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Delbert Anderson believes music can make Farmington better place

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FARMINGTON — When musician Delbert Anderson launched the Jazz Jams series in downtown Farmington in the middle of last summer, he envisioned it serving as a chance for him and some of his fellow performers to get together once a week and promote an appreciation for and knowledge of their preferred genre of music, perhaps helping build a sense of community along the way.

Little did he know the series would prove to be so successful that it would lead to the formation of an organization that now seeks to transform the city's live music scene.

"It's been so rewarding," Anderson said earlier this week, describing the way his original, modest idea has thrived and evolved. "Every day, I wake up, and I can't believe it's working. Then I go and check my emails, and there's always somebody who has a new idea."

The Jazz Jams — weekly jam sessions held in the Studio 116 pocket park featuring Anderson and a rotating cast of players — were funded by a grant from the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation and featured free hot dogs and bottled water, in addition to the music.

More: New weekly jazz jam sessions a hit at Studio 116 pocket park

The sessions were only scheduled to last through the summer, but they turned out to be so successful — attracting weeknight crowds of up to 175 listeners — that Anderson found other sponsors and a new, indoor venue for the series once the weather turned cold. The jam sessions continued through the winter at the Farmington Civic Center and now have moved back to their original home in the Studio 116 pocket park, where they will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. each Wednesday through Sept. 4.

Their success inspired Anderson and the other musicians taking part to launch the San Juan Jazz Society, an organization devoted to providing music activity, creating educational opportunities and building unity through music. The group will launch a months-long fundraising campaign on Monday that will culminate with a fundraising event Sept. 6 at the Civic Center.

More: San Juan Jazz Society formed to continue weekly jam sessions

Anderson hopes to see the campaign raise $15,000, which the organization intends to use for a variety of purposes designed to pump life into the anemic live music scene in San Juan County. While the area is home to several highly regarded artists or bands – ranging from "The Voice" winner Chevel Shepherd to the metal act Signal 99 and Anderson's jazz group, DDAT, with both of the latter having built a national profile in recent years — Anderson said there are precious few venues that regularly offer live music in the area and even fewer that compensate performers adequately.

"We don't really have much of a music scene," Anderson said. "Even the (San Juan College) numbers are really low, and budgets are being cut. We're trying to bring it back and show people it's important."

Society members want to change that, and they're putting their money where their collective mouth is. They're initiating a program in which a handful of local venue owners will be approached about doubling the guarantees they pay local musical acts, with the society agreeing to foot the bill for half of that amount. That means a club that usually pays a group $400 a night would be able to pay $800 with the help of the society.

More: Delbert Anderson fuses jazz, hip-hop, Native influences on new disc

Anderson said the idea is to allow talented local groups — that now travel to larger cities to earn a good paycheck — to perform more often in San Juan County. The idea is to grow and reward the local talent pool, encourage local venues to offer live music more regularly and help build an audience for live music, he said.

The society also has launched a concert series for local bands on the second Saturday of each month at 213 W. Main St. in downtown Farmington, and is even promoting a concert by the nationally known blues artist Levi Platero at Studio 116 on May 14. It also is planning to compile a directory of local musical acts on its website, sanjuanjazzsociety.com, which will serve as a resource for those interested in booking an act for a concert, bar, party or other special event.

But the society's goals don't stop there. Anderson said the organization takes its educational mission very seriously and will offer music lessons, as well as workshops on how to record a demo or how the music business works. It also will partner with the annual Jazzfest at San Juan College, where Anderson serves as an adjunct faculty member, to raise its profile.

"We're going to use the San Juan College Jazzfest as a launchpad," he said. "We want to make it more of a community event instead of a college event."

More: Idaho professor serves as headliner for Jazzfest at San Juan College

Anderson said the festival traditionally culminates with a Friday night concert featuring a guest artist on the college campus. He said the society plans to add a Friday night jam session at a local club following that concert, then add a Saturday night concert event with another guest artist at a local performance venue.

"One thing that we thought was very important is bringing in bigger and better-known artists to the community," Anderson said of those plans. "But they're not cheap."

That means the fundraising campaign needs to be successful, he said. The late-summer fundraising event, Sapphire September, is still in the early planning stages, but Anderson is confident it will create a splash. Plans call for bringing in a well-known musical headliner, and he promises the event will have plenty of show business glitz and glamour.

Even the weekly Jazz Jams have changed somewhat with the group's fundraising goal in mind, he noted. Admission to the events remains free, but free hot dogs and water are no longer offered. Instead, there will be a concessions stand and food truck at each session, with a portion of proceeds they raise earmarked for the society to help fund its various programs, including paying the musicians who perform at the jams.

Anderson emphasized that, despite the society's name, it is interested in working with and assisting performers from all musical genres.

"We can't change the whole music scene just by using jazz," he said. "We're even going to be branching out into art, because music is a part of art. We're trying to make opportunities for every kind of band."

Anderson believes live music has an important role to play in making Farmington a better and happier place.

"They're missing a whole other art form, a whole other emotional experience," he said of people who don't patronize live music establishments. "We have this saying: 'Music touches areas everyday life doesn't.' It touches the emotional side of a person — the spirit, some people say. If we can make that kind of impact, we can make our community better and more appreciative toward the arts."

For information about donating to the San Juan Jazz Society's fundraising campaign or for ticket or sponsorship information about the September event, email jive@sanjuanjazzsociety.com.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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