Jazz lovers converge and audiences love it

Rod Harris, left, Clinton Day, Bob Lehmann and Jana and Leroy Bumgarner are Jana and Friends.

Jana & Friends is a band of musicians who came together because of their mutual love for jazz. Jana Bumgarner’s friends are Rod Harris, Clinton Day, Bob Lehmann and Leroy Bumgarner.

“I always thought I’d be a pop singer,” Jana Bumgarner said, “until I met musical directors at Harrah’s and Harvey’s in Tahoe. They called me the ‘young Sarah Vaughn.’ With their knowledge and my openness, I studied jazz: Billie, Sarah, Duke, Chick, Miles. I breathed their chords. Later, after I met my husband Leroy, we performed in South Lake Tahoe and then Maui, and eventually we landed in Twain Harte.”

According to Bumgarner, that’s when Leroy connected with Columbia College music instructor Harris, who draws jazz aficionados like blossoms draw bees. Harris’ accomplishments were recently acknowledged at a Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors meeting, when the panel paid tribute to the impact he has had over four decades as director of the Columbia College Jazz Program. The supervisors’ proclamation estimated that Harris has influenced over 4,000 students, “inspiring more than 100 to move on to musical performance and teaching careers.”

Leroy started playing with Harris and the Columbia College Jazz Band in 1982. That’s where he met Day, who studied under Harris at Columbia in the early ’80s.

“I’ve been a bassist for the last 30-plus years, but am also a jazz pianist, arranger and vocalist,” Day said. He is based in the Bay Area, teaches at several community colleges, and is an accompanist and arranger for the Columbia College music program.

Lehmann also jumped into the Columbia College Jazz Program when he moved to Tuolumne County. His drumming career started with the San Rafael High School Jazz Band, inspired by a teacher mentor. His high school band attended many jazz festivals, often coming away with top honors. Since then, he’s enjoyed playing with local greats in Tuolumne County. Everyone is delighted that he has retired from his firefighting career and is making music his focus again.

Lehmann’s nickname is “Mr. Metronome” and, according to Jana, “He is the best jazz drummer in the county.”

“Leroy is our musical director,” Jana said of her husband. “I name a song, and he learns it.”

Not surprisingly, Jana leans toward the jazz classics, and more than once she rattled off a list of favorites like they are old friends: “Billie, Sarah, Duke, Chick, Miles, Ella – I always like to throw in a newcomer. This year I’ve chosen Charlie Puth. Last year it was Ed Sheerhan. I’m trying to convince Leroy to let me do a Doris Day song. She died this year, and I’d like to pay her tribute.”

Showcasing musicians – old and new, near and far – seems to be a feature of Jana & Friends, and audiences love the group.

“We do a lot of dance music with jazz moves,” Jana said, “because that’s what the Twain Harte concert is all about. Back when we started, the audience just sat and listened, but now they want to dance.”

Jana & Friends has performed at the Concerts in the Pines in Twain Harte for 17 years, so the members clearly know how to please this audience. Catch the performance at Eproson Park on July 13.

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