The band got its start in 2000, when a “jazz ensemble” music class was offered by the Walnut Creek Civic Arts program under the direction of Mike Rose. The early Walnut Creek Civic Arts Jazz Band was a mix of beginning musicians from middle school, and more advanced musicians from high school and college, as well as experienced adult musicians. The mix of different ages and experience levels is part of the DNA of the band, and continues to this day.
During its first year, the Walnut Creek Civic Arts Jazz Band rehearsed in a small classroom in the Civic Park location and performed its first concerts in the gazebo in Civic Park. In 2001, the band’s rehearsals and performances were relocated to the Shadelands Arts Center location, where it remained for the next twenty years. (Check out our historic photos)
Over that twenty-year period, the band went through many changes. The Walnut Creek Civic Arts program was rebranded as the Center for Community Arts (CCA), and the band became known as the Walnut Creek Community Arts Jazz Band. The band flourished under a series of excellent band directors, including Max Pricco, Matt Zebley, and Walter Barr, and performed concerts at many Walnut Creek venues and locations, including the Walnut Festival, the Walnut Creek Art and Wine Festival, Walnut Creek Art on the Main, and the Walnut Creek Library.
Along with band members’ annual class fees, proceeds from the band’s City of Walnut Creek and Shadelands concerts went back to the Center for Community Arts. In addition, a separate band fund was established from the proceeds from the band’s performances at outside venues, such as V. Sattui Winery, in St. Helena.
In March 2020, the Center for Community Arts suspended all in-person music classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes resumed in September 2021, but about one year later, in August 2022, CCA made the decision to discontinue in-person adult music programs, including the jazz band class.
It was at this moment that lead alto sax player Jeffrey Mark Paull, one of two active founding members of the band, stepped up to save the jazz band. Jeff held meetings with key band members to assess their level of interest in reforming a new jazz band, and he found new band members to fill the vacant chairs. He met with the director of the City of Walnut Creek Arts and Recreation and enlisted his support to gain access to the CCA band chart library and received his commitment to transfer the band fund from the Community Arts Foundation back to the band. He searched for an affordable rehearsal space and reached out to Walter Barr to return as the band director.
The newly reformed Walnut Creek Jazz Band began rehearsing on September 15, 2022, at its new rehearsal and performance space in Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church, in Pleasant Hill. Thanks to Jeff’s efforts and those of his fellow bandmates, Peter Thompson, and Julia Schaletzky, the WCJB is now a 501c3 non-profit music education organization. Its first concert performance was a Holiday concert at St. Andrews Church on December 17, 2022.
The Walnut Creek Jazz Band looks forward to thriving in its new home and performing live big-band music for Walnut Creek and its surrounding communities for many years to come.
Jeffrey Mark Paull is the Executive Director, lead alto saxophone player, and a founding member of the Walnut Creek Jazz Band.
Jeff’s interest in playing music began in college. Inspired by the band Chicago, Jeff picked up the trumpet in 1974 and began playing along to records. In 1977 he purchased a second-hand Martin alto sax, and his lifelong love affair with the saxophone began.
Largely self-taught, Jeff played by ear and didn’t learn to read music until he began taking saxophone lessons in the late 1990s. He continued his music studies at Diablo Valley College (DVC), where he played alto and tenor sax in the DVC Jazz Ensemble and various jazz combos for sixteen years, while studying with some of the Bay Area’s most notable saxophonists, including Guido Fazio, Mary Fettig, Zac Johnson, Alex Murzyn, Rory Snyder, and Matt Zebley. Jeff also formed his own jazz combo, Alter Ego and Friends.
Jeff’s history with the Walnut Creek Jazz Band began in 2000, when he joined the newly formed Walnut Creek Civic Arts Jazz Band. Jeff’s sons, Justin and Joshua, also played saxophone in the band throughout middle school and high school.
As detailed in the band history, in 2022, Jeff played a critical role in keeping the Walnut Creek Jazz Band intact and reorganizing it as a 501c3 non-profit music education organization.
Lakei became enamored with jazz as a member of her high school’s first jazz choir. As a music major at Diablo Valley College, Lakei forged her own path as a jazz vocalist while also learning classical, musical theater, and world music. At just 23 years old, she has performed all over the Bay Area – from the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco to Fox Theater in Redwood City. Lakei was recently awarded the Thelonius Monk Scholarship Award by the Living Jazz organization and a full tuition scholarship by the Generations in Jazz Foundation. She is honored to have worked with some of the most notable jazz musicians of today, including Sullivan Fortner, Sara Gazarek, and Ulysses Ownes Jr.
In addition to being a vocalist, Lakei is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, dancer, and award-winning choreographer. She aspires to be a music therapist one day.
A native of the Bay Area and son of a saxophone player that was a member of an all Asian Big Band in the 1930-50's, The Cathayans. You can say music in the genes. Did not start learning jazz until retirement. The current musical journey has been fun and exciting. I am lucky to be a part of the The Walnut Creek Jazz Band and adding a flute section to the group. Having a dedicated flute section in a big band is unusual. I do have to write the flute parts, which gives me the opportunity to pick the best parts, but to supplement and support the band.
Introduced to the joys of music performance on the piano as a middle schooler, Paul started his jazz career on the alto saxophone in high school. While his love of jazz grew in his adult years, he did not keep up the saxophone. But he reconnected with the woodwind family when he discovered his wife's old flute and decided to try it out. Before too long he came to love the voice of his new instrument.
Paul moved to the Bay Area with his family in 2018, and had the great fortune of connecting with the vibrant East Bay jazz community. The Walnut Creek Jazz Band provides him with a first-class venue for musical expression, growth, and collaboration.
Dr. Walter Barr holds degrees in music, music performance, and music education, including post-doctoral work at the Eastman School of Music. He is presently Emeritus Professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
His conducting credentials include work with the Ultraphonic Jazz Orchestra, the Denver Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, and Terence Blanchard.
He has performed with Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Lena Horne, Marvin Gaye, Henry Mancini, Sammy Davis Jr., Lou Rawls, Mel Torme, Gladys Knight, and many others.