KSBR Birthday Bash celebrates 20 years of smooth jazz

Peter White’s distinctive sound combined with the sultry sax of Elizabeth Mis made the crowd roar. (MaryAnne Shults)

MaryAnne Shults

The record-breaking crowd at the 20th annual KSBR Birthday Bash in Mission Viejo enjoyed a four-hour impromptu jam session blending of vocals, guitar, brass, saxophone, keyboard and percussion from more than 40 well-known contemporary jazz artists such as Boney James, Jim Peterik, and Patti Austin, on Sunday, May 24.

“I can tell you that it was the largest audience that we’ve had in more than 10 years,” said Terry Wedel, KSBR’s director of general programming, of the Oso Viejo Park gathering, “and it was certainly the biggest crowd on stage ever.”

General admission ticket holders at the Bash don’t take the show lightly. Many had small tables with elaborate gourmet appetizers. Others were content with a blanket and paper plates for their cheese, crackers, and fruit.

“I’ve been coming for 20 years since it was first held in Dana Point,” said Lillian Nieto of Laguna Niguel. “We come every year… we’re regulars. This year I brought my fiancé [Brian Wilson of San Clemente].”

VIP tickets provided fans seating at beautifully decorated tables, complimentary food and beverages, and closer access to the stage.

Years of continuous growth and sold-out shows prompted organizers to seek a bigger venue, moving the event to its present location in 2008. Based on the overwhelming success of its first year, the City of Mission Viejo and KSBR entered into an agreement that assures the event will have plenty of room to grow for the next five years.

This is good news for the artists who look forward to the annual get-together.  Some have been in the industry for decades while others are the young and upcoming, including 14-year-old flutist Rachel Rodgers and 18-year-old saxophonist Elizabeth Mis.

Most of the artists, some of whom are Grammy winners, know each other. Some only by reputation, but for others the Bash is a reunion with old friends.  The backstage ambiance was filled with camaraderie and admiration.

The crisp, funky electric guitar of Nils was the first to bring the crowd to their feet. Thanks to the miracle of wireless, he casually strolled through the crowd, never missing a beat.

Nils likes the relaxed setting offered to the performers.

“It’s a fun, loose environment; music is a language and you have to share it,” he said. “My first time here, I didn’t know what to expect because there’s no rehearsal, you’re assigned who will be playing with you.  But now it’s my fourth time here and it’s a jam session that is cool to play.”

After moving to Los Angeles from his native Germany, he was both a student as well as guitar instructor, moving into the art of studio engineering where he met and worked with George Benson, co-writing Benson’s “Keep Rollin’.”  Along with touring, he is currently the music editor for the cable TV show “Weeds.”  Jazz enthusiasts know him for his smooth jazz hit “Pacific Coast Highway.”

On the keyboards for Nils was Clydene Jackson, a soft-spoken and extremely pleasant musician with an impressive resume that covers a multitude of musical genres including gospel, pop, jazz and R&B. She sings on the soundtrack for the recently released motion pictures “Night at the Museum II,” “Star Trek,” as well as “The Lion King,” and others. She has sung with Patti Austin, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart and more.

“There’s a circle of friends here, and we’ve known each other for over 20 years,” Jackson said. “Just to come together to hear us sing, whether one is 2 or 80, is so awesome.”

Some showed up to perform as a surprise guest, including guitarist Peter White.

“Being able to play today with Boney [James] is such a treat,” said White. “I’ve known him almost 20 years, but lost touch with him three or four years ago.”

White first picked up the acoustic guitar at age eight. It was the late ’60s, a time when many today known as some of rock’s classics first hit the airwaves. After hearing Jimmy Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” he wanted his guitar to make that sound, and he switched to an electric guitar.  However, after loosing the electric model in a fire, he returned to his acoustic roots, finding inspiration in Crosby, Stills and Nash, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell. After a friend recommended him to Al Stewart he joined the band for their summer 1974 tour. He then went into the studio with Stewart to record “Year of the Cat.”  In 1990, he decided to go solo and began to record with some of the best jazz musicians around.  One of them was saxophonist Boney James who accompanied him, as did Elizabeth Mis.

