Avonova is, most days of the week, the home of me, Jimmy Pedersen. It is where I live, sing, play, write, listen, farm, invent and make art. It is my castle and I enjoy my realm, a tight and cohesive neighborhood in Rockridge/Temescal, North Oakland, California. On weekends, however, it has become a destination for hearing live music, primarily jazz-based, and most often made by local musicians.
I purchased the house in 1992 and expanded the structure to accommodate my growing family. This included building a large music studio where all of my musical toys (drums, piano, guitars, vibraphone, percussion gear) and my stereo, records and CDs would all be set up in the same room. The name Avonova was invented as a palindrome, based on the street name, Avon. Avon spelt backwards is Nova, which is the Latin root for “new”. I liked that connotation. I was also intrigued by the British convention of affixing a name to one’s estate.
Prior to that time I had attended various musical gatherings at the homes of friends, where late-night jam sessions would ramble for hours. In the back of my mind, the idea of hosting such events was always part of the conceptual plan at my new home on Avon Street. When I and my family moved into the house, the jam sessions continued and I was able to host them at my house for the first time. It was largely a rock, blues and pop scene in the mid ‘90s and jazz in the ‘00s
Occasionally, someone would ask me if they could use the space as a venue for a musical event, such as CD release party or private concert. With two adolescent daughters living in the house, I felt it was too complicated for me to try that, but it got me thinking. Around 2004, after my daughters Marcelle and Maya had both relocated to New York City, I decided to stick my toe into the “house concert” activity. I purchased a better piano, a few folding chairs, built stage lighting fixtures and made adjustments in the room so it would house an audience. My friend and vocal teacher, Stephanie Bruce, was an early customer, staging her class recitals at my space.
My original concept was to offer the venue as a space for amateur musicians needing performance experience. As a regular attendee at Jazz Camp West in La Honda, I knew a lot of emerging musicians. In fact, many jazz campers have come to Avonova to see shows or to stage them.
What I didn’t expect was that Avonova would appeal to established artists. The first of these was Harvey Wainapel, the accomplished Bay Area multi-reed player. I had met him when he taught at Jazz Camp and I knew he lived in my neighborhood. He is an approachable guy so I invited him over to see the place. The minute he saw the room, he asked if he could perform there. He asked Carlos Oliviera to join him and they attracted an audience of about 40 people. Everyone loved it, and I began to see the potential.
Since then, word has slowly seeped out into the local musical community. Such diverse artists as Judi Silvano, Jovino Santos Neto, John Santos, Art Lande, Holly Near, Ben Goldberg, Keith Terry Allessandro Pinezzi and Ricardo Peixoto have performed at Avonova. Listeners and artists alike have expressed their delight with the intimate experience of hearing top artists in such a pleasing and comfortable environment. Musician John Calloway, after seeing Colombian singer Claudia Gomez perform, stated “This is the future of jazz performance venues”. The response to my concerts, both from artists and audiences, has inspired me to develop this concept and make it a top home concert venue in the area. I can think of no higher calling.
About the proprietor, Jimmy Pedersen
I am a second generation native Californian, growing up in rural Tehama County, where my parents operated a small walnut farm. I had early interest in the arts but limited access to that world. After high school I attended the University of California where I studied architecture and art. After several years traveling and living in different places, I settled in the Bay Area in the early 70’s. There I raised a family and pursued a career in the building construction business. I retired in 2010.
I first heard jazz in about 1958, when jazz records were brought into our home by an older sister. The relative isolation of my rural upbringing had not prepared me for the sounds of Jerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and J.J. Johnson. Prior to that my musical diet had been Teresa Brewer, Brenda Lee,Lawrence Welk, The Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, The Weavers and Patti Page, back when radio was considered “high tech”. I loved pop music and adored Elvis and Buddy Holly, but jazz really intrigued me. When I moved into urban areas to attend University, and where records and live performances were available to me for the first time, I began a lifelong fascination with jazz.
