featuring pianist Tammy Hall, bassist Marcus Shelby, trombonist Adam Theis, and Terrence Brewer, all fellow JCW faculty.
While Hoffman is passionate about the arts, she sees the communal activity of learning and playing music as a vehicle serving a larger end, as a “natural bridge to overcome division and discrimination,” she said. A Berkeley psychotherapist with a small private practice, Hoffman has infused every Living Jazz program with a guiding set of principles about “how to be a better person, about gratitude and appreciation, about finding friends, and overcoming loneliness.” She has nurtured the Bay Area music scene from top to bottom, a beatific web of inspiration that’s ready to fill Oakland’s Scottish Rite Center, In the Name of Love.
Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute In The Name of Love, Jan. 14, 7 p.m., $10-$45, Oakland Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland, LivingJazz.org