When he’s not busy overseeing the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy (SAPPA), an organization aimed at providing free music lessons to young Pasadenans, Billy Mitchell spends his time churning out sweet jazz tunes with his band, the Billy Mitchell Group. The eight-piece band will be playing a free concert this Friday, August 12 at Pasadena’s Levitt Pavillion.
I sat down with Billy to talk about the upcoming concert, his roots in music, and his involvement in the Pasadena community.
What brought you to Pasadena originally?
I came to pursue music in Los Angeles. I moved to Pasadena about 20 years ago and taught social studies at South Pasadena High School for a little while.
What is SAPPA, and what gave you the idea for its foundation?
I started SAPPA in 2002. I wanted the African American and Latino kids to represent themselves better in music and art competitions. When they go after scholarships and whatnot I thought they could be a little more positive and stronger in their presentation. It initially started as an audition workshop, and it has since morphed into (free) music workshops throughout Pasadena and in South Los Angeles.
What is your favorite part of working with SAPPA?
Well, my favorite part is giving the young kids an opportunity to experience music. When music was cut from the school programs it meant that many kids were not getting a complete education.
I believe that a complete education includes the arts, so if I’m able to deliver that experience to as many kids as possible, that’s very satisfying.
I’ve been a recording artist for about 20 years. Even when I was teaching school, I was still performing and recording. I used to produce the music for the Pasadena SummerFest. Now we’re doing the Levitt Pavilion performance. The last two concerts I did there featured world music and musicians from around the world. This year it’s going to be straight jazz, and I have some of the greatest musicians in the business with me. I have Bobby Rodriguez (head of the Latin jazz department at PCC and UCLA). I have Dave Tull – he’s from South Pasadena – one of the greatest drummers in the business. We’re going to feature a young woman from Japan named Yuko Mabuchi. She’ll open up the set with a couple of tunes.
What is your favorite type of music?
I like a little bit of everything — there isn’t one type of music that I prefer over the others. When I was getting started, jazz was the music of the day. There were a lot of great musicians that I had the chance to see personally, including Herbie Hancock, Kenny Burrell and other icons. They all inspired me.
What are your favorite local hangouts?
Unfortunately, the only hangout that I really can say is a jazz hangout is Buster’s Ice Cream and Coffee Stop in South Pasadena. They have a jam session there every Sunday afternoon. It’s the real deal.
You’re a busy guy – what do you do on a typical day off?
I love to go to the beach and get away from everything.
Billy Mitchell will be at the Levitt on Friday, August 12th. More information here.