When people hear “East San Jose,” usually the first thoughts are unincorporated and underprivileged to put it mildly.
For those who grew up there and call it home, there’s an unassuming grassroots feel and a diverse generational timelessness like no other area in San Jose.
In East San Jo, as many in the area affectionately call it, there’s an unpretentious richness of life.
One such gem is a musical jewel from Alum Rock (a deeper subset of East San Jose)
Gabby Horlick is the fearless 33-year-old founder, bandleader and drummer of her orchestra – The 7th Street Big Band.
Their big performance on the main stage at the 2021 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest was potent.
Since 2013, her big band brainchild of long-time friends and cohorts stemmed from her matriculation at San Jose State, but the realization of Horlick’s musical passions arose through the unsung teacher-heroes of the eastside school system.
“I’m proud to say I was born and raised in Eastside San Jose where I was super lucky to be raised in the Alum Rock School district,” Horlick says with conviction. “I was in the Alum Rock jazz band all throughout middle school and it was my first ever experience with jazz and big band music in particular.”
She adds, “I just absolutely loved it. It was the coolest thing in the world to me. As a 12-year-old kid playing drums behind a band with 20 horns...man, I had such a blast doing it - so much so that I continued to play in high school and college.”
When Horlick’s 7th Street Big Band took the main Summer Fest stage on Friday, they came in full force
"We so looked forward to playing on the main stage for the first time,” Horlick said excitedly about their Friday show. “We had a lot of fun things planned and a lot of other San Jose-based vocalists, rappers and musicians joining us. It's all been a long time coming. This is our biggest one yet for sure.”
Biggest meaning 27 people strong on the main stage; heavily anchored by some female energy:
- Five trumpeters: Tim Ford, Jacob Jackman, Will Brown, Natasha Singha and Amanda Cienfuegos
- Four trombonists: Andrew Hill, Richard Concepcion, Leela Paymai, Veronica Christie
- Six saxophonists: Alvin DeLos Santos, Oscar Pangilinan, Brittany Biala, Janelle Herrera, Jerry Holmes, Lidia Rodriguez
- Rhythm section: Gabby Horlick, Danny Gerz (bass), William Bohrer (guitar), Nichole Boaz (keyboards), Phoebe Chou (percussion), Brian Shue (guest guitarist)
- Guest vocalists: Juanita Harris, Amy D., Ren Geisick, Joy Hackett, Jonathan Borca, Bennett Roth
It’s a vibe to experience
Yes, the performance was big but not overwhelming as you might expect with that kind of manpower - where in other musical genres, it can be overload at times.
The 7th Street sound is big band classic, yet modern – smooth and cool – complimentary and just all-around timeless. It’s a sound and youthfulness that’s confident, natural and just different to be around.
It's a big band sound through the filtered interpretations of a generation of musicians with wide influences from pop, hip-hop and old funk layered into original and classic big band songs.
Don’t trust the wordy wine description – just find them and go taste it sometime.
Words are always tough to describe the multi-dimensional experience of big band or swing music, especially with the sheer size and breadth of Horlick's band.
But make no mistake, there’s some serious young jazz talent here and a lot of it emanates from the South Bay.
The depth of jazz dedication in San Jose
At the highest levels, the broader San Jose Jazz organization, led by executive director Brendan Rawson, is a major pillar of the area that promotes, initiates and stimulates the culture and benefits of jazz around San Jose.
"Every summer throughout my childhood, I was able to attend the San Jose Jazz music summer camps and I was able to play in the San Jose Jazz Festival all throughout my childhood on the youth stage,” Horlick reminisced.
In East San Jose, that passion for jazz that passes from generation to generation is still going strong.
“The biggest influence in middle school was the director of the Alum Rock Jazz Program, Bill Nicolosi,” Horlick continued. “He was a huge influence on me and he still continues to be to this day because I'm also now on the board for the Alum Rock Jazz Foundation and I’m proud to say we've remained friends.”
As Horlick’s jazz experience grew through high school and college, her musical connections expanded as did her deepened interest.
"I attended Overfelt High School under the direction of Steve Barnhill at the time,” said Horlick. “I actually went to Overfelt mainly because of the music program. I was really supposed to go to Independence High School. I knew how great the music program was at Overfelt, and that's where I had to go.”
“After that I attended West Valley under the direction of Gus Kambeitz,” mentioned Horlick. “And then came San Jose State.”
The friends and alums of San Jose State take it to the next level
“There were a couple of years after college when I didn’t play music,” shared Horlick on the 2013 inception of the 7th Street Big Band. “When I really started missing it, I said ‘Hey, nothing’s really stopping me from just making my own band,’ so I did.”
“When I initially started the band, it was made up of a lot of kids going to San Jose State at the time and the music building is right off 7th St., so we just went with it and it stuck,” explained Horlick on the genesis of the band name.
7th Street also happens to bisect the San Jose State campus north-to-south right along where the music building happens to be.
In 2018, the group released their first album “Off Cinderella Lane” and in April 2020, their last album was “The Best of the 7th Street Big Band LIVE.”
The dream goes on
“Big bands are not really the happening thing right now in music, obviously,” voiced Horlick. “It is a dream of mine to travel and spread the joy and richness of this music so it won't get lost. We started getting the ball rolling but the pandemic hit, but we’ll work on it.”
And work on it they will, as they search for gigs and continue to rehearse at a special spot in the eastside.
“We actually rehearse in my backyard in Alum Rock,” says Horlick who still lives in the same Alum Rock house. “Because we don't have a school to use or a big enough room, we had to make do with what we have.”
An artists’ life is a difficult one to sustain. It’s a permanent passion that never goes away but if there's a will, there is a way.
“Honestly, I really do hope to continue playing in a big band for as long as possible. I hope to and I hope so,” says Horlick. “You never know what life is going to bring and what's gonna roll out. You have to just keep working through it.”
If Horlick and her 7th Street Band find their way onto new roads, their twist and evolution on big band sound could carry the torch in the spirit of the big band leaders of the past.
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