Soul Section teams up with Petaluma High School Jazz Ensemble
That’s the underlying reason for this weekend’s big jazz concert benefit at the Mystic, a popular community event held annually to raise funds for the Petaluma High School Music Program. For 14 years now, the January show, produced and organized by PHS’s Cliff Eveland, has been placing the PHS Varsity Jazz Ensemble on stage with a different professional jazz or rock band for a night of high-powered, spirit-lifting musical fun.
“Because, yes, music matters,” says Kevin Mulligan, founder of this year’s featured veteran jazz-funk-soul band The Soul Section, “but the cool thing about music is that it can sometimes just be fun. And fun is okay. Fun matters too.”
The Soul Section was formed ten years ago by Mulligan, who called upon several other members of the Motown ensemble known as the Violet Fox Band. In addition to Mulligan, other Violet Fox vets who play in The Soul Section are drummer Michael J. Perez, bassist Pete Donery and guitarist Brian Clothier. Also in the band are keyboardist Vince Nash and a mightly all-female horn section featuring Jane Fossgreen on saxophone, Ella Steinberg on trumpet and Sara Cummings on trombone.
Mulligan is the lead vocalist, onstage cheerleader and all-around front man.
He says the invitation to headline the Mystic show in 2020 came last summer, when The Soul Section played the Petaluma Music Festival, another Cliff Eveland-organized fundraiser for music programs in Petaluma.
“We had one of his students on stage with us,” Mulligan recalls, “and he saw something in what we were doing that made him ask us to come out for the show along with the Petaluma High School Jazz Band.”
The Soul Section, already known for the power and entertaining hijinks of its horn section, will see that part of the band expand to record-breaking proportions this weekend.
“For the first time, we’ll have 20-something horns on stage with us, for a few songs,” he says, noting that after the PHS students play the opening set, they’ll come back to join The Soul Section for some of the headline set. “It’s going to be a little like if The Soul Section suddenly was transformed into a marching band,” he says with a laugh.
And who knows? The massive ensemble might even incorporate some of The Soul Section’s signature horn-player choreography.
“I don’t know what it’s like today, to be a kid in school playing in a jazz band, because when I was in school I was into other things,” Mulligan admits. “But the kid who came and played with us last summer was killer, and I know these kids have so much fun doing what they do. So I think if we can work into our rehearsal, and we can get them all side-stepping, it’ll definitely be something to see.”
The annual show often sells out, and Mulligan says it’s not just the parents of the high school kids who’ve made the event a maximum capacity, can’t miss activity.
“There are a lot of people in this town who support music in the schools, and who just care about music in general,” he says. “So I would not be surprised if the audience has a lot of Soul Section fans, mixing with the family and friends of the high school kids, mixing with a lot of people who just love music, want to support music education, and are looking for a good time with some great music on a Saturday night.”
One of the admirable things about the show, of course, is the opportunity it gives for younger players to share the billing and some valuable backstage conversation with older players who know the business, have earned their chops, and are eager to share a bit of their experience with the next generation of live music performers.
“Look, I’ve been playing around in bands for years and have had some small success here and there,” Mulligan allows, “and I know the power of inspiration and support. So if any of these kids have anything to learn from me and the other Soul Section players, if we inspire any of them in any small finite way, then I’m stoked about that. Because that’s what it took for me. Going to a lot of shows as a kid, seeing music all the time and dreaming about someday doing it myself. These kids are chasing those same dreams, and in the same way that our experience and inspiration might infect them a little, I know their enthusiasm and energy is going to infect us too.”
And as much as Mulligan hopes to raise a huge basket of cash to help PHS and Eveland continue giving young folks the opportunity to make music, what he’s looking forward to the most, he points out, is simply having a good, fun time playing the music he loves. For Mulligan, who has seen The Soul Section expands its fan base dramatically of late, having fun is what it’s all about.
“We’re really happy about how Petaluma has really put its arm around us this last year,” he says. “We are feeling the love, and this weekend, we’re ready to give a lot of love right back. Downtown Petaluma is going to be the place to be, and we plan on smashing a hole in the place and having a whole lot of fun.”