It’s no secret that COVID-19 torched the live music industry.
Then again, says Vallejo piano and organ player Wayne De La Cruz, “the live music business was struggling as it was.”
Since March? Well, any young person thinking of a performance career should switch college majors to health care.
“I’ve seen the decline of the business for a long time. It’s not a big hit that way. This has just taken it over the top,” De La Cruz said. “And even the places that had music need to open first and then figure out how to pay employees, much less have music again.”
Music’s not vanishing, De La Cruz said, adding “I do think it’s changed forever.”
The 14-year Vallejoan — and in Santa Rosa 14 years before relocating — takes his quartet to the Empress Theatre in Vallejo on Aug. 2 for a free live-streamed performance on behalf of the Vallejo Jazz Society.
De La Cruz is joined by Tommy Kesecker of San Francisco, and Oakland’s Jeff Massaneri and Mark Lee.
Social distancing will be acknowledged by the musicians, with only tech people in the 420-seat venue, De La Cruz said.
It’s the quartet’s first shot at live-streaming and also a live-stream kick-off by the Empress, where state-of-the-art sound and lighting was installed not long before shelter-in-place stopped the show in mid-March.
“Everything’s been tested several times,” said De La Cruz, with the chance of some technological glitch “one of the reasons we’re not charging for tickets. I don’t want to give any refunds.”
Donations to the Empress can be made at on the theater’s website.
“Hopefully, it will go off without a hitch and I can concentrate on the music rather than making this all come together,” De La Cruz said.
With live music in a COVID-19 induced coma, many musicians are taking to live-stream performances and many teach via Zoom, De La Cruz said.
“I do like teaching to some degree, but students aren’t predictable,” he said. “They cancel, they quit, they don’t show up. That bothers me.”
De La Cruz looks to a hopeful October, returning to teaching with vocalist Pamela Rose at the Berkeley Jazz School.
“I do have a gig at a tasting room in Napa in August that’s supposed to happen,” De La Cruz said, knowing the odds.
So far, his physical and financial health remain manageable.
“I would be in a different situation without unemployment,” he said.
De La Cruz knew at 16 at Aragon High School in San Mateo that his future was music, as he mastered keyboards in rock, blues and jazz. He graduated, however, from Peninsula High School for academically challenged students.
“I was a genius,” said de la Cruz laughing, “but I couldn’t handle the rigorous discipline of Aragon High School. The school up the street worked out great.”
Music, he continued, “was pretty much everything.”
De La Cruz said his late father, a guitarist and musicians union member, “was helpful and supportive” in his son’s quest to be a professional musician.
“He didn’t stick with it, but I kind of got his passion,” De La Cruz said. “He enjoyed the fun of playing music.”
De La Cruz was 30 when his father died in 1978 and the keyboardist was grateful for all the concerts his father brought him to, particularly at the defunct Circle Star Theater in San Carlos that closed in 1993.
“It was a great place,” De La Cruz said, remembering his father bringing him to a Ray Charles concert.
“That’s where I first heard the organ by Billy Preston who was the opening act,” de la Cruz said. “I was around 10 or 11.”
De La Cruz never forget that concert, especially the legendary Charles.
“I had my mom take me to the store and buy me Ray Charles Greatest hits. I listened to that over and over again,” De La Cruz said.
Years later, De La Cruz remembered tickets he and a few friends got to see B.B. King at the Circle Star.
“We walked in, sat down and the excitement was there,” he said. “The usher comes over and says, ‘You can’t sit here. These seats are taken.’”
De La Cruz and his friends took out their tickets. It was for Saturday night’s show. They showed up Friday.
“There’s nothing we could do except get up and leave,” De La Cruz said. With other plans already for Saturday, “I think we ate the tickets,” he said.
“Of all the times we were there, that was the only bad experience,” he said. “I remembered after that — always check your tickets.”
The Wayne De La Cruz Quartet plays a live-streamed concert from the Empress Theatre on Sunday, Aug. 2, 5 p.m. The free program is accessible on the following platforms: The Vallejo Jazz Society and the Empress Theatre Facebook pages; the VJS and Empress Theatre Twitter pages, Vallejo Jazz Society and Empress Theatre on YouTube.
For more information, visit vallejojazzsociety.net.