Discover the overlooked vocal gems of Charles Mingus!

This just in from Ellen Johnson:

Although he’s not typically associated with Jazz vocal repertoire, Mingus wrote intricate compositions that rival those of Duke Ellington. Despite their artistic merit, these songs remain largely unknown to many jazz enthusiasts and vocalists. As a vocalist and educator for over four decades, I’ve long been fascinated by Mingus’s vocal works and am eager to share their beauty and complexity with you. Read the latest article in All About Jazz to learn more about this overlooked treasure trove of jazz vocal music. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-vocal-music-of-charles-mingus

Ellen Johnson – Vocalist

Ellen Johnson - Vocalist

Ellen Johnson has devoted over three decades to the arts as a recording artist, educator, songwriter, lyricist, author, and publicist. Jazz Journal International described her performances and recordings as “superior jazz singing by an artist of the highest quality.” Johnson has performed or recorded with Bobby McFerrin, Sheila Jordan, Charles McPherson, Louie Bellson, Roy McCurdy, Don Braden, Larry Koonse and John Stowell among many others. Johnson is the author of the biography Jazz Child: Portrait of Sheila Jordan and has published lyrics to both Sonny Rollins and Charles Mingus compositions. Johnson has a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance from San Diego State University and has served on the voice faculties of the University of San Diego /Old Globe Theatre MFA program, Cal Poly University Pomona, and on the faculty (since 2012) of the California Jazz Conservatory/Jazzschool. Her diversity in her own professional singing has made her an excellent teacher for cross over styles teaching everything from jazz, classical, musical theater, pop, and other genres. She has a strong background in vocal pedagogy and vocal rehabilitation assisting singers with difficult vocal issues. She continues to give master classes, online classes and teaches privately at www.vocalvisions.net. For more information go to: www.ellenjohnson.net

Nora Nausbaum – Flutist

Nora’s been actively playing and teaching flute for many decades. She says teaching flute is fun and satisfying whether it’s for a beginner or more experienced players, for classical or jazz. Because classical was her first imprinted on her, she knows many ways to transfer skills from one style to another.

After receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in classical music, Nora set out to learn jazz improvisation. Learning jazz mostly from her husband, Nora and Bill (Douglass) were the mama and papa of Sierra Jazz Camp for many years.

Nora recently formed a new jazz quartet, Jazz Alibi, and they can be heard locally and in the Sacramento area. Nora often plays alto flute, a fan favorite, for its low, sultry sound.

Nora received her BFA degree from SUNY at Buffalo in 1969 and her Masters in Flute Performance from New England Conservatory in 1971. She went on to teach music at the college level in Northern Michigan and Arkansas, then in music studios and currently in private sessions.

Kit Bailey – Drummer

Kit Bailey loves rhythm. Initially drumming in a Scottish bagpipe band at age 11, he subsequently joined school wind ensembles, theater- and ballet pit-orchestras, and symphonic groups, performing with the San Luis Obispo Symphony, Newark-Fremont Philharmonic Society, Santa Barbara Symphony, Music in the Mountains, InConcert Sierra, and Sierra Stages. Drum set being the instrument of choice for big bands, jazz combos, and the occasional rock group, Kit (his nickname long before he could play one) finally got to sit down to play. When he moved in 1988 to Nevada County, with its thriving Congolese and West African dance communities, he was inspired to look “upstream” into African drumming’s influence on North American music (of all varieties), Brazilian percussion, Afro-Caribbean drumming, and even many of the rhythms he first discovered in that bagpipe band. Anyone can play percussion, and every time we play any instrument, we go deeper—endlessly, it seems. Kit looks forward to resuming performing and teaching again, post-pandemic.
Contact Kit regarding lessons at his home studio in the Cement Hill Area of Nevada City.

Jazz Heavies Celebrate Bill Douglass & Nora Nausbaum with Pioneer Park Concert August 1, 2021

Short Version Press Release:

For more information contact Matt Langley. 207 337 2375 matthewclangley@gmail.com

Jazz heavies including Beth Duncan, Clairdee, Ken French, Ruth Davies and John Girton will perform a free concert in Nevada City’s Pioneer Park on Sunday August 1st, 2021 from 6-9PM. The concert will be a celebration of Bill Douglass’ and Nora Nausbaum’s  contributions to the jazz scene of Nevada County and the Sierra Jazz Society over the past two decades.

The Sierra Jazz Society, a California 501C3 non profit, was created by Bill & Nora, and is dedicated to Jazz education, presentation and promotion in Nevada County and the surrounding areas.

The Sierra Jazz Society will continue the work of Bill and Nora under new leadership. This concert, honoring their dedication to the community, will be presented annually. Plans are also underway to reboot the popular Sierra Jazz Society Jazz Camp in Summer of 2022.