I collected LPs, subscribed to Down Beat magazine, and went out to hear live music. I was also very much a part of the ‘60s folk and rock ‘n roll era, and took up guitar and drums. My interest in rock and pop music stemmed from my identification with the pop culture of the 60’s. I could relate to it because it was being created by youth of my age and dealt with issues that concerned me and my generation.
With Jazz, my interest was timeless and pure. I liked the music, not because of context, but on its own artistic merits. Even when I read about jazz culture I didn’t really understand it, and it certainly was a scene remote from my own. But the music resonated with me. The chords were colorful and the rhythms sly. It was challenging to listen to, and certainly appealed to my sense of adventure and freedom.
Upon graduating from University in 1969, I spent several years touring the world, mostly in Africa and the Middle East. This opened my head up to a whole new world of sounds and put my entire past musical experience into a new perspective. When I returned to the US, I stopped listening to much pop music and began to indulge my taste for Afro Cuban music, Latin Jazz, “world music”, Middle Eastern, Tango, Brazilian and, of course, more jazz. This pursuit continues to this day.
I have always played music, starting early with piano lessons and trumpet in school bands. Rock instruments followed and I purchased a vibraphone in the 80s. I never really tried to play much instrumental jazz. I stuck with easier music and never really accomplished much. As a single parent in the 90’s I stopped playing altogether, for lack of time. No matter what else was going on, I continued to collect and listen to records.
As my daughters matured and I had more free time, I began playing again in the late nineties. In 1998, on a whim, I joined the Oakland Jazz Choir. I had never sung before. I was immediately taken with a love of vocalizing. It was my first experience performing jazz and I found that with my voice I was able to express all of the musical ideas that were in my mind’s ear. I continue my obsession with vocal music and have expanded into the area of vocal arranging and band chart writing, in support of my singing.
I am still in the Jazz Choir, a group with whom I’ve performed at Yoshi’s, SF Jazz, IAJE Convention in Long Beach, The Jazz School, Bach Dynamite and Dancing Society and many other hallowed venues. I love attending music shows and grazing for CD’s and LPs in stores. I collect musical instruments and occasionally learn to play them. My annual attendance at Jazz Camp West constitutes a spiritual pilgrimage that is unrivaled by any other experience in my life.
Hosting gigs at Avonova has become a passion that satisfies many needs in my life. I enjoy providing access to music for people, on a scale that is significant. Through it, I myself have been exposed to music that I might never have discovered otherwise. It is gratifying to think that my house has become a semi-public place where connections are promoted among the lovers of music in this rich artistic environment, the Bay Area. To have come from the side lines of this scene, and to achieve a more active role in it, is more than I could have ever dreamed.
1945 Born in Los Molinos, California, on a family farm. (Note that people born in ’45 turned 33-1/3 in ’78)
1951 – 62 Piano lessons, trumpet in school bands
1960 Carved my own first drumsticks
1963 Left home for University at Davis, then Berkeley
1964 Took up guitar and drums. Performed in bar bands as a drummer
1969 Graduated with a degree in Architecture, UCB
1969 Attended rock concerts in Denver, Woodstock and Altamount
1970 – 71 Taught Architecture at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts de Tunis, North Africa
1972 – 74 Traveled extensively in West Africa, Middle East & Europe
1974 Resettled in California, working in construction, playing guitar
incessantly, and indulging passion for jazz, world music and art
1976 Adopted concrete as a sculptural medium
1978 Married and started family
1980 Established general contracting career
1986 Began dabbling at the vibraphone
1992 Purchased the home at 417 Avon St., Oakland
1993 Built music studio, dubbed the property Avonova
1994 Began hosting rock and jazz jam sessions in studio
1998 Joined Oakland Jazz Choir and established focus on vocals
2000 Attended Jazz Camp West for the first time
2004 Both of my daughters relocated to New York City
2006 Began serious farming of raspberries at Avonova
2007 Hosted first house concerts at Avonova
2007 Traveled in Brazil
2008 Established Avonova as a destination for music performance
2010 Retired from contracting
2012 Mounted my first art exhibition, displaying new work in carved styrofoam.
2013 Launched the Avonova Farms label of fruit-based dessert products, including ice cream and pies.