Riverside builds up a new age jazz scene

Published Nov. 26, 2014

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Michael Isberto | Staff Writer

People in Riverside are craving a jazz music scene and the Pierce Street Jazz series is looking to fill that void.

Music filled a full house of listeners Nov. 19 at the Troesh Conference Center in Riverside as it does every other month. Pierce Street Jazz is a free concert series put together by some of the faculty at La Sierra University, Marvin Payne, Richard Rakijian, and Warren Trenchard.

“We started off with hosting events in the commons, in the cafeteria and it grew and grew,” said Richard Rakijian. “Then the business department asked if we wanted a sponsor and offered their new building as a venue. We started about four years ago. We have about six to eight shows a year. But we never thought it would grow to this size but here we are.”

Trenchard and the faculty noticed the lack of live jazz music in the Riverside area so they decided to change that.

“As far as Pierce Street Jazz, Warren Trenchard from the La Sierra Student Union is the one that heads it up,” said Kevin Straine, LSU alumnus. He’s a jazz fanatic and has even written a book about the synoptic gospels and how they’re like jazz. Anyway, he set it up and I think Clifford Franklin usually rounds up the music. It started a while back as something Trenchard wanted to bring to the area because he laments the lack of jazz here.”

Every concert Pierce Street Jazz puts together features a special guest artist. All of the particular guest artists they bring in have played some of the most well-known and jazz legends of all time.

“They bring in some famous jazz musicians that have played with some big names,” said Kevin Jimenez, LSU graduate student of music. “They perform about 1-2 times a quarter, usually on a Wednesday night in the Troesh Center. There have been some big time players, mostly old jazz cats. It’s been like that since I’ve been in school, and I’ve been here for almost five years.”

  This particular event featured saxophonist Azar Lawrence. Lawrence has played with many legendary musicians including Miles Davis, Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye and Tina Turner.

Azar plays around the world and has played in Riverside many times and enjoys playing in the area. The group playing with him include Henry “The Skipper” Franklin on bass, Theo Saunders on piano and Ramon Banda on Drums. The group of friends has toured with each other and has also played on each others projects.

Riverside is known as the city of arts and innovation, but some of the older folks in the area feel the shortage of quality music for the younger generations to enjoy.

“I love that they’re bringing good music to the community,” said Fred Beltz, concert attendee. “Most of the kids these days aren’t exposed to music like this and it’s a shame. I’m glad they took it upon themselves to bring jazz to Riverside, and it’s free. How can you beat that?”

Many Riverside residents are excited for the free music events organized by the Pierce Street Jazz series. Music is a universal language that brings together people of all ages.

“The past couple of concerts, the crowd has been a nice mix of a younger … and an older crowd,” said Cody Harris, a concert attendee. “And the atmosphere is awesome. So anyone who appreciates jazz music will feel welcome here.”

Although this may be one of the first series of it’s kind in the area, the appreciation for what Pierce Street Jazz brings to the community will certainly not be the last.

“This is the biggest showing we’ve had at any concert,” said Jonathan Thomas, LSU student and sound technician. “It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s really growing.”