In addition to the performers listed, there will be a house band made up of some on the area’s finest musicians and, in the jazz tradition, there will be a special guest or two over the course of the evening.  The concert will be free and the Sierra Jazz Society will be welcoming your generous donations at any level to support the outstanding performers in this event and the mission of the Jazz Society going forward.

Long version Press Release:

For more information contact Matt Langley. 207 337 2375 matthewclangley@gmail.com

In a special appearance by Bill Douglass, international recording artist Clairdee and Sacramento leading jazz vocalist Beth Duncan will be joined by Bay Area musical dignitaries Ruth Davies and Ken French in leading the Sierra Jazz Society faculty in a free picnic concert in Nevada City’s Pioneer Park on Sunday August 1st, 2021 from 6-9PM.  Donations will go toward the musicians, the Sierra Jazz Society Scholarship program, and the production cost for the show.

The concert will be a celebration of Bill Douglass’ and Nora Nausbaum’s contributions to the music of Nevada County and the Sierra Jazz Society over the past two decades.  The Sierra Jazz Society (a 501C3 non-profit), was created by Bill Douglass and Nora Nausbaum in 2003 and is dedicated to jazz workshops, annual music camps and performance in Nevada County.

Bill and Nora retired from the Jazz Society after Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and the helm is now taken by a Board of Directors consisting of David Clouse, Matt Langley, and Peter Wilson; all seasoned musicians, educators, and promoters, who are chartered with continuing both the educational work and performance series.

Native son Bill Douglass grew up in Nevada County, and as the inspiration for the Sierra Jazz Society Bill has played bass with many jazz greats including Marian McPartland, Mose Allison, Bobby McFerrin, and Tom Waits among many others.  During the course of his career Bill has recorded over 100 albums and also performed on many film and TV scores including The Black Stallion, Disney’s Never Cry Wolf, 1,000 Pieces of Gold, and National Geographic Specials.

Nora Nausbaum is a classically trained flutist with a Master Degree in Music Performance from New England Conservatory of Music, and has taught at Northern Michigan University and Arkansas State University at Jonesboro.  Nora plays locally with the Amaryllis Trio and continues with her private teaching practice.  Nora also plays jazz, having learned from her husband Bill who taught so many musicians to listen and improve in the long jazz tradition of playing with them and teaching by example.

The Sierra Jazz Society has the great fortune to bring jazz sensation Clairdee to star in the picnic in the park.  Clairdee has performed in leading concert halls, festivals and nightclubs around the world, and has collaborated with some of America’s most celebrated jazz masters.  She has performed with pops symphony orchestras, big bands, small jazz combos, and intimate duos, and as one of the leading jazz voices in the Bay Area Clairdee has is the recipient of the 2018 recipient of the Bay Area Jazz and Blues Artist Lifetime Achievement Award.  Soulful, swinging, and stylish, and with a gift of an immediate intimate connection with her audience, Clairdee is a masterly interpreter of lyrics with a lustrous, velvety tone, and embodies the tradition’s twinned legacy of standing for social justice with glamor and guts. Deeply informed by the music’s departed masters, Clairdee puts a personal stamp on whatever she sings, and leaves an indelible mark on her audience.

  “In the tradition of all great vocalists, Clairdee infuses each song with her own unique style while always remaining true to the song itself.” ~ Nancy Wilson 

Co-starring the show will be one of the top jazz female vocalists in the greater Sacramento region, Beth Duncan.  An in-demand and active performer throughout Northern California, Beth is well known not only as one of the region’s top female vocalists, but also as the long-time former host of Northern California’s CapRadio’s popular ‘Insight’ radio show for many years.  Her latest album “Comes The Fall” received strong reviews and won an Independent Music Award (IMA) for best song, debuting on the national CMJ (radio) network at #26 right below Diana Krall.  Beth’s vocal interpretations encompass the full range of emotion while maintaining a strong undercurrent of sheer love for life and joyful celebration for her art.

Duncan possesses an impressive staying power as she passes from one genre to the next. Her presence is potent, her voice certain, and her focus pure and direct” ~ Michael Bailey; All About Jazz music critic 

When The Sierra Jazz Society set out in search of the featured artists, they understood the importance of finding a great bass player, and the road led directly to Ruth Davies.  Ruth has played at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, performed with such jazz and blues greats as Keb’ Mo’, Charles Brown, Clark Terry, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Maria Muldaur, Etta James, Terry Gibbs, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Little Jimmy Scott. Her discography (including several Platinum and Grammy-winning CDs) covers various jazz and blues styles as well as movie soundtracks. She has recorded with Charles Brown, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison, Clark Terry, Vassar Clements, Toots Thielemans, Ernie Watts, Elvin Bishop, Maria Muldaur, Jackie Ryan, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, among others.

She toured the world for ten years with the late Charles Brown, performing at major jazz festivals and concerts and on radio and television broadcasts worldwide. Ruth continues to spend considerable time abroad.  She has recorded and performed internationally with Maria Muldaur, Denise Jannah, Dmitri Matheny and European pianist/composer Amina Figarova. Lately she has “returned to the roots” and travels with Elvin Bishop’s band.

