KCSM – Close the Gap Benefit Concert

San Mateo-based jazz station plans benefit concert 

By Sean Maher 
San Mateo County Times 
KCSM-FM, the only remaining all-jazz radio station in the Bay Area, is banking on a one-time-only benefit concert to keep the station from going silent. 
On June 30, Yoshi’s in Oakland will host a trio of solo pianists spanning three generations of Bay Area jazz piano playing to support the financially struggling station. 
“We’re one of the very few, one of the last remaining all-jazz stations in the country, in the world,” said program director Melanie Berzon, who lamented the recent format change from soft jazz to classic rock at KKSF-FM. “They’re dropping like flies. We’re losing jazz stations and jazz formats hand over fist.” 
KCSM (91.1 FM), licensed to the San Mateo County Community College District, has received the bulk of its funding from listeners for years, Berzon said. But a 12 percent chunk of its operating budget expected from the school district fell through this year when the district, which is funded by the state, experienced deep cuts, she said. 
The station’s recent pledge drive drew more donations and more cash than ever, but the station is still trying to bridge a $40,000 gap by June 30, when its fiscal year ends and the school has to decide whether to keep the station running, Berzon said. 
Three local pianists hope to help. Denny Zeitlin, Jon Jang and Taylor Eigsti, each known as an inventive and fascinating musician, will take the stage at Yoshi’s to benefit the station. 
“It’s kind of a one-time summit, and that’s really the appeal to it,” said Chuy Varela, the event’s organizer and music director for the station. “When you think about the tradition of Bay Area jazz piano, you think of Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, the many others who have been there. These guys have carried the torch from there.” 
“Denny is kind of the old-schooler, and he’s getting a lot of respect right now for all he’s done, all his early work for Columbia,” Varela said. “He’s also a practicing psychiatrist; he’s also written scores for ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘ and other movies. He’s quite an innovator.” 
Jang, who grew up locally and worked with renowned drummer Max Roach, “has been really instrumental in the Asian-American jazz movement,” Varela said. “For him to do solo piano like this really takes away the bridles, if you will. He’ll be able to move around freely.” 
The young buck of the ticket is Eigsti, who in the past three years has become one of the major pianists emerging in the U.S., Varela said. 
“You get these three pianists, all very much stylists, individuals who all have something to say, and they’re going to say it in a warm and intimate room in a solo piano concert,” Varela said. “We’re not using any amplification. The room is such a beautiful sounding room, this will just allow it to breathe and have this organic presentation to it.” 
Tickets will run $50 each, and if both performances sell out, the station should be safe, Varela said. 
“People want to help, and part of it is that there are folks that are hurting, and there are folks that are not hurting, but they’re being more cautious,” he said. “Maybe they see this as a worthy cause and one they have a feeling for, that it will help make this a success.” 
General manager Marilyn Lawrence said the situation is even more serious at KCSM’s television station, and layoffs have been announced. On June 24, she said, she will make a presentation to the board of trustees for the station, at which time she expects they will decide whether to keep both stations or sell one or both. 
“In hard times, the first thing to go is culture,” Berzon said. “I understand that; we all need to eat, put roofs over our heads, feed our families. But culture, whether it’s music, art, literature, it gets us through difficult times and feeds us in a way I personally think is necessary.” 
KCSM-FM broadcasts at 91.1 and can be streamed online for free at www.kcsm.org. For more information about the event or to donate to the station, visit the Web site or call 800-477-5276.

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