'50 Years'
album release parties

By: Mark Whitney
Featuring: Mark Whitney, Chris Cain, Smith Dobson, Stan Poplin, Modesto Briseño, Bob Blankenship, Harbor High Jazz Singers, Daniel Robbins, Keith Saunders, Gail Dobson, Smith Dobson Jr.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, May 7, 2015
Where: Café Stritch, 374 South 1st Street, San Jose, California; call 1-408-280-6161 or visit
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 9, 2015
Where: Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz, California; call 1-831-427-2227 or visit
Tickets: Varies with the venue. CDs will be available for $15 each.

Mark Whitney
Rebecka Hawkins photo
Mark Whitney is to perform with an all-star line-up at Café Stritch in San Jose on May 7, and Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz on May 9, 2015.
'There will be
a lot of love in the room'
'50 Years' started as a gift for his parents; now Mark Whitney and many great musicians are putting it on stage
April 12, 2015

In 2000, Bay Area reed man Mark Whitney produced a wonderful collection of jazz standards that he dedicated to his parents on their 50th wedding anniversary.

The project, simply titled "50 Years," features a who's who line-up of Bay Area musicians, including blues great Chris Cain, with whom Whitney toured in the 1990s, and the late jazz pianist Smith Dobson, whose influence is still strongly felt by players everywhere. Other contributors included Stan Poplin on bass, Modesto Briseño on trumpet and Bob Blankenship on drums, with special guests, including the Harbor High Jazz Singers.

Another big influence on the album was Santa Cruz arranger and jazz educator Ray Brown. As Whitney writes in the liner notes, "Although Ray does not play on this record ... he is on the record, through me."

"50 Years" selections include "Over the Rainbow," "I've Got You Under My Skin" (featuring the Jazz Singers), and a "calienté" rendition of "Tangerine." Whitney even breaks out his pipes, singing on a couple of numbers, including a swingin' version of "Foggy Day."

The CD was released only to the immediate family at the anniversary party. Whitney says, "It was just something I did for my folks. The idea came to me on a flight back to California when I was trying to think of what to do for their 50th. My father and I became very close his last eight years, after he heard the effort ... priceless!"

A California transplant, Whitney was raised in western Massachusetts. Recalling his childhood, he remembers that there was always music around the house, and that his dad handed down his own saxophone to him when he was ten years old.

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Now, 15 years after that anniversary party, Whitney has decided to release "50 Years," and to kick it off with not one, but two CD release parties.

The shows are dedicated to Smith Dobson. who was instrumental in the project becoming real.

The first will be on Thursday, May 7, 8 p.m., at Café Stritch in downtown San Jose. The second, will be at Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz on Saturday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m. On this night, the band will be recording live.

“Every time I play with these guys, I want to document it," says Whitney.

Both shows will feature a reunion line-up from the 2000 recording, and the players are calling themselves Merchants of Groove.

Chris Cain, Modesto Briseño, and Bob Blankenship will return on guitar, trumpet, and drums. Daniel Robbins will be supplying the bottom end, Keith Saunders will be on piano, and Mark Whitney, will be on sax, flute, and the occasional vocal. Representing the late Mr. Dobson will be his wife Gail on vocals, and his son, Smith Jr., who will be performing with the piano trio. The night will conclude with an all-hands jam session organized by Smith. As Whitney comments, "Things are really coming together. I'm expecting two very special nights of music … there will be a lot of love in the room."

Email Steven Ackley at