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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Local Jazz Group The Sierra Project

May 29, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

All That Jazz

June 2019
Story by John Dillion
Photos by Stephanie Barraza

Every first Thursday of the month, four young musicians bring old music to Visalia’s Cellar Door.

The Sierra Project is a local jazz group of college students who believe the musical style is far from old.

“I like to think that it is evolving in that there is a new wave of music coming through to Visalia from the younger crowd. Because of this, we are now getting a variety of music to watch in Visalia so I think the city has more to offer than before,” says Sierra Project guitarist Mauricio Martin. He cited August Greene, a jazz supergroup including the rapper Common, as evidence of the metamorphosis of jazz.

Martin works with Private Wax, a Visalia-based music promoter, to get gigs. Through Private Wax, the group is able to play at The Cellar Door for Jazz on the Corner. They started playing regularly in January, but The Sierra Project existed long before that.

“About five years ago, a few friends of mine in the College of the Sequoias Jazz Ensemble wanted to start a group so we did some gigs, and from there we wanted to keep playing until most of us transferred to other colleges,” says Martin.

The band name comes from the Sierra music building at College of the Sequoias and Martin says adding “Project” to the name made it sound cooler.

The guitarist derives inspiration from a diverse well of sources, including John Mayer, Radiohead and Herbie Hancock among others. Martin got started with jazz when he asked if his middle school band needed a guitarist.

“At the performance, the high school band director had seen me play and wanted me to play for her jazz band the next year when I entered high school,” says Martin.

The future of the band is uncertain, however.

“Two of the bandmates, including me, will be moving away for school. I’m not sure if the name will be kept or what they will do with it, but I hope the group keeps playing,” says Martin. It’s his goal to go to a state university and earn a degree in jazz performance.

Jazz on the Corner showcases music from local DJs as well, with the goal of cultivating a space for all musicians to gain experience in a very practical setting. 

“In the Central Valley, I mostly see jazz in Fresno where it occurs, such as the Tokyo Garden Jazz Session which is hosted on Sunday nights. Faculty from Fresno State and community members of the jazz scene do gigs every now and then in the Valley,” says Martin.

A live audience remains crucial to jazz, however, and it’s very important to the way Martin plays and how he interacts with the music itself.

“Seeing the awe from the crowd and the emotional attachment to the music, putting expression into it, and feeling how the music is carried throughout the song are some of the best feelings in the world,” says Martin. •

Jazz on the Corner at The Cellar Door

101 W. Main St., Visalia 

First Thursday of each month 

(559) 280-5934