Susan Nieblas (left) and Gloria Anderson are this year’s “Jazz Leading Light” honorees.
By Chris Levister
President, Blue Jay Jazz Foundation
From the legendary Monterey and Playboy Jazz Festivals to Speakeasy Jazz Nites and Jazz in the Pines at the Tudor House in Lake Arrowhead, Gloria Anderson and Susan Nieblas are never far from the live jazz scene.
“Jazz animates, fills me with joy and has me grooving to the music, tapping my feet and nodding my head to the beat,” says Anderson. “Live jazz creates a haven for vitality and creativity, bringing music experiences to life,” explains Nieblas.
The two longtime friends will be honored by the Blue Jay Jazz Foundation for their dedication to music education activism, jazz awareness and music appreciation. The “Jazz Leading Light” music award is given annually by the foundation for what it calls “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz.” The Crestline residents will be recognized during the Blue Jay Jazz Festival on Friday, Aug. 25.
Anderson and Nieblas have been friends for nearly a half a century. The retired teachers met in 1974 when their young families moved to the San Bernardino Mountains. Their friendship and love of live jazz blossomed after joining the San Bernardino League of Women Voters.
“Jazz is addicting,” says Nieblas. The way the two women remember it, their shared belief in the importance of music in childhood education set the stage for a life of learning, a sense of belonging, endearing friendship and music enjoyment.
Anderson grew up performing in local parades and in her high school marching and concert bands. She got hooked on jazz music after picking up a clarinet in 1949, later achieving first clarinet in her high school band.
As a child growing up in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., she says every able child was encouraged to learn a musical instrument. “Learning to play at an early age set the stage for a life of music awareness and enjoyment.”
She describes listening to Dave Brubeck’s ubiquitous classic “Take Five” – “it’s rhythmic complexity, graceful, mellifluous style all while maintaining an effortless feeling that can be enjoyed by the listener.”
People love “Take Five” not knowing Dave overcame many obstacles. He was born cross-eyed and had severe vision problems that made it difficult to read. His dyslexia, which he referred to as “my problem,” proved to be a motivating factor for his stunning musical career.
“Music is an essential component of a well-rounded education in elementary and high schools,” Anderson noted. “For example, jazz masters such as Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Miles Davis should be taught along with classical masters Mozart and Beethoven.”
“There are countless ways to engage children in music,” Nieblas added. “I remember taking our children to see the great Oscar Peterson during one of our many annual family trips to the Monterey Jazz Festival. That first ping on the piano – you feel a pang of emotion in the gut. Then out of nowhere Clint Eastwood walked on stage sat down and started playing. It blew my mind.”
A former Peace Corps educator, Nieblas remembers the lively music that permeated the South African villages of Swaziland. She recalls it was a terrible time during apartheid. Music protesting the regime helped launch Paul Simon’s famous Graceland album. Using their celebrity and their music, jazz and other musicians promoted racial equality and social justice.
Nieblas says her love for jazz started when she received a Four Freshmen’s album at age 16. She credits saxophonist and retired MPH music teacher Bruce Rubio with igniting the jazz flame in her son Ted, a 1984 Rim graduate. “His love for jazz was passed on to my grandsons Scott and Sam.”
Anderson touts attending 14 Monterey Jazz Festivals and every Blue Jay Jazz Festival since the mid 90s. Their dedication and commitment to educate and share their love and enthusiasm for music shapes their in-depth knowledge and appreciation of music.
“The ‘Jazz Leading Light’ honor is a fitting recognition because it symbolizes our desire to contribute to global peace, preservation of the arts and celebrate our belief in the power of youth,” says Nieblas.
As a longtime Blue Jay Jazz Foundation donor and supporter, Anderson believes that “if you start listening to jazz, you might find something that appeals to you that you’d want to hear more of. You just might find yourself hooked on exploring the world of jazz and all that it offers.”
“Life can be so sweet on the sunny side of the street.” – “I think that song’s lyrics describes the aim of jazz – finding the positive in life,” says Nieblas.
The Blue Jay Jazz Foundation is honored to recognize Gloria Anderson and Susan Nieblas as the Blue Jay Jazz 2023 “Jazz Leading Light” honorees. “Through their vision and jazz activism, they have not only contributed to the creative economy, they have brought important cultural diversity to our community,” said Linda and Keith Martin, members of the Blue Jay Jazz Foundation board of directors.
For more information on this year’s Blue Jay Jazz Festival and to order tickets, visit www.bluejayjazz.org.