Gabrielson Park Goes Dark

Highwater Blues Band performing during a previous season of Jazz & Blues by the Bay  |  photo from  |  post by Larry Clinton

For the first time in 34 years, there is no Jazz and Blues by the Bay this summer. As a regular attendee for virtually every season, I decided to look into how this ongoing music fest came to be.

The series was started in 1996, under the direction of Park and Rec director Carol Buchholz and Michael Aragon, band leader and booker for the no name bar.

“We decided to copy the Friday night jazz series at Larkspur Landing [now Marin Country Mart], and call it Jazz by the Bay.” Carol told me recently. “Michael knew jazz and I knew how to get the people of Sausalito excited. We arranged for a Friday night farmers market near Gabrielson Park, and invited non-profits to serve food and drinks.”

Originally the waterfront performances were low key, just for locals. Carol recalls, “We publicized it in the city newsletter and Marinscope.” But over time, word spread and soon the lawn and tables were packed with picnics, kids, dogs and happy TGIFers. That was before social distancing became a thing.

In July 1998, the Scope reported: “Jazz/Blues by the Bay offers fun and convenient entertainment for residents. Listeners are finding all kinds of transportation to Sausalito Jazz & Blues by the Bay. Many bike or walk from the ferry or from home. Others tack along the shore or near the Sausalito Yacht Club on sailboats. At one point on Friday it looked like a catamaran was going to end up in the parking lot. Sausalito Jazz & Blues by the Bay is great for potluck picnics, or eating on your own.

“The concerts are great for young children because kids are free to play around. People of all age groups come for fun and entertainment. The crowd is mainly locals, yet some foreign tourists have been spotted. The crowd ranges in size. The Friday before last, it seemed there were around 250 people. So you may still want to arrive a few minutes early to find up-close seats. However, the seats in the back have a gorgeous view of the Bay. Two weeks ago Mark Naftalin and Ron Thompson provided the night’s blues music. Thompson, a singer and guitarist, has played with Fleetwood Mac’s Mick Fleetwood, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Naftalin was keyboardist for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Sausalito Jazz/Blues by the Bay is something everyone should try. You will probably want to come back for more.”

The following year, the Scope quoted Michael Aragon: “’The people in Sausalito are very responsive to music. We’ve got a wonderful local following of people. The beautiful thing is that they bring their kids. It’s hard for kids to be exposed, I think they should be exposed to live music at an early age. You can’t just get that thing anymore.” Aragon remembered a time when he was playing with a friend, and a dancing child came up to the stage. “I got him and I put him on my lap. He started playing and hitting all the drums. We played a little solo together. In some place that’s going to change his life. That’s what music is about.”

A few years later, Carol left to become Parks & Recreation Director for the Tamalpais Community Services District. When Michael Aragon retired last year after a 36-year gig at the no name, she stated, “Michael was my music guru when I was in Sausalito. He has contributed in so many ways to the music scene in Marin. His entire life he’s been doing this. I can only say wonderful things about the man.”

After Carol left Sausalito Adam Politzer took over producing the events. Today, of course, Adam is City Manager. In 2001 Radio Sausalito became the official media outlet for the concert series, broadcasting and recording each performance at no charge to the city. Station honcho Johnathan Westerling emceed each performance for several years.

These days, Julie Myers, Recreation Supervisor for Special Events, handles the booking and welcomes the crowds from the Gabrielson Park stage. In response to a public survey conducted last year, Julie tweaked the 2020 lineup to include a country music band from Nashville and Dirty Cello, a group that plays bluegrass in addition to the blues. Guess we’ll have to wait till next year to catch them.

At the end of April, Julie wrote to Jazz & Blues sponsors: “It is with great sadness that I have to let you know that we are cancelling Jazz and Blues by the Bay 2020. We feel that we are unable to ensure everyone’s safety at the events with social distancing requirements for large groups. We know that you understand and hope that you will come back to support this great event next year.”