The year was 1972. I had been playing flute and saxophone for
a short time and my father showed me an article, probably in the SF
Chronicle, about a bunch of hippies who had moved into a storefront
on Ocean Ave. and set up a community music school called Blue Bear Waltz’s
School of Music. I was intrigued and, having a deep interest in
playing music with other people, checked it out and signed up for private
saxophone lessons, a band workshop or two, and a rhythm class. I
had a great time learning, hanging out with professional
musicians and playing rock and jazz with people who shared my passion
for music – all kinds of music.
I was hooked. Playing music was going to be a major part of my life. I
played with anybody who wanted to jam, joined and quit a bunch of bands and
began to do what was to become my career.
I went on to study with the great jazz pianist Bill Bell at the College of
Alameda and classical saxophonist Bill Trimble at Hayward State while playing
in a variety of bands. I didn’t care what style they were playing: rock,
disco, jazz, funk, whatever. I loved to play.
In 1976 I applied to and was accepted to the Berklee College of Music in
three years of studying jazz and music education I was back in the Bay Area
performing and teaching.
Becoming a sideman wasn’t something I consciously planned on doing. It’s
just that I enjoyed playing different styles of music with a variety of people
and that’s what a sideman does. So I guess that made me a sideman. In
the midst of all the variety I did, however, commit to and tour with a slew
of different bands, including the world beat band Mumbo Gumbo for ten years. I
left them in ’94 and they are still going strong.
Around the time I left Gumbo, Program Director Dennis Criteser gave me a
call (how did he get my number?) and offered me a position at Blue Bear. It
all seemed right. The circle was closed. I was back where I started.
[Editor’s note: Dennis got Jim’s number because they
were playing in a South African Jazz band, Kombo Kwela, at the time.]