Concord Jazz Festival
Sparked by his fondness of jazz, enthusiastic Concord automobile dealer Carl Jefferson persuaded a handful of friends to help him create the Concord Jazz Festival. The city matched his and their contributions, and the eager group held its first festival on an undeveloped field adjoining the high school.
At that 1969 turnout of more than 17,000, Jefferson knew he was correct the public is hungry for musical dishes when top quality artists serve them.
While extremely happy over the initial success, he envisioned a facility where those in jeans would feel as welcome as those in more formal attire. What he brought into realization, in May 1975, is the Concord Pavilion, built at a cost of $4.5 million. The pavilion sits on the eastern edge of Concord, without the outside walls of a building. Thirty-five hundred listeners may sit under a roof, and forty-five hundred more may lounge on the lawn, picnicking or reclining while they enjoy some of the country’s greatest performers.
No theater for the exclusive use of the elite, the Concord Pavilion offers a varied fare. Presenting ballet, symphony, rock, and traditional jazz, this Concord facility draws its audience from all over the Bay Area. Attendance remains high and makes it a moneymaker for the City of Concord. It is unique in Northern California, and its creator is a public-spirited dynamo with an affection for all music for music’s sake.
A CONSTANTLY GROWING schedule of cultural events prepared the community for businessman Carl Jefferson’s idea to start an outdoor summer jazz festival. Planned by a committee of 20 citizens, the first Concord Summer Festival was held in the open at the Concord Boulevard Neighborhood Park on August 26. 1969. Jazz enthusiasts from all over Northern California came to hear such artists as Oscar Peterson, Pearl Bailey Peter Nero, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, Gerry Mulligan, and Dave Brubeck. Performances by the San Francisco and Oakland symphonies were also popular.
The festival grew to such proportions, both in audience numbers and in performance quality, that music critics from the New York Times and Saturday Review compared it favorably to Woodstock and Wolf Trap.
Carl Jefferson has been successful in business, in education, music, the theater, and community activities.
He came to Concord in 1958 as president and general manager of Montclair Motors on Willow Pass Road. In 1960, he bought the dealership and renamed it Jefferson Motors, Inc. He owned the business for 20 years.
The peak of his civic career involved his lifelong delight in music, particularly jazz. A suggestion that the community needed some kind of unifying involvement culminated in Concord’s first Summer Festival. Six successful events ultimately led to the building of the Concord Pavilion.
In 1973, the Pavilion founder launched his Concord Jazz, Inc. recording company. The label, with a catalog of nearly 300 LPs, has garnered 19 Grammy nominations and four Grammy awards.
Jefferson’s long and varied career has included such honors and achievements as: cofounder and president of Diablo Scholarships, Inc., the Junior Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award, founder and president of the Concord Century Club, Rotary Man of the Year, and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst medal as one of the “Most Distinguished 10” in the Bay Area.
Jefferson was convinced that the city, with its long summer season, could support an outdoor pavilion to accommodate an expanded music festival. He and several city officials took a nationwide inspection tour of the leading music pavilions. The city then funded an architectural feasibility study which led to the hiring of architects Frank 0. Gehry and Associates of Santa Monica to draw up plans for the site on 122 acres of gently rolling hills off Kirker Pass Road. In 1973, the Concord Performing Arts Center Authority was formed by the city and the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
The Pavilion opened May 16, 1975, with a benefit performance featuring Sarah Vaughan and Henry Mancini.