Jazz at the de Young

Seven years ago, the de Young hosted its first jazz performance in partnership with Intersection for the Arts. Jazz at Intersection at the de Young came about through my relationship with Kevin Chen of Intersection for the Arts. Together we invited a wide range of local jazz composers and musicians to create and perform music inspired by the museum’s special exhibitions and permanent collection.

Garden jazz

The first performance of Jazz at Intersection at the de Young took place in the sculpture garden

What started out a a seasonal jazz offering evolved into a year-round music series curated by dynamic members of the community, including Chen (whose knowledge of jazz is vast), members of the Museums’ advisory boards, community arts organizations, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and de Young Artist Fellows, just to name a few.

Since then, the de Young has continued in this tradition, highlighting jazz as an integral part of Friday Nights at the de Young. This season alone, we’ve already featured the Matt Small Trio, the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, and the phenomenal youth jazz and classical groups from the San Francisco Unified School District.


The Royal Society Jazz Orchestra

Tonight, museum goers will be treated to two unique concerts inspired by both jazz greats of the 1960s and contemporary, avant-garde jazz composers. Akira Tana and the Secret Agent Men perform music in tribute to Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 and the hit show Mad Men  and Artist Fellow Sarah Wilson presents recently created compositions.

We recently sat down with Akira Tana and Sarah Wilson—whose musical stylings bridge the past and present—to discuss their inspiration and influences.

Tana and his secret agents lend a soundtrack to the special exhibition Arthur Tress San Francisco 1964 (on view through June 3 at the de Young) with jazz interpretations of popular music from that decade.


“Since the exhibition represents an era of cultural, racial, and political volatility,” explains Tana, “the music is also an outgrowth of this time of great change in society.” Tana infuses Afro-Cuban and Brazilian influences into these mid-century classics.

Presenting iconic '60s tunes ranging from mainstays like the Beatles’ Come Together to the cinematic scores behind the era’s most popular films, like the  James Bond series, to the folk genre of Bob Dylan, Akira Tana and the Secret Agent Men bring the era of Mad Men to the de Young.

Listen to Akira Tana's interpretation of the James Bond theme here: [swf file="files/audio/jamesbond.mp3"]

When asked to categorize her music, Sarah Wilson calls it, “An avant-garde jazz/pop/world music hybrid that comes from a very personal place. I’m not trying to conform to any musical genre or style, but instead just be myself and write music that I hear in my mind and feel in my body.”

Sarah Wilson

Photo by Katrina Rodabaugh

As composer, songwriter, trumpeter and singer, Wilson says, “I bring my music to life with my trumpet and voice. I don’t act like a jazz trumpet player, but more of a texturalist, adding flavor to my compositions. My focus is the music itself, not how I improvise over the music I’ve written.”

Although Wilson’s influences are rooted in traditional jazz, she was drawn to the progressive jazz scene coming out of the Knitting Factory in New York City during the early 1990s. Of her time in New York, Wilson says, “The music then was opening up in new ways and downtown jazz artists fused jazz, rock, pop, funk, world music and classical music, so I came out of that epoch while simultaneously incessantly listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Bill Evans.”

Listen to Wilson's new composition Melancholy For Place here: [swf file="files/audio/melancholy.mp3"]

To learn more about Sarah Wilson’s fellowship, her myriad influences and tonight’s performance, click here.

Music lovers are in for a stellar lineup tonight at the de Young. Join Akira Tana and the Secret Agent Men in Wilsey Court at 6:30 p.m; Sarah Wilson performs in the Koret Auditorium at 7:15 p.m.

From now through November 23, Friday Nights at the de Young will feature live music. All concerts are offered free of charge thanks to the generous support of The Hearst Foundation and The Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation. The Artist Fellows program (also part of Cultural Encounters) is supported by major grants from The James Irvine Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services/Museums for America.