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San Diego Music Hall of Fame has six new inductees

Jefferson Jay and his band at the Belly Up, from left: L. Cole Roussos, John Martinez, Jay, Michael James and Dylan Farrell.
(Jacalyn Eleftheriou)

San Diego singer/songwriter Jefferson Jay oversees the hall of fame, which will welcome six new members this week

Jefferson Jay is a tsunami in the local music world.

The Ocean Beach musician has written more than 1,500 songs.

He challenged himself to post three song videos a day, including one original, on YouTube for an entire year in 2011 — and he repeated that feat again in 2016!

He organized a free 24-hour concert in 2008 — a round-the-clock marathon for which he coordinated nearly 40 local bands, solo artists, DJs and special performances. The following year, he released the recording as a two-DVD set.

“I like to do things no one’s done before,” he says. “I like to push the boundaries.”

With that goal in mind, he created the San Diego Music Hall of Fame in 2018. Its first induction ceremony included Grammy-winning artist Jason Mraz, hit songwriter Jack Tempchin, who had two songs on the Eagles’ Greatest Hits (1971-1975) album; Sue Palmer, known as the Queen of Boogie Woogie, and other local music VIPs.

Every fall since, with exception of pandemic-plagued 2020, six music giants with San Diego ties have been inducted into the local Music Hall of Fame.

On Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m., this Hall of Fame stable will swell to 24 members as six 2022 honorees are inducted. The ceremony, at the Ocean Beach Newbreak Church, includes nominee appearances, a multimedia show and several live performances.

“I like to think of our event as a community event first and music event second,” Jay says. “It’s a celebration of our music and our culture.”

This year’s honorees are the late jazz trombonist Jimmy Cheatham and his musician wife, Jeannie, 95; fiddling virtuoso Alex DePue, who was tragically killed in a car accident in Mexico this past January; Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chris Hillman, an original member of The Byrds; the Marine Band San Diego; Chula Vista-native concert pianist Gustavo Romero; and longtime Point Loma High School teacher Larry Zeiger, who has co-written and produced a mind-boggling 33 musicals.

Every year, Jay focuses at least one induction on a different segment of the local music community. Last year, inductees included the Deering family, which for four decades has produced banjos revered in the industry, along with the co-founders of Taylor Guitars, the instrument of choice of several top musicians.

This year, because the event falls on Veterans Day, honorees include the local Marine Band. Nearly one century old, the band books as many as 350 performances nationwide each year.

The emphasis this fall also is on educators, as personified by Zeiger, whose coaching has launched musical careers of numerous San Diego youth. Jimmy Cheatham also was an instructor who led UC San Diego jazz programs until he retired in 2005. Gustavo Romero is currently a professor at the University of North Texas College of Music.

Performers on Nov. 11 include Gustavo Romero, Jeff Berkley & The Banned, Sue Palmer & Liz Ajuzie, Jamie Shadowlight, Larry Zeiger, Rob Deez and Gato Papacitos.

A New Jersey native, Jay moved to San Diego in 2000 to pursue his master’s degree in history at San Diego State.

“Very early on, I met a lot of people doing charity-related work in fine arts and the visual arts,” he says. “I was moved by the way they all supported each other and the way patrons supported the arts.”

Jay vowed to replicate that camaraderie in the music world, both to help lift up musicians and to cultivate appreciation for music throughout the San Diego community.

So enthralled was he by the concept that he wrote his history thesis in 2008 on the La Jolla Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, which started as the La Jolla Reading Club in 1894. The Athenaeum is a nonprofit membership library that incorporates exhibits, live concerts and art classes with its treasure-trove of books and reference materials.

Ever since, he has collaborated with the Athenaeum on producing an Acoustic Evenings concert series there each fall. Jay and one of his Jefferson Jay and the Diggers band members were among the performers at its Oct. 21 concert.

“All my projects are tied to the idea of people lifting each other up,” Jay told U-T music critic George Varga in 2009.

With that philosophy in mind, he named his company, The Good Vibe (https://thegoodvibe.com).

Currently he is producing an animated TV series starring actors with disabilities and neurological differences, such as ADHD, Asperger syndrome and autism spectrum disorders.

He calls this 24-episode project “The Hunt for the Holiday Spirit” and is looking for financial backers to bring it to viewers.

While Jay is the face and the hands behind the S.D. Music Hall of Fame, many other independent contractors, donors, partners and volunteers play a helping role. It’s a big production to manage, but he’s a veteran, having hosted open mic nights for 17 years in town before the pandemic. “I’m used to shows with lots of moving parts,” he says.

In addition to inductees, a Dawn Steel Award is presented to someone in the music community who shows strength in the face of adversity. This year, it goes to Aria Noelle Curzon-DePue, the widow of Alex DePue (they married only months before his death), who will play violin at the event.

For Jay, the Music Hall of Fame provides a place to share San Diego’s legendary artists under one marquee. While there is no physical location yet, the biographies, photos and research exist on the Hall of Fame website.

Admittedly, coordinating and hosting the annual event is a ton of work. “But I don’t intend to bow out,” vows Jay, 48. “As long as there is music in San Diego, there should be a Music Hall of Fame.”


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