The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The Bay Area jazz community will honor a legend this Saturday at Jazz on the Hill 2023, a free event at the College of San Mateo.
Grammy Award-nominated jazz musician John Handy will be presented with the inaugural KCSM Jazz Icon Award on Saturday and will perform with the Akira Tana Quartet.
“John is a living legend,” said Jesse “Chuy” Varela, staff announcer and music director at KCSM-FM 91.1, the 24-hour jazz station co-hosting the event.
At 90 years old, Handy has a prolific career under his belt as a musician, performer and mentor. He attended high school in Oakland before graduating from and teaching at San Francisco State University, and will join the ranks of other Bay Area-based musicians performing Saturday.
Hosted by KCSM, the College of San Mateo, and the San Mateo County Community Colleges Foundation, the festival will be 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a live broadcast on KCSM. It will feature performances from jazz artists as well as food trucks, wine, beer and local arts and crafts vendors.
Jazz percussionist Akira Tana has played with Handy before. However, Tana still remembers being a high school student from Palo Alto, sitting on a living room floor in Half Moon Bay to watch Handy perform. Handy is an icon both in the Bay Area and nationally, he said.
Other performers include the Mimi Fox Trio, the CSM Little Big Band, DJ Harry Duncan, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, and the Berkeley High School Combo (also known as the Fresh Baked Calzones). The performance schedule can be found on CSM’s website.
“Our lineup’s amazing, so I think that’s going to be really exciting,” said CSM president Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza. She described the festival as a combination of music, education, community and culture.
“It speaks to what we stand for in the education system,” she said.
The Bay Area is a hot spot of jazz education, Varela said, with a proliferation of high school jazz bands, educational organizations and schools like the California Conservatory of Jazz in Berkeley. The area also has a wealth of festivals and concerts and has been home to a 24-hour jazz station for more than six decades, making it one of the best jazz areas in the country, he said.
However, jazz radio is declining in the United States due to lack of financial support. KCSM is one of the last 24-hour jazz stations in the country, Varela said, with only 10 to 15 remaining in total.
“What’s different about us is that we’re still programming music, with live personalities who are knowledgeable about the music … it gives it a different dimension,” he said.
This is one of the reasons that KCSM still enjoys such a loyal audience, he said.
Jazz on the Hill organizers are expecting up to 3,000 people this year, Taylor-Mendoza said. The festival is an opportunity for the community to celebrate the “unifying force” of jazz, said Varela, but he also hopes that it will help build an audience of younger jazz aficionados.
“That’s what my hope is, really,” he said. “Creating what is really a wonderful community event where we all just share the music.”