Mis’ mother Diane proudly told her story:  At age 12, she heard Kenny G.’s Christmas CD and liked the sound of his soprano saxophone. “I want one of those,” she told her father.  With no formal music training, she began to mimic G’s sound, and could manipulate her computer to produce the digital sounds of her idol, taking out the track of his horn, and playing it for herself. That same year, she studied the sounds of fellow sax player Dave Coz, and eventually pushed backstage at a show to meet him. At that meeting, he gave her reeds made especially for him.

Elizabeth’s first gig was at a local bookstore that hired her to perform after they discovered a flier made by her younger sister.  She then performed more than 200 times by the age of 14. Her first Birthday Bash was two years ago.

“She was destined to play,” Diane said. “She is a prodigy because she never had any lessons and just picked it up by ear.  She is one with her horn.”

Other guest performers included the groups East Bay Soul, whose instrumental funk soul and R&B are referred to as metro jazz. The group features music legend Greg Adams, founding member of Tower of Power.

Jim Peterik’s band, Lifeforce, with powerful and sultry vocals by Lisa McClowry, played a powerful set. Peterik was the co-founder of the ’70s rock group Survivor. He co-wrote the infamous tune, “Eye of the Tiger,” the theme from the motion picture “Rocky III,” which won a Grammy award, People’s Choice Award, and an Oscar nomination.

Discovered at age 16, by Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner, Craig Chaquico was asked to join the newly formed Jefferson Starship in 1974. Playing lead guitar, synthesizer and providing backing vocals for Jefferson Starship/Starship from 1974-early ’90s when he went solo with a New Age album.

Add Bill Cantos, Greg Vail, “Shilts” Weimar, Gregg Karukas, Freddie Fox, Max Bennett, and others into the mix to create an exciting evening for all.

Last up was Grammy winner Evelyn “Champagne” King, who wowed the crowd with her spectacular vocals as well as her enthusiasm and passion for music.

The evening ended with all the artists onstage and local musician Derek Bordeaux once again getting the crowd rolling as he led the ensemble singing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” and then handing the vocals back over to King and other vocalists.

KSBR’s Birthday Bash has a long history. When asked by the emcee who had been to all twenty bashes, several hands and enthusiastic shouts came up from the crowd.

The first Bash in 1989 was as a small, informal membership drive event at the Dana Point
Resort that grew so popular that the show moved out onto the resort’s lawn. After a moving to the larger venue of the college’s baseball field in 1996, the next year was the start of an 11-year period at the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

In addition to the Birthday Bash, KSBR celebrated 30 years of bringing “smooth jazz” to Orange County.

The station began broadcasting in 1975 from its broadcast facility in the Library building with low output and a small coverage age.  In 1979, it upgraded to a full Class A operation.  It they moved to its present location in the Student Services Building in 1990 where today its state-of-the-art facility allows coverage throughout the county.

“There used to be three jazz stations on the air, and the two biggest are now off the air, leaving KSBR,” said emcee and trumpet player Tony Guererro.

The commemoration included a large birthday cake and dedication of jazz artwork by fine arts photographer Bettie Grace Minor, signed by all the performers to Wedel for his years of dedication.

“The reaction to the Bash has been unbelievably positive from both the audience and the musicians—and the musicians themselves were pretty unbelievable,” Wedel said. “You’d think I’d be pretty jaded after 30-plus years of going to jazz concerts, but there were several times I turned around, looked at the stage and thought, ‘Wow, those are some of the biggest jazz stars in the world… and they’re all here for a college station in Mission Viejo.'”

KSBR (88.5-FM) is a commercial-free contemporary jazz and community information station serving Orange County from Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California.The station’s primary format is contemporary jazz, but it also has weekend specialty shows featuring other musical styles like reggae, folk, ragtime, rock, Latin jazz, blues, and hip-hop music.

In addition to training Saddleback’s Communication Arts students, KSBR is a community service station focusing its attention on Orange County news, traffic, weather, and entertainment.

For further information, please visit them on the Web at www.ksbr.org.


“I’ve been coming for 20 years since it was first held in Dana Point,” said Lillian Nieto (center) of Laguna Niguel. “We come every year… we’re regulars. This year I brought my fiancé [Brian Wilson of San Clemente].” (MaryAnne Shults)

Evelyn “Champagne” King leads the vocals for the finale. (MaryAnne Shults)