Fly Me To The Moon

In 2009, while working at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, I helped to facilitate the presentation of two free lunchtime Jazz concerts at NASA Ames that featured outstanding New York-based Jazz artists.  Back in 2006, the outstanding alto saxophonist Andrew Speight, a 1991 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Saxophone Competition semi-finalist and the Director of Jazz Studies at San Francisco State University (SFSU), created the Generations Project, a Jazz combo of undisputed and multi-generational Jazz masters.  Its founding members included: drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Ray Drummond, pianist Ronnie Mathews, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, and Andrew himself, its leader and artistic director.  A major concept of the group was to mentor Jazz students, as well as to conduct workshops to help them hone their craft.  The group started playing and recording at the start of 2007.  Generation Project’s first gigs began at the start of 2008 at Jazz Standard in NYC, and it played there for four years.  The group’s CD recording debut, titled “Tough Guys”, was released in early 2008.  Because I was already a huge Jazz fan in general, by that time, I’d seen Andrew perform several times at local Bay Area Jazz venues: Jazz@Pearl’s, Shanghai 1930, The Jazz School, Dogpatch Saloon, and Stanford Jazz Workshops.  Then, in mid-May 2008, the Generations Project performed at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, my first time seeing them as a group, as part of the inaugural Generations International Competition for Emerging Combos sponsored by the International Center for the Arts (ICA) at SFSU.  The event featured the two finalist groups: Meaningtone, a six-piece ensemble from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase; and the Nial Djuliarso Quartet from the Juilliard School of Music.  With the exception of Marcus Belgrave, who remained a Detroit resident, I’d seen the other members of the Generations Project perform in other groups, either in the Bay Area or back in NYC.  Soon after chatting with Andrew and finding out from him that his group would be returning to the Bay Area periodically, I started thinking to myself, “Gee, it sure would be nice if I could somehow bring this group to NASA Ames for a daytime concert…”   Of course, I had NO prior experience whatsoever with the logistics, business, production, promotions, set-up, etc. of actually making it happen.  But I did know that I could probably find space somewhere on Moffett Field property (where NASA Ames is located) for such a concert.  On Andrew’s end, he would have to work with Dr. Jeffrey Babcock, ICA’s Executive Director, to make it happen.  So after a few months of staying in touch, Andrew let me know that the Generations Project would be having a concert at SFSU in late February 2009, as well as mentoring and conducting workshops for the Jazz students.  And since the band members would be arriving in town from back east a day or so early, perhaps “we would try to set up something…”  So, Andrew and I settled on a Thursday, the day before the SFSU concert, to plan to present a lunchtime concert at NASA Ames.  After inquiring and pitching the idea of a free Jazz concert on NASA property to my NASA Ames higher-ups (Education and Outreach Branch), I received the okay to proceed.  Logistics-wise, the only issue was that since NASA Ames is a secured government facility (e.g., guarded gate entrance, fenced-in, government-issued badge required), I would have to arrange to reserve the NASA Ames Conference Center Building 3, by that time a seldom-used on-site facility, which was located on government property, but outside the secured fence.  The entering public would have to show a valid driver’s license or another form of identification.  On my end, a few day’s prior to the first concert, I made sure that the Center-wide e-mail included an announcement of the free lunchtime concerts.  However, publishing of the NASA Ames Astrogram newsletter, which would have included a blurb about an upcoming “free lunchtime” concert for those Jazz enthusiasts, had been stopped two months prior due to budget cutbacks.  So, on Friday morning, February 27th, after the group had done a concert the night before at SFSU (that I attended), Andrew and “the cats” safely got through the Moffett Field front gate and arrived early at the NASA Conference Center to get set up.  I cordially greeted them with bated anticipation (WOW!!!): “Mr.” Jimmy Cobb (my namesake but not related), the drummer on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” best-selling Jazz album of all time; Ray Drummond, Barry Harris’s long-time bassist; Eric Alexander and David Hazeltine of the hard swingin’ Messengers-esque One For All sextet; and Andrew, former Jazz faculty member at Michigan State University – my U-M nemesis.  Man, what a heavy-duty ensemble…  The great Bay Area drummer, Vince Lateano, one-time Cal Tjader drummer, even drove down form S.F. to help set up the drums.  Very soon, serious Jazz fans started to file in, mostly local, but word had gotten around.  I easily recognized the faces of familiar fellow Jazz fans from Stanford Jazz Workshop, San Jose Jazz Festival, Yoshi’s, S.F. Jazz, Palo Alto Jazz Alliance, and, of course, NASA Ames.  Once the group started playing, you buckled your seat belt and knew you were in for a great ride!  And, indeed, an outstanding, swingin’ set was turned in.  After the concert, as the group drove off, I gave each of the band members and Dr. Babcock very popular blue NASA baseball caps as parting gifts for their “Maiden Voyage” to NASA Ames and to sport with lots of pride and and acknowledgement of having visited MY stomping ground. :v)  Later on, when visiting NYC, I frequently saw Jimmy Cobb proudly sporting his NASA cap and felt good knowing that I’d given him THAT cap.  A few months later, Andrew apprised me of the next Generations Project visit to the Bay Area in early May for a concert at Yoshi’s – S.F. on a Wednesday, and the second annual Generations International Competition for Emerging Combos Finals that Thursday, featuring semi finalists: the Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece Quintet and the Bruce Harris Quintet.  So we agreed to produce our second NASA Ames lunchtime concert on that Tuesday before, May 5th.  Having developed a well-oiled “concert production machine“ by then, our planning went quite smoothly.  This time around, however, the Generations Project added a new face, that of the young lion, Jeremy Pelt.  The second well-attended NASA Ames concert was again outstanding, exciting, and very satisfying.  Afterward, I bid fond farewells to the band members and promised that that I’d see them soon back in NYC . . . :v) Andrew, who began live streaming hard-swingin’ Sunday afternoon “House of Bop” concerts from his living room in March 2020 as COVID-19 hit, will be celebrating his 100th streaming event this Sunday, February 13th!!!  Yep, we’d done it, Andrew and I together!  “Houston, we had lift-off!!!” :v)