Chicago Symphony Orchestra | Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on February 2, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at

In Santa Barbara’s concert life, we’re accustomed to thanking the art Gods for favors, small and sometimes large. We may get one or two important concerts a week in our humble but formidable town/city, for which we lovers of live music are thankful.

But by serendipitous timing, last week brought on a veritable tsunami of “serious” musical affairs descending on the town, between such memorable events as Joyce DiDonato’s adventurous concert concept piece EDEN (review here), the incomparable Chicago Symphony Orchestra (review here) and the local debut of the premiere contemporary champions Ensemble Intercontemporain, with its Olga Neuwirth score to the 1924 film Die Stadt Ohne Juden (The City Without Jews) at the Lobero. (Haiku review: captivating music and ensemble, frustratingly middling film).

The big wave of a week opened on Tuesday with the mezzo-soprano asking, wordlessly, Charles Ives’ timeless The Unanswered Question. It closed on Sunday night with the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour all-star aggregate supplying a funky finale to its Campbell Hall show, Eddie Harris’ “Compared to What.” Compared to most weeks around these parts, this one was a dizzy doozy.

Joyce DiDonato in EDEN | Credit: David Bazemore

It is a testament to the cultural power of the week’s schedule that Friday night’s power-trio appearance by Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and Leonidas Kavakos, bringing a trove of Beethoven to the Granada, felt like the least exciting event of the week. Whereas other items on the week’s agenda gained powers of distinction and adventure — the gumption of EDEN, the undeniable profundity of the CSO, the EIC’s innovation and the Monterey Festival road show’s powerhouse set, this year’s first flowering of jazz in town — Friday’s concert felt “merely” flawless and down the middle, program-wise. A happy problem.

Without question, Friday’s concert was an impeccably-delivered bounty of Beethoven — the Symphony No. 4 reduced to trio arrangement by Shai Wosner and the “Archduke” trio. The evening was marred somewhat by the dreaded applause between movements, which always makes us seem more provincial than we are. (The situation may have partly been due to a shortage of programs to provide the audience with playbooks).

Sunday at Campbell Hall, the show was introduced by Tim Jackson, Monterey Jazz Festival director and a certain kind of hero in the jazz world for many years. This ongoing but ever-changing touring project is a wise maneuver on various fronts, including a promotion for the festival — up to its 65th annual edition next September — and a celebration of artists both individually and collectively, tethered by a strong rhythm section (here, pianist/music director Christian Sands, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and masterful drummer Clarence Penn).

Musical highlights of this incarnation’s recent show included current young alto sax heroine Lakecia Benjamin’s Coltrane-esque blast of energy (celebrating both the iconic John C. and his underrated wife Alice), vocalist Kurt Elling’s stunning lyrical variation on Joe Zawinul’s classic ballad “A Remark You Made,” and the natural charismatic magnetism and chops of veteran vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater. She recalled her first Monterey Festival appearance, with the big band of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, 50 years ago, and launched into a tricky “Bye Bye Blackbird,” as well as an even trickier, tongue-tying take of Chick Corea’s “Spain,” with lyrics by Al Jarreau. (Incidental local note: Dee Dee Bridgewater has graced various Santa Barbara stages over the years, but old schoolers will never forget catching her in Ridah Omri’s landmark Jazz Hall club on Victoria Street — with a capacity of roughly 50 folks — in the mid-90s). On Sunday, jazz was very much in the house and rattling our rafters.

Four of the five shows were brought to us by UCSB Arts & Lectures, a reminder of A & L’s service to the cultural life of the town, while the CSO’s return was made possible by the century-plus old CAMA. We’re in good hands. And sometimes, the stars align to stuff a week full of chewy, brainy goodness. Now for a winter’s nap before the calendar energies fill up again.

Sign up for ON the Beat, Josef Woodard’s semi-weekly newsletter preaching the gospel of eclectic music tastes.


Zach Gill | Credit: Courtesy

We have seen, heard and appreciated the likes of Goleta-based world citizen musician Zach Gill in multiple forms and venues around town in the past year. There he was with his band ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) at SOhO. There he was, laying down his organic funk-pop-eclectica on a funky painted piano on the corner of State & A, gamely promoting the “Pianos on State” project. Then, there he was in his “day gig,” as Jack Johnson’s right/left hand man onstage at the Santa Barbara Bowl for an SRO two-nighter last October. Did we mention that he is helping make the world safe for accordion, among other things?

To this list of Gill sightings we can add a special benefit show for the Montessori Center School, at the Red Piano on Thursday, February 9. The cause is a good one. So is the music man.

Django Reinhardt-isms have been resonating locally this season, kicking off with the Django Festival All-Stars at the Lobero last fall. Last week, we would have been privy to the marvelous French guitarist Stephane Wrembel (my personal favorite of the shamelessly Django-phile players on the scene) at SOhO, but he canceled.

Have no fear, Django’s looming influence will land at SOhO in the good, virtuosic and friendly-spirited hands of John Jorgenson on Sunday night (February 5), when his “Gypsy Jazz Quintet” appears as part of the notable and noble Santa Barbara Acoustic series. Jorgenson’s nimble and swinging approach is unabashedly steeped in the vintage stuff of the Hot Club of France style from the ’30s but with some contemporary sauces — take, for instance, a version of Van Halen’s “Jump.” The American guitarist has gained acclaim globally, as the only American to be invited to the French Django Reinhardt Memorial Festival. Slackers are not invited.

John Jorgensen (center) and band | Credit: Courtesy

Jorgenson’s show kicks off a new year in the ambitious SB Acoustic roster of acoustic guitar-centric offerings, which includes flamenco master Jose Antonio Rodriguez on February 26 and guitarist Clive Carroll on March 5.

Another SOhO hot tip: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears return to town on Saturday, February 4. Expect hot and cool blues and soul sounds, with some garage-flavored edge in the mix.

Support the Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or a single contribution.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.