The Sofia launches jazz series — with shows booked through December

Jacam Manricks is the curator and a performer behind a new jazz series at The Sofia in Sacramento, which launched in April. (Photo courtesy of The Sofia)

By Cathy Cassinos

In his new jazz series at The Sofia, saxman and educator Jacam Manricks is taking a page out of Wynton Marsalis’ book.

Like Marsalis, a renowned trumpeter and educator who has made jazz more accessible to the masses, Manricks aims to enlighten, as well as entertain, in a string of performances at The Sofia dedicated to jazz legends and their iconic works.

“People sometimes think jazz is over their heads,” says Manricks, who is both performing in and curating the series. “As humans, we’re creatures of habit, so we like what we know — what’s familiar.” By making jazz more familiar through performance and discussions, he says, he hopes to remove the intimidation factor.

Along with presenting such classics as Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” on May 10 and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on June 13, the concerts will provide audiences with historical context and musical insights intended to help them connect with the music on a deeper level, Manricks says.

“Providing historical perspective, discussing when these albums were recorded and the sociological-political environment of the times, who these musicians were and the kind of lives they lived — all of this will help to give the audience an informed, even transformative, listening experience,” he says. 

An accomplished saxophonist, composer, bandleader and recording artist, Manricks, a native Australian who spent a decade in New York before landing in Sacramento in 2014, holds a DMA in jazz arts from the Manhattan School of Music, among other credentials. His teaching experience is extensive, including five years on the music faculty at UC Davis and master classes around the world.

The Sofia series kicked off in April and is currently booked through December, according to executive producer Jerry Montoya, who helped to bring Manricks on board. “Right now, the plan is to do 12 jazz shows a year — four on the mainstage and the other eight upstairs, in the smaller room,” he says. “That’s what we’re starting with, and we’re hoping we can build on that.”  

Montoya hopes the series will draw not only jazz aficionados but people who are unfamiliar with the genre and willing to learn. “Most people don’t even understand jazz — that’s part of the issue,” he says. “It’s like any art form: If you know the context, know the background, you can start appreciating it.”

The Sofia’s new jazz series debuted April 11, with some shows held in the upstairs gallery (pictured) and others held on the mainstage. (Photo courtesy of The Sofia)

To give listeners a lay of the land, Manricks is offering “Jazz: The Evolution of an American Artform,” a history of jazz concert on Oct. 4 that will chronologically guide the audience through jazz’ evolution, including its various genres and subgenres and key musical characteristics of each. 

“The umbrella term ‘jazz’ incorporates so many different styles,” Manricks says. “Swing jazz, free jazz, Latin jazz … on and on. It’s such a diverse artform. This show will really break down the different genres of jazz, so people will generally come away from it with an idea of which styles they’re most drawn to.”

Throughout the series, Manricks says he’s offering as much variety as he can to expose listeners to jazz’s multifaceted history. “‘Kind of Blue’ is largely modal jazz and ‘A Love Supreme’ is completely different. It’s on the border of free jazz, plus some traditional elements,” he says. 

The two shows that follow, “Oscar Peterson Meets Titans of the Saxophone” on July 11 and Herbie Hancock’s fusion-heavy “Head Hunters” on Aug. 22, featuring bassist Jonathan Stoyanoff’s band, will take listeners in yet other directions.

While Manricks will perform throughout the series, band lineups will change depending on the needs of the music and to create diversity in programming. “I’m trying to do the best quality music I can and hire the best musicians I can,” he says. “I’m trying to give local musicians a great performance opportunity in a premium concert space.” 

Local jazz veterans including pianist and professor Joe Gilman, guitarist Henry Robinett and members of the Capital Jazz Project (which will also perform a holiday show Dec. 20) will likely be among the regulars, Manricks says. Down the road, he says, he hopes to bring in guest musicians from outside the region, including the Bay Area and New York. 

Montoya hopes the series will help to build on Sacramento’s current jazz scene, which has lately been building momentum with jazz-heavy calendars at local restaurants, including Twin Lotus Thai (owned by Gilman) and Midtown’s Jet’s American Grill & Bar.

“The Sofia is investing time, resources and money into growing jazz in Sacramento,” Montoya says. “I get calls from jazz artists and agents wanting to book here, and one of the problems is that Sacramento is not the Bay [Area]. The more we can grow artists, the more artists we can get to come here.” 

With two state-of-the-art rooms — the 382-seat mainstage and the intimate 85-seat gallery upstairs — The Sofia provides performers and listeners an ideal setting in which to experience the music, he says. 

Ticket sales will determine the series’ long-term future. When it debuted on April 11 with Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out,” the 7 p.m. show was a complete sellout while the 9 p.m. performance also drew a “solid” crowd, according to Montoya.

“My hope is that people who don’t think they like jazz will give it a chance,” Montoya says. “If you come upstairs and listen to jazz up close, performed by master musicians, there’s no way you won’t want to come back for more. It’s an extraordinary experience.”

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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