ESCONDIDO — “The lyrics of this next song are important,” said Fred Vanderhorst, a senior resident of Escondido. “So, please, make them out if you can.”
At the California Center for the Arts, Escondido campus lights had given the open-air Lyric Court a glow perfectly suited for an evening of jazz music.
“…And the only heart I own is yours and yours alone,” sang Vanderhorst.
Standing before an audience of jazz fans and musicians, Vanderhorst performed “That’s All,” a song made famous by Bobby Darin. But Vanderhorst is the first to admit he’s “strictly amateur” — just one of many attending the Center’s Jazz Jam session, which runs every Friday night.
With the efforts of Board Chairperson Carina Courtright and her staff, the Jazz Jam event allows aficionados to play with professional musicians, including Mark Lessman (saxophone), Herb Martin (percussions), Yvona Wosinksi (bass) and John Opperkuch (keyboard).
The professional band opens and closes each session of Jazz Jam, allowing those who appreciate jazz to hear a free concert.
After the band’s opening set, it was time for the amateurs to join in the jam session.
“This is really cool,” said Jason Niedeffer, a 13-year-old Bernardo Heights Middle school student. “I have an opportunity to play with a professional band, instead of staying home on a Friday night.”
Like Vanderhorst, Niedeffer had his turn with the musicians, entertaining the audience with solos on his electric guitar. At one point, both Vanderhorst and Niedeffer were on stage, jamming together, the gap between old and young bridged by a common musical interest.
“Our goal was to reach out to the community — that is a large and diverse group,” said Randall Huft, director of external affairs at the Art Center. “Last year, we had input groups, and what we found is that people wanted jazz music.”
“Jazz is freedom,” said Lessman. “Freedom musically, no doubt, but freedom from the concerns of life. That’s what makes this venue so great to be a part of.”
For Vanderhorst, such freedom is a dream come true.
“I was never a professional musician,” Vanderhorst said. “But I always dreamed of being one.”
When the session was over, the Escondido resident confided he would return to a senior development home right across the street. In this life, Fred Vanderhorst may not have had the jazz career he often wished for, but thanks to the California Center for the Arts, he has a better sense of what that path might have been.
The free Jazz Jam sessions will continue every Friday through Sept. 2 from 7 to 10 p.m. The California Center for the Arts, Escondido is at 340 N. Escondido Blvd.