When Scott Stobbe was 30, he drove to the airport to pick up jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who had a gig that night at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center.
Beforehand, Sanders wanted to grab some Thai food at a joint on Mission Street—he insisted on paying. He then asked Stobbe to take him to West Cliff Drive so he could just soak in the sight of the beach and feel the ocean breeze. He said it was beautiful, and the experience would make the night’s show better.
At the time, this was a normal part of Stobbe’s life. From age 17, he worked at Kuumbwa for 20 years and did a wide range of jobs. Not only did the constant stream of amazing live shows influence him as a musician, but getting to be part of a tight-knit community where everyone pulled together to make art a reality shaped who he was as an adult.
“I did everything. I started out volunteering, doing dishes. Then I started to work in the bar in the cafe. I did maintenance stuff. I picked up artists from the airport. I did some closing manager stuff,” Stobbe says. “I love that place. I love everybody that works there. They’re like family. Anytime I’m in town, I try and make a point to stop by.”
These days, Stobbe calls New Orleans home. But California is always in his heart. His latest album, Scott Stobbe Collection, was recorded last year in Oakland amid the pandemic. The album pulls from different global elements, including jazz, traditional European folk music and Brazilian choro. But for the musicians, he gathered several players from the Balkan music community in San Francisco and Oakland: Dan Cantrell (accordion, saw, percussion, piano, celeste), Faisal Zedan (percussion), Briana Di Mara (violin), Morgan Nilsen (clarinet), Janie Cowan (bass), and Lee Corbie-Wells (vocals). The album was released last month.
“It came together out in Oakland, with a great group of players that I’ve known for a long time,” Stobbe says. “It’s kind of like the handpicked dream team of California musicians.”
Stobbe is known for bands like the Sour Mash Hug Band, Zdrastvootie and Igam-Ogam, but this is a really special album for him. He wrote the songs from 2009 to 2020. Only one of them was recorded before; “Balkanique” was recorded under the name “Coat Check Cocek” with the Sour Mash Hug Band.
“It’s been years in the making. And I’m really happy with how it turned out,” Stobbe says.
Originally, the record was going to be recorded last spring in New Orleans, still early in the pandemic. The day before Stobbe and his group were set to go in the studio, one of the players in the band feared that he’d been exposed to Covid-19, so the session was canceled.
Stobbe was planning on visiting Santa Cruz during the summer anyway—his European tour had been canceled due to the pandemic—so he figured he’d take advantage of free time and see his family.
He cherry-picked his favorite players, sent them demos, and got two rehearsals in before heading into the studio. The result is a collection of loose, grooving songs with eclectic influences.
This is also an extra special project because Stobbe is releasing the album with a book of his father’s artwork and his sheet music. It’s called Sketches & Scores. His dad is a lifelong artist who was never one for self-promotion but lives to create beauty.
“Ever since I can remember he’s been painting. Money is never the goal with that, for sure,” Stobbe says.
The idea of making a collaborative project started when he was running through the songs with his friend Terre Lee, a private violin teacher in Santa Cruz. She told Stobbe that she wanted to use some of the songs with her students and that he should make a book out of them. He thought about this and decided to take a bunch of his father’s artwork and combine it with his sheet music, a family art project because it was his dad’s commitment to art that influences him to devote his life to art.
“I guess that’s why I have like ridiculously supportive parents, supportive of me being a musician, and touring and traveling and living a less conventional life,” Stobbe says. “I’m pretty grateful.”
For more information, check out scottstobbe.org.