Athenaeum Jazz at Scripps Research concerts to celebrate 25th anniversary after 2020 COVID-19 shutdown

Saxophonist Mark Turner
Saxophonist Mark Turner played at the debut Athenaeum Jazz at Scripps Research concert 25 years ago as a sideman and later leading his own band, Fly. He returns for an Oct. 28 performance.
(Paolo Soriani)

The 25th anniversary of the Athenaeum Jazz at Scripps Research concert series is a celebratory milestone for music fans and the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla.

Its fall edition will feature concerts — all in October — by saxophonist Mark Turner and his quartet, flutist Jamie Baum and her octet, and an all-star quintet including trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, pianist Gerald Clayton and guitarist Anthony Wilson.

The 25th anniversary’s significance is nearly matched by the fact that the series is resuming this year at all. Both the 2020 spring and fall concert series at Scripps Research Auditorium in La Jolla fell through because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Until this summer, the chances of any concerts taking place at Scripps seemed slim.

“That is the plain truth,” said Athenaeum jazz program coordinator Daniel Atkinson, who also heads the Western Jazz Presenters Network and this summer launched the new San Diego Jazz Ventures concert series at The Alexandria at Torrey Pines.

“Up until the middle of June, not one of my fellow presenters in the western United States was planning on having any indoor concerts this fall,” Atkinson said. “So everything had to be considerably accelerated in order to fill people’s series, including ours at Scripps.

“Usually I would have our concerts at Scripps booked at least six months in advance, if not earlier. So having three months to put everything together was definitely a challenge.”

Atkinson and the Athenaeum launched the Scripps series in 1996. The concerts, an expansion of the jazz series he founded in 1989 at the Music & Arts Library, were designed to showcase national and international artists whose drawing power, technical requirements and performance fees required a larger venue.

Scripps has a seating capacity of 350, more than double that of the Athenaeum’s 160-seat performance room.

Flutist Jamie Baum
Flutist Jamie Baum will perform with her band as part of the 2021 Athenaeum Jazz at Scripps Research fall concert series.
(Courtesy of Jamie Baum)

A quarter-century of jazz

Over the past 25 years, the venue has hosted an array of the jazz world’s most gifted artists, starting with its inaugural season in 1996. That year featured concerts by organ legend Jimmy Smith, sax and flute great James Moody and the band TanaReid.

To date, more than 130 jazz luminaries have performed as part of the series. They include pianists Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau and Carla Bley; guitarists Jim Hall, Allan Holdsworth and John Scofield; singers Dee Dee Bridgewater, Luciana Souza and René Marie; and saxophonists Charles Lloyd, Charles McPherson and Turner, who returns for an Oct. 28 concert with his band.

Turner made his debut at Scripps in 1996 as a member of TanaReid. He returned in 2009 to perform with his own trio, Fly, and again in 2013 with a quartet co-led by Clayton.

“It’s a really nice room to play in and it sounds great,” Turner said. “I don’t remember needing much amplification at the auditorium at all. I don’t even think I had a mic for my sax. It sounds great in there without a sound system or not very much of a system.”

Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos
Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos will perform in the opening concert of this fall’s Athenaeum Jazz at Scripps Research series.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Legends and potential legends

It is rare for any jazz concert series to last 25 years.

By virtue of its longevity, the Athenaeum’s series at Scripps has hosted a significant number of revered jazz artists who have since died. It also has showcased a new crop of musicians who have risen to international prominence.

“We were able to start the series in 1996 at a point when there were a number of legendary musicians still playing,” Atkinson said. “That allowed us to present people like Jimmy Smith, Ray Brown, Hank Jones and a lot of other great artists who rose to prominence in the 1940s and ‘50s.

“Gradually, most of these giants of jazz passed on and I had to adjust the programming based on that — another generation. And it’s interesting to see people like Mark Turner, who was in our first Scripps series as a sideman and has gone on to become a major figure in jazz and has performed numerous times for us at Scripps and at the Athenaeum.”

Another notable factor is the international flavor Atkinson has brought to the series.

The lineups he has booked have included artists from Europe and Latin America. Some key examples include Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez, French guitarist Dorado Schmitt, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés and Brazilian guitarist Chico Pinheiro.

“Dan Atkinson has a flair for treating audiences to the elder masters of jazz and introducing audiences to the next generation of new or future masters,” flutist Holly Hofmann said.

“Dan is great,” Turner said. “He’s certainly one of the most pleasant promoters I’ve dealt with. ... Dan is definitely close to the music and into it very authentically, which is not always the case with promoters.”

Atkinson said he had no idea the Scripps series would thrive for 25 years. During that period, he has seen jazz audiences diminish after 9/11 and during the nation’s economic downturn, then increase again. And he has received consistent support from Athenaeum Executive Director Erika Torri and the nonprofit arts organization’s board.

“It certainly is surprising we are still able to do this after so many years,” Atkinson said. “The Scripps Research Auditorium is a gem and has been a gift to the San Diego community over the past 25 years. I hope we’ll be able to continue for years to come.”

Athenaeum Jazz at Scripps Research Auditorium 2021 fall concert series

When: Gilbert Castellanos, Gerald Clayton, Anthony Wilson, John Clayton and Roy McCurdy (Oct. 4); Jamie Baum (Oct. 16); Mark Turner (Oct. 28). All concerts are at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Scripps Research Auditorium, 10620 John Jay Hopkins Drive, La Jolla

Cost: $40 per concert for Athenaeum members, $45 for non-members; $114 for the series for members, $129 for non-members

Health protocols: Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative coronavirus test conducted within the previous 72 hours must be presented at the door. Everyone must wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.

Information: (858) 454-5872,