It all started when Branch Librarian Joyce Gunn successfully competed for the only California appearance of the Smithsonian Institute’s first traveling jazz exhibit, “Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington.” The exhibit was on display at San Ramon Library from October 17 through November 28, 1996. During those six weeks, the Library and the San Ramon Library Foundation presented 31 public jazz programs and provided educational assemblies in each of the local schools. Featured were such Ellington alumni as Kenny Burrell and Bill Berry, and scholars and writers including Philip Elwood of the San Francisco Chronicle and John Hasse of The Smithsonian. An initial collection of over 300 CDs was donated by performing artists and recording companies. A record turnout provided funds for acquisition of additional CDs, videos, books and sheet music for the Jazz Collection.
In Fall 1997, the Library presented another successful series of jazz concerts — “More Jazz at the Library” — with performances by Donald “Tee” Carson, Weslia Whitfield, Red Holloway with Gail Dobson and the Smith Dobson Trio.
“More Jazz at the Library 1998″ featured performances by Weslia Whitfield, Jim Rothermel’s Neoclassic Swing Quintet, Smith and Gail Dobson and a special performance by Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers for dancing and listening at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum.
Meanwhile the Library’s collection of jazz materials keeps growing. There are over 1200 CDs, 125 videos and 220 books available for checkout and subscriptions to three jazz magazines. Donations include a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox, a collection of 800 CDs (the entire catalog of Concord Records), and a personal library of 150 books about jazz.