SAN RAMON -- It's not every day a public library transforms into an after-hours jazz club, but it will happen on four special evenings in San Ramon.
During those limited performances, jazz fans can settle back and hear some of the best live music the Bay Area has to offer -- inside a library that houses one of the most extensive jazz collections around.
"It's a well-kept secret," said Carol Yuke, adult services librarian at the San Ramon Library. "We're just so fortunate to be able to have this in the area; it's just a nice way to bring people to the library for a performance."
The "More Jazz at the Library" concert series has been ongoing for 18 years. It began in 1996, when former branch librarian Joyce Gunn succeeded in acquiring the only California appearance of the Smithsonian Institution's first traveling jazz exhibit, entitled "Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington."
The exhibit was on display at the library for more than a month in the fall of that year, during which time the library and the San Ramon Library Foundation presented 31 public jazz programs as well as educational assemblies in local schools. Outreach by the library resulted in the collection of more than 300 jazz CDs donated by performing artists and recording companies. Proceeds raised by the performances funded the acquisition of even more CDs, videos, books and sheet music for the jazz collection.
The jazz series continued year after year, along with the growth of the collection, which now includes more than 1,200 CDs, 125 videos, 220 books and subscriptions to jazz magazines. Proceeds from the concert series are used to maintain and update the collection, said Nancy Kreiger, the acting library manager.
"We have a very significant jazz collection, particularly for a public library," she said. "People can watch concerts on DVDs, and we have a huge collection of CDs representing all styles of jazz, as well as new material. Items from our jazz collection have traveled to all 50 states; people have reached out for it through interlibrary loans or other arrangements. Some of the items are unique to San Ramon."
The concerts, on four Friday evenings in September and October, require volunteers to transform a library into an intimate jazz club, then back again, in only a few hours, said Barbara Natale, a member of the library's Jazz Committee that oversees the event.
"As soon as the library doors close at 5 (on Friday night), we have a crew come in and set up a backdrop curtain that creates the area of a stage," she said. "We bring in a grand piano donated by Piedmont Piano Company, move furniture around and install over 100 chairs, also setting up a counter for dessert that's served at intermission. At the end, we break it all down so that on Saturday morning it's a library again. It's quite a feat."
Natale, a longtime jazz fan, says the library takes pride in bringing in quality jazz musicians from around the area. This season's performances include jazz harp and fluegelhorn, an instrument that is reminiscent of a cross between a trumpet and French horn.
"We don't have this type of music available to us here in San Ramon or the suburbs; we usually have to go to Oakland or San Francisco to get this type of quality jazz," Natale said. "Jazz musicians are very community-minded people ... they are delighted to play at the public library, many times for a lot less money than they'd get elsewhere, and for that we're very grateful."
Organizers are hoping that this year's inaugural use of online ticketing will continue to expand the series' audience.
"We draw fans from not just San Ramon and Danville but from beyond," Kreiger said. "It tends to be mostly returning jazz fans, but we really want to spread the word and attract new people to this venue and make this old tradition welcoming to new people."
Natale agrees, and says she hopes the concerts will fire up enthusiasm for jazz in the valley.
"People shouldn't say they don't like jazz," she said. "Maybe they do ... It's very innovative, and very free-form and organic in nature. It's the only music like that ... In jazz you can go off and do your own thing. That's the beauty of jazz."
The 18th annual "More Jazz at the Library" series will be held on four Friday evenings in September and October at the San Ramon Library, 100 Montgomery St.
Performances will be at 8 p.m. Sept. 20: vocalist Jamie Davis and Quartet; Sept. 27: fluegelhorn performance by Dmitri Matheny and Group; Oct. 11: The Destiny Muhammad Jazz Harp Trio; and Oct. 18: Latin vocalist Jackie Ryan and the Larry Vuckovich Trio.
Advance tickets are suggested, but will be sold at the door if seats remain. Tickets cost $25 or $20 for students and seniors 62 and older. Tickets are sold at 925-973-2787, or online at www.sanramonperformingarts.com. For details, visit www.san