Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

Isaiah's roads all pass though Santa Paula

By CJ Marshall 04/24/2014

April 26 will mark a special moment in Isaiah Venegas' career.

The California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is to honor him for his service to the community during the opening reception for its exhibit, "Melody Hall: A Tribute to the Musicians of Santa Paula." He has performed at many city events, and frequently participates in mentoring students in school music programs. The Melody Hall exhibit will also pay tribute to other prominent musicians from Santa Paula, most of whom Isaiah has looked up to ever since he picked up an instrument. He doesn't take the honor lightly, because the accolades bring time to reflect on where he's from, where he is, and where he's headed.

The California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is to honor him for his musical abilities and achievements. He will be celebrated alongside prominent musicians in the community, most of whom Isaiah has looked up to ever since he picked up an instrument. He doesn't take the honor lightly, because the accolades bring time to reflect on where he's from, where he is, and where he's headed.

Isaiah is a multi-instrumentalist, playing the flute, clarinet, guitar, bass and keyboard. He also plays a very mean saxophone - an alto if you're wondering. He found inspiration in the sounds of giants such as Cannonball Adderly, David Sanborn, Gerald Albright and Mike Phillips. His main saxophone, affectionately known as "Lena Horn," was bought second hand by his struggling parents for $75 when he reached high school. "She's gotten me through many competitions and performances," he says. "I still use her to this day for recording and performing. There's a certain tone to that sax that I can't get from any of my other instruments."

Some of those performances are of the impromptu variety, done onstage at his karaoke show at the Golden China restaurant, where Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" is both a personal and crowd favorite. Isaiah has been the resident KJ of Golden China for the better part of nine years, where he excels in his hosting duties. He has earned a "KJ of the Year" award from Karaoke scene magazine (and been a finalist on multiple occasions). "One of the best things about Karaoke is the people. I've made friends there, and I've seen relationships blossom from first date to marriage."

He's also a founding member of the Unfadeable music collective, which incidentally was birthed in his living room. They are a close knit group of producers, rappers and singers including Eric and Angel Hernandez, E.R.G, and Demarco Saints. In this environment of digital audio workstations, microphones and soundboards Isaiah goes by "Shotty," and he does just as well here as he does anywhere. They've opened shows for artists such as Tha Liks and Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony. Their music leans heavily on hip-hop and R&B, and while Isaiah appreciates that music, jazz and soul are what tug at his heart.

"I find that I wait for inspiration to strike before I begin most projects. I don't like to force the creative process." A growing frustration with the state of current music, coupled with his own experiences as a musician, has helped him develop his vision. He sees himself, at 33 years young, primed to unite two styles of music: urban/hip-hop and smooth jazz. "Smooth jazz usually has a negative connotation attached to it. The audience might be considered the Wine and Cheese crowd but they show love." Isaiah says the two demographics are more alike than either side thinks. "The younger crowd has jobs too. They're busy and productive. They like to listen to headphone music. It's not all about the clubs. This music can be relaxing and soothing and there is a place for it." He aims to blend the two styles in a way seldom heard, where covering genre standards will give way to something more organic and creative.

To bridge a divide means that you're somewhere in the middle - the stopgap through which each side can travel back and forth. This is what Isaiah Venegas wants to be for both the music and the listeners. History is on his side. Chuck Rio of "Tequila" fame will be among the inductees at the Oil Museum ceremony. Isaiah's grandfather, Gilbert Johnson will also be inducted. It should come as no surprise that he too is a multi-instrumentalist known for saxophone. Perhaps most telling of all is "Lena Horn" herself, who symbolizes Isaiah better than anything. Built in 1929, bought for $75, and later appraised for more than $1,500, she mirrors his humble beginnings and shows what can be created with practice and polish. His path started in Santa Paula, and it winds through once again as his journey continues forward.

"Melody Hall: A Tribute to the Musicians of Santa Paula," at the California Oil Museum in Santa Paula through Sept. 7. For more information, visit www.oilmuseum.net.

 

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