For the past twenty-nine summers, the Golden Gate Branch Library on San Pablo Avenue has been host to the “Jazz on Sunday” series featuring live jazz on eight separate weekends. 94-year-old Oakland native Josephine Lee is the force behind these long-running free public events.
Mrs. Lee was born in Oakland and grew up around the East Bay Jazz scene. Along with the rest of her family, she has always loved music with Jazz topping that list.
Jazz runs in her family’s blood and her first cousin is legendary jazz bass player Charles Burrell who is often referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of Classical Music” for being the first African-American to be a member of a major American symphony. Lee’s niece is Jazz singer Dianne Reeves.
The Jazz Library of Oakland
The area of North Oakland is a historically important one in the jazz scene. The California Hotel just down San Pablo Avenue was once a major hub for Jazz, Blues and other black entertainers.
The Golden Gate Library, known by some as “the Jazz Library of Oakland”, used to open its doors every Tuesday evening for Jazz musicians to practice. Mrs. Lee would regularly attend these rehearsals which gave her access to many musicians over time.
The idea for Jazz on Sunday came from Donald “Duck” Bailey and Suzie Lorraine. They organized it for a few years while Mrs. Lee helped. She took over the reigns when they stopped and for the past twenty-nine years has put her time and energy into the continuation of this wonderful gift to the residents of the Oakland and Emeryville area.
Mrs. Lee begins preparing for Jazz on Sunday as early as February by contacting performers, most of whom she knows personally. She then goes about acquiring funding. She is able to secure enough to pay the performers a stipend, but mostly the musicians see this as giving back to the community. Mrs. Lee’s time is her donation. The Golden Gate Library provides the space and prints the program.
For many years, the City of Emeryville provided grant funding for these concerts. Over time, the grant funding got smaller although Emeryville still covers the cost of the Doyle-Hollis Park date (held last Sunday). For the first time this past year, Mrs. Lee was able to secure a grant from the City of Oakland, although she cautions that the requirements were extremely demanding and is unsure if she’ll apply again.
Mrs. Lee worries that Jazz will die out as schools start to drop music classes from their curriculum. Therefore, part of Jazz on Sunday includes a brief history of Jazz and an opportunity for youth groups to perform.
As a community, I believe we need to give Mrs. Lee and the art of Jazz the support it deserves. There is no “Thank You” large enough for what Mrs. Lee has given her community over these past 29 years, but one way would certainly be ensuring the continuation of these wonderful summer concerts.
This guest post was contributed by Emeryville Marina resident Yvonne Behrens. Behrens moved to Emeryville from Virginia in 2015 when she purchased a boat that she now lives aboard. Behrens is very involved withe the senior community and is a member on the City of Emeryville Commission on Aging, is a boardmember of PAPCO and once a week delivers for Meals on Wheels program.
Feature Image: Lee introduces the Junius Courtney Big Band performing at Doyle Hollis Park last Sunday (Photo: Yvonne Behrens).