His landmark 100th concert presentation wrapped, Woody Wilson exhaled and managed a smile in acknowledgement of the milestone on a decade-long journey.
Never, he said, could he have envisioned his small local jazz series, whose roots were in the back room at the old Monti’s La Casa Vieja in downtown Tempe, morphing into one of the premier series in the country.
“I never expected it to last this long, quite frankly,” said Wilson, a south Tempe resident, who is founder and president of Lakeshore Music, Inc. “I never expected the legs it got. It started as a hobby on steroids and became a passion.
“And it’s not just jazz. We’ve done blues, folk, chamber music, mariachis. It’s music all over the map.”
But at its heart, it remains jazz.
Tempe-based Lakeshore, a charitable nonprofit that presents its concerts at Tempe Center for the Arts, persevered through a difficult decade among Valley performing-arts presenters. A major recession knocked out many small businesses.
Competition intensified as new venues sprouted up, from downtown Phoenix near the new Arizona State University campus (The Nash), and outward (Musical Instrument Museum and Mesa Arts Center) as the economy recovered.
And it represents a gamble that paid off as Lakeshore morphed from three small jazz series and moved into the sparkling new Tempe Center for the Arts in 2007.
Lakeshore presents concert Number 101 on Saturday, May 19, when the critically acclaimed Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo and clarinet-saxophone virtuoso Ken Peplowski team. All seats to the 7:30 p.m. show are $38 and available at the TCA box office or online at lakeshoremusic.org.
The legendary George Benson says Figueiredo “is one of the greatest guitarists I’ve seen in my whole life. The world needs to listen to his music.”
And the late Mel Tormé once said of Peplowski, who grew up in Cleveland playing Polish polka music, “Since the advent of Benny Goodman, there have been too few clarinetists to fill the void that Goodman left. Ken Peplowski is most certainly one of those few. The man is magic.”
Figueiredo and Peplowski are playing their fusion of jazz and bossa nova to rave reviews on this U.S. tour, the music influenced heavily by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd from a time when the U.S. was producing cars with fins. The era is best defined by Getz’s classic “The Girl from Ipanema.”
Wilson, who serves on several Tempe civic boards, has worked nearly his entire life in the creative arts. For 26 years, he was head writer of the syndicated newspaper comic strips “Rex Morgan, MD” and “Judge Parker,” with daily estimated readership of 30 million in North America and 16 foreign countries.
As he approached retirement, he moved the jazz music that he’d always enjoyed onto his front burner.
Then, four years ago, Wilson co-founded a Lakeshore spinoff, Tempe-based Cuba Rhythm and Views, with Neil Birnbaum, then director of Northwest Sinfonietta in the Seattle area. Birnbaum since has moved to Gilbert.
Cuba Rhythm and Views conducts U.S. Treasury Department-sanctioned People-to-People Cultural Explorations of Cuba. Treasury Department sanction is necessary to make them legal. Cuba Rhythm and Views conducts several each year accompanied by U.S. musicians, who perform while there. The May 23-30 trip with jazz trumpeter Byron Stripling of the Count Basie Orchestra is sold out. The next tours are Oct. 31-Nov. 5 and Jan. 4-11, 2019.
In return, Wilson and Birnbaum bring Cuba’s top musicians to the U.S. to perform. Cuban pianist Aldo López-Gavilán was Lakeshore Music’s January, 2018, show.
“Going to Cuba the first time, and being exposed to this remarkable music and the artists who perform it, changed my life,” Wilson said. “It’s about exposing Americans to a marvelous culture and the creative expression in Cuba.”
Wilson also has kept the Valley Latino cultural community in mind with his selection of artists. In February, Lakeshore presented Carmela y Mas, a longtime fixture in the Valley music scene, along with Mariachi Pasion, an all-female group that founded when the girls were students at ASU. They initially played informally for a relative.
They were so well received, they concluded that they could play gigs and earn side money. They worked their way through school as mariachis and have stayed together. And now Lakeshore has landed Figueiredo, with his Brazilian-jazz fusion.
Lakeshore strives to add value to Tempe through this presentation of culture, Wilson says.
“Our goal always has been to bring the finest musicians in the world to the world’s most-beautiful facility, the TCA,” Wilson said.