Ruth believes in teaching and in bringing music to the public schools and has presented music programs to over two thousand school groups. She has been on the faculty at the Stanford Jazz Workshop for 17 years and has had a very successful “Ruth Davies Blues Night” series at the Stanford Jazz Festival, The San Francisco Symphony’s “Adventures in Music” program and the “Just Say Jazz” project deliver music education to the classroom. 

The picnic in the park concert will be directed by Ken French.  Ken is widely recognized as one of the premier jazz pianists in the Bay Area performing with his own trio as well as serving a Musical Director for Clairdee.  Ken has been on the faculty of the Sierra Jazz Society since the beginning and continues a rigorous performing schedule in addition to teaching and sharing his passion for music.  Joining Ken and the star performers will be John Girton on guitar, Dave Tidball on sax and clarinet, and local musicians Jason Wilkins on bass, Matt Langley on sax, and Kit Bailey and David Clouse on drums and percussion.

Years ago, when John was in my band, we were recording with an all-star line-up headed by Benny Carter that included the famous jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, and Benny Carter assigned the solos to John Girton. That’s how wonderful a player he is.” – Maria Muldaur

The chance to see and hear Bill again is reason enough to be excited, and the line-up of musicians is incredible, but the real surprise right from the onset has been the overwhelming amount of enthusiasm and support.  Almost immediately it has had the makings of being a very special evening.  We can hardly wait! – David Clouse; co-producer

Bill Douglass, Bassist & former Artistic Director of the Sierra Jazz Society

Bill Douglass was the artistic director of the Sierra Jazz Society from its inception, around 2005, until sometime in early 2020. Bill is renowned in the Bay Area and the Sierras as a fine bass player and bamboo flute player.

The Jazz Society is working on plans for summer of 2021 but, in the meantime, we wanted to get Bill’s bio info back up on this website. Bill and Nora Nausbaum are the folks that launched the SJS and, after doing some research online, Nora helped us out by forwarding this bio that was on the previous SJS website. We’re maintaining a digital copy here with some links to content available on the internet so you can check out some of Bill’s work. If you have any additional content, links, stories, photos, etc. we’d love to see it!

Bill Douglas Highlighted Discography & Performances

w/Marian McPartlandSingle Petal of a Rose (CD)
w/Marian McPartland – Live at Yoshi’s Nitespot (CD)
w/Marian McPartland – Plays the Music of Mary Lou Williams (CD)
w/Marian McPartland – Live at Concord Jazz Festival w/Chris Potter (CD)
w/Mose Allison Trio – 1970 – 1973 and 2005 – 2018
w/Mose Allison Trio – American Legend – Live in California (CD)
w/Ian Dogole – Night Harvest (CD)
w/Ian Dogole – Ionospheres (CD)
w/IanDogole – Hemispheres (DVD)
w/Paula WestTemptation (CD)
w/Paula West – Restless (CD)
w/Shweta JhaveriAnahita (CD)
w/Gabriela Marrone – 
Detrás Del Sol (EP) featuring Bill Frisell & Alex Acuña
w/Tom WaitsThe Black Rider (CD)

Filmwork, Bamboo Flute:

The Five Chinese Brothers, Rabbit Ears Productions with John Lone narrator The Emperor and the Nightingale, Rabbit Ears Productions, music by Mark Isham, narration by Glenn Close
The Boy Who Drew Cats, Rabbit Ears Productions, music by Mark Isham,  narration by William Hurt
1,000 Pieces of Gold, directed by Nancy Kelly, music by Gary Malkin
The Black Stallion, directed by Carroll Ballard, music by Mark Isham
Never Cry Wolf, directed by Carroll Ballard, music by Mark Isham
Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart, directed by Wayne Wang, music: Todd Boekelheide
Eat a Bowl of Tea, directed by Wayne Wang,
Life is Cheap, directed by Wayne Wang, music: Mark Adler
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, directed by Phillip Kaufman
Dear America, directed by Bill Couturie, music by Todd Boekleheide
Tibet, music by Mark Isham
National Geographic Specials:
Reflections on Elephants, Zebras: Patterns in the Grass,
Filmed by Beverly and Dereck Joubert, music by Mark Adler

The news is good!

The big news for now is that the Sierra Jazz Society will live on. Bill Douglass, Nora Nausbaum and many others, have been doing an incredible job of promoting jazz in the sierras for over fifteen years now. The Sierra Jazz Society produced jazz camps for years, sessions with Bill and Nora and many other Jazz related activities. Nora found a crew to keep the SJS going and we’re working on some ideas for 2021. We’ll be in touch and we’d love it if you signed up for the email list! Jazz Lives!

Photo by Jorge Zapata on Unsplash