Zebulon's takes jazz--and the arts--to a higher level
By R. V. Scheide
Walking into Zebulon's Lounge in downtown Petaluma, science isn't the first thing that comes to mind. The narrow but deep space is dark, even in daylight; the only significant source of light comes from designer fixtures hanging above the bar in back like bright red nipples. Abstract paintings hung on the walls and maroon curtains draped from the ceiling in the rear add a touch of understated elegance. A dozen tables and a few plush couches face toward the front of the place, where a smallish bandstand sits framed against a plate-glass window.
This is quite obviously a nightclub, the only authentic jazz venue in the North Bay, but nevertheless, founder Trevor Zebulon Cole says he owes it all to science--or rather, the bachelor's degree he earned in biochemistry. "Business and science are very similar," says Cole, who with spiky, tousled dark hair and neatly trimmed goatee hardly looks like your standard lab rat. "It's about coming up with a viable solution to the problem."
Back in 2002, the problem, as Cole saw it, was that there was no place to see good, live jazz on a regular basis in the North Bay. For that you had to go to Yoshi's in the East Bay or Jazz at Pearl's in the city. It was puzzling, considering the number of top-flight jazz musicians living in the North Bay, and Cole figured he couldn't possibly be the only music lover in the area who was tired of driving that far to see live jazz.
Two years later, it turns out he figured right. Zebulon's quickly established itself on the jazz map, with North Bay jazz fans and musicians as well as jazz giants from as far away as Japan, Italy, Finland, Amsterdam and Cuba. Discriminating aficionados now know that just about any night of the week, good and even great music can be heard at Zebulon's.
However, the club is no singular sensation--it takes a little bit more than that to win a Boho Award. Since its inception, Zebulon's has also served as an art gallery, exhibiting the work of local and international abstract expressionist painters. Realizing that local writers really had no sort of meeting place, Cole helped to establish the Livewire Literary Salon, where the cream of the North Bay literati gather every other week to swap readings.
"The idea of a salon is nearly absent from our culture," Cole notes. It's that scientific mind of his again; he saw the lack as a problem and he solved it. That's the same impetus behind Cole's latest project, the Sonoma County Union of the Arts (SCUA), a nonprofit organization formed by Cole and local musician Todd Grady to keep musicians busy doing what the love the most: playing music.
"We wanted to promote jobs for musicians and artists and at the same time promote art and music within the community," Cole says. To that end, musicians have been so far dispatched to five elementary schools in Petaluma's Old Adobe School District, where they provide fourth, fifth and sixth-graders with musical instruction. The organization hopes to begin classes in three more districts by next spring; eventually, it plans to go county-wide.
"That's the difference between us and other art collectives," Cole says. "We're focusing strongly on the educational component."
In addition to receiving financial support from the Petaluma Education Foundation, SCUA holds occasional fundraisers, including the Not So Silent Film Festival at the Raven Theater, in which a six-piece jazz chamber orchestra comprised of local musicians provides originally scored music for classic silent films. It's a win-win situation, raising money for SCUA and putting musicians to work at the same time.
On a Thursday night, as a healthy crowd forms for local jazz band the Alex Aspinal Quartet--fresh-faced kids in their 20s with some serious chops--it's clear that Zebulon's is thriving. That comes as no surprise to Cole.
"To other people, maybe it's surprising. Petaluma isn't exactly known for it's jazz--at least it wasn't," Cole says. "But it's not surprising to me, because I planned it. I worked out a business plan. If it hadn't worked, that would have been surprising."
You could call it better listening through science.
The next Not So Silent Film Festival, a benefit for SCUA, takes places on Friday, Sept. 24, at the Raven Theater. 115 North St., Healdsburg. 7pm. $5-$10. 707.433.6335.
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From the September 22-28, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.