Arts & Culture

A new festival for jazz lovers hits SLO

Inga Swearingen performs Saturday at the SLO Jazz Festival in San Luis Obispo.
Inga Swearingen performs Saturday at the SLO Jazz Festival in San Luis Obispo.

When music lovers crowd into San Luis Obispo’s Mission Plaza on Saturday, Scott Andrews hopes to see plenty of bobbing heads and tapping toes.

“To me, jazz is a celebration of life,” said Andrews, executive director and founder of SLO Jazz Festival.

“So much of the jazz today has gotten so esoteric that it’s missed the point that jazz is about dancing and fun. You should feel more alive hearing jazz,” he said, citing the genre’s history and improvisational bent. “That’s what we’re aiming for with the SLO Jazz Festival.”

 Andrews sees the inaugural SLO Jazz Festival, which features a full day of performances by local and visiting acts, as the next natural step in San Luis Obispo’s development as artistic hub.

“You look at what we have. We have a symphony. We have a Mozart festival. We even have a mud run … but no jazz fest,” said Andrews, an Arroyo Grande High School and Cuesta College graduate who spent time in the Bay Area before moving back to the Central Coast in 2004. “What we don’t have is a flourishing jazz scene.”

According to festival coordinator Kevin Costigliolo, founder of Grateful Family Promotions in Linden, the organizers’ main inspiration is the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, which turns 25 this year.

Andrews started attending the festival in its fifth year. 

“It was in 2007 that I turned to my girlfriend at the time and said, ‘Why don’t we have one of these in San Luis Obispo?' ” recalled Andrews, who teamed up with Costigliolo about five years ago. 

The SLO Jazz Festival secured its nonprofit status in 2010.

So far, organizers have tested the waters with events such as a March 8 concert by saxophonist Anton Schwartz at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, and March 6 and 7 screenings of the documentary “Boogie Stomp!” during the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. (Both festivals will present the documentary “The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi” June 25 at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo.)

The SLO Jazz Festival has also organized the Court Street Summer Jazz outdoor concert series in San Luis Obispo for the past three years. Another string of concerts is planned for this summer. 

Andrews and Costigliolo’s efforts culminate this weekend with the main event.

Although Andrews initially envisioned the SLO Jazz Festival as a multi-day, multi-stage event, he decided to downsize after consulting with the city of San Luis Obispo, which is providing marketing funding via its Promotional Coordinating Committee and Tourism Business Improvement District Board. Alfano Motorcars and Mercedes-Benz are the event’s main sponsors.

Saturday’s festivities kick off at 11:30 a.m. in Mission Plaza with a performance by local jazz chanteuse Inga Swearingen and Cuesta College faculty members. 

Performing at 2 p.m. is Brazilian vocalist/guitarist Téka and her band NewBossa. Joining Téka are percussionist Luis Conte as well as Randy Tico, bassist for Jeff Bridges and The Abiders, and pianist Bill Brendle, known for his work on “American Idol” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Founding Tower of Power saxophone player Mic Gillette and his funk band take the stage at 4 p.m., followed by guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Scott Amendola at 6:30 p.m. 

Closing out the night is percussionist Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band at 8:15 p.m. 

Main stage performances will be interspersed with concerts at the Locals in Jazz stage next to the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. Gypsy jazz band The Tipsy Gypsies will take the stage at 12:30 p.m., followed by world music-inspired smooth jazz group Human Nation at 3 p.m. and pop and funk-influenced fusion band Urban 805 at 5 p.m. 

“Part of the joy of this … jazz fest is integrating local talent with regional talent with international talent,” Andrews said, noting that the festival is receiving support from the San Luis Obispo County Jazz Federation, which sponsors events throughout the year, and the Basin Street Regulars, which hosts Jubilee by the Sea in Pismo Beach every October.

In addition to delighting jazz fans, organizers hope to influence the next generation of jazz musicians. 

The SLO Jazz Festival — namely Andrews and director of education Mark Pietri — is teaming up with Cuesta faculty to offer a four-day jazz camp for musicians ages 13 and up. The SLO Jazz Camp will take place July 7 through 10 at Cuesta College; registration is $250, although scholarships are available. 

“If we do it right, this could become one of the top five events in the whole area,” Andrews said of the SLO Jazz Festival. 

“I want to see everybody who comes out there have a good time and a smile and say, ‘That was a good thing for the city of San Luis Obispo. Make sure you do this every year,’ ” Costigliolo said. “That’s ultimate success, for me.”


SLO Jazz Festival 

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday

Mission Plaza, San Luis Obispo

$35, $20 students

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.