Local music organization will wrap up fundraising drive with celebratory event
Group aims to boost opportunities for local musicians
FARMINGTON — Delbert Anderson isn't trying to turn everyone in Farmington into a musician. But he wouldn't mind seeing everyone in Farmington become a music fan.
The local jazz band leader and San Juan College adjunct faculty member is the president of the San Juan Jazz Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the growth of the live music scene in San Juan County, regardless of genre.
The organization will present its Sapphire September fundraiser this weekend, an event that Anderson said serves not so much as an opportunity to raise money but as more of a chance to celebrate the success his organization has experienced since its founding last spring.
"We've achieved so much in not even a year," Anderson said, explaining that supporters of the organization began meeting informally in the fall of 2018 and officially founded the society in April. "It's just due to everyone being in on the mission we have."
Anderson, who makes his living performing and touring from coast to coast with his band DDAT, wants to see live music become a significant cultural force in the county, especially as local government officials embark on a concerted effort to diversify the economy by promoting outdoor recreation and filmmaking opportunities here. A thriving live music scene would complement both those areas of emphasis, he believes.
As a part-time music educator, Anderson said the SJJS has made an effort to reach out to young people, offering workshops designed to introduce them to different forms of music and perhaps entice them to pick up an instrument. But mostly, he said, the society aims to offer a wide array of live music events — including its weekly Jazz Jams series — and build an audience for the musicians here who are trying to make a living at what they do.
"We're instilling respect (for music," he said. "We want to create patrons of the arts."
When the society kicked off its inaugural fundraising drive in the spring, Anderson said the goal was to raise $15,000 to fund the organization's programs. As that effort enters its final few days, that number is close to being eclipsed, with Anderson estimating that more than $11,000 already has been raised. That figure was buoyed significantly by a pair of donations from former San Juan College music instructor Shellie Grant, who made two donations totaling $7,300.
"Her father was a jazz musician, and she felt like the Jazz James really deserved that amount of money," Anderson said. "They touched her so much, she was willing to give us an amount of money that was above and beyond."
Anderson said the money that has been donated so far already has been allocated for a variety of programs. The first project the society will undertake is the construction of a stage later this month at the HEart Space, the pocket park behind the downtown Studio 116 art gallery built by owners Karen Ellsbury and Patrick Hazen.
The society presents its free Jazz Jams shows there every Wednesday during the summer, recently concluding its second season of those events. The shows have proven very popular, drawing a large crowd each week and confirming Anderson's suspicion that a hunger for quality live music exists in Farmington. The series will resume at the Civic Center in October.
Many people who have donated to the society's fundraising drive have attended a Jazz Jam event, Anderson said, theorizing that the series has helped his organization establish credibility with local music fans.
"I think it really showed them what the arts can do and how their investment helps," he said.
The SJJS also has purchased 150 chairs for audience seating at the HEart Space and is planning to buy 10 round tables that can seat up to 12 people. Anderson said Ellsbury has said she is going to match the society's investment by purchasing shade sails to keep audience members cool, and she will be replacing the gravel that now covers the ground with pavers or concrete.
Anderson said the space quickly has become a valued and much-enjoyed community gathering spot that fills a vital role in helping the society achieve its mission. In addition to the weekly Jazz Jams, the HEart space presents weekly open mic or karaoke nights in the summer and plays host to the society's monthly Second Saturday concert series, which will feature the Farmington metal band Signal 99 at 7 p.m. Sept. 7.
"People call all the time now because they want to play there," he said. "They want to host parties there. It was supposed to be a park, but it's transformed into a place to represent art."
Anderson said a work day to build the stage is scheduled for 8 a.m. Sept. 16 at the HEart Space. Volunteers are welcome, as are donations of wood, screws, sealant and brushes. Anderson said the loan of power saws and screw guns also would be appreciated.
The money raised from the fundraising drive also will be spent on a "scholarship" program and matching gig guarantee program for local bands. In regard to the former, Anderson envisions enrolling one or two local groups a year in a mentorship program that provides band members with instruction in the marketing and business side of music. The latter will provide qualifying bands with payouts that match what local clubs have guaranteed them for performances, effectively doubling their compensation on a given night. The idea is to encourage more establishments to offer live music and to ensure that local musicians are fairly paid for their work, Anderson said.
Finally, the society plans to stage a best original song contest with a sizable cash prize sometime in the next year. The idea is to encourage musicians to write and perform their own material, not just play well-known songs by popular artists, Anderson said.
"We want to build not just a music scene, but build a talented music scene," he said.
The society already has undertaken other efforts through its website to promote the county's music scene. It features a page devoted to local live music listings stretching out months in advance, and bands or artists are encouraged to submit their listings through a form at the top of the page. The calendar is designed to provide one-stop shopping for anyone looking to find a band to listen to on a given night or to figure out when their favorite local group is performing next, Anderson said.
"There is literally stuff going on every week throughout the week," he said, acknowledging that he has been surprised by how much live music activity already exists here. "When you put it all together, it's a busy place."
There is also a page devoted to a local artist/band directory that includes descriptions, photos, video links and contact information for any act interested in being included. So far, nearly two dozen bands or artists have taken advantage of the service, and Anderson encourages more of them to submit a listing through the website.
"We've already helped two or three bands with getting gigs or putting them in a venue that suits them," he said. "It's really effective."
Anderson said he gets five to six phone calls a week from people interested in hearing a particular style of music or looking to book a band for a special event. He is more than happy to refer them to one of the groups listed on the society's website.
"It's all free — there's no charge," Anderson said. "It's all about making a music scene."
All he asks in return is that members of local bands consider making a small donation to the society to help it fund the society's programs. That kind of buy-in is vital if the society is going to achieve its goals, he said.
"Everyone needs to realize they need to invest in themselves to be successful," he said. " … It's so important our local bands donate because it shows that we're all invested, and we all want to see it grow and work."
Eventually, Anderson envisions the society opening its own headquarters downtown, a large space featuring a concert hall, a rehearsal space, a studio, a juice/coffee bar, a children's musical education area and overnight accommodations for traveling bands. He said preliminary plans for such a facility already have been created, and he is exploring grant funding that would cover the purchase and renovation of a building.
Anderson believes his organization has demonstrated its effectiveness and value in just a few months, and he isn't quite sure why more bands aren't taking advantage of the services it offers.
"I almost want to dare these local bands to sign up for a program," he said. "I think simply by being involved with the San Juan Jazz Society, they'll start to realize how much opportunity is available to them."
The organization's Sapphire September is a black tie event featuring heavy appetizers, a cocktail hour, live entertainment, dancing and a silent auction. It takes place at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. Tickets begin at $80. Call 505-320-5084 or visit sanjuanjazzsociety.com.
Tickets for the Signal 99 concert the following night are $10 in advance online through the SJJS website or $12 at the gate.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.