Fernando Pullum’s Community Arts Band preps for August’s Jazz Fest

Last year at the Gardena Jazz Festival (Ben Makarchuk)

By Brett Callwood

The 19th Annual Gardena Jazz Festival is set to take place on Sunday, Aug. 28 at Rowley Park. As is generally the case, the organizers have assembled a stellar array of talent, and the News will be speaking with a number of them as the date approaches. This week was the turn of Fernando Pullum Community Arts Band, part of the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center.

Can you briefly explain what the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center does, generally

We teach 1,200 kids performing arts classes. We’re not really focussed on creating artists but on raising kids’ self-esteem.

How and why did the center’s band start?

We do teach music, and performing arts classes. To teach classes, the kids have to have some sort of culminating event. They have to perform. They don’t go to classes and work hard just to stay inside of the classroom. So we get them involved with major artists. They’ve played with Jhené Aiko, Michael McDonald, we did the American Music Awards with Sia and Missy Elliott, some of them did the Billboard Awards with BTS. So we try to create opportunities for them, to encourage them to work hard. This year, I’m sending four of my students to Berklee College of Music, and some to Texas State. So we always have to keep building the next group of musicians to take their place.

What can we expect from the set this time?

What you’ll hear this time around, and what you’ll get consistently from us, is a group of kids that are working hard. We try to play music that will engage the audience, and we make sure that the music is challenging to our students so it has more of an educational feel to it also. I like to pick music that takes them to the edge of their ability.

Has the band performed at Gardena Jazz Festival before?

This is our fifth time. It’s been incredible. Unlike other jazz festivals, Gardena is one where the crowd shows up early. In a lot of other jazz festivals, the first act is playing to a lot of empty seats. That’s not the case at Gardena at all. As soon as you play the first note, there are thousands of people there. Some of those people stay there overnight to make sure they get great spots. So it is really encouraging. I’ve also found that there are people that come specifically to hear the kids play.

What else does the band have coming up?

We do fundraisers online, and we’re we’re in the midst of recording one. I believe we have Thundercat and Patrice Rushen joining us. In the past we’ve had John Mayer, Jackson Browne, Jhené Aiko, Michael McDonald, and Eric Idle played on our last one. So we’ve had generous and talented, loving and giving artists help sup- port us.

Visit pullumcenter.org for more info on Fernando Pullum’s Community Arts Center. Visit cityofgardena.org/recreation-and-human-services/jazz-festival/ for more info on the Gardena Jazz Festival.