One could call jazz drummer Mike Raynor an opportunist – he’s capitalized on where he lives in order to enhance his own musical abilities while enlivening the Central Coast music scene at the same time.
Raynor has successfully done this with his City Nights Jazz concert series, a set of shows performed on a monthly basis in Morro Bay and Pismo Beach that feature some of the country’s top jazz musicians as they tour the West Coast.
“I wanted to create a scene here on the Central Coast where you can have a musical experience with a ‘city vibe,’ a vibe you get when you go to a jazz supper club in Los Angeles or San Francisco,” Raynor said. “It’s a chance to dress up and have a night on the town, right here on the coast.”
Raynor’s band, The Mike Raynor Group, is comprised of Raynor, bassist Dylan Johnson and guitarist Jacob Odell. Based in Morro Bay, the group performs on a regular basis at both The Inn at Morro Bay (Friday nights) and the Sea Venture in Pismo Beach (Wednesday nights).
Raynor’s group has a wide variety of music it draws inspiration from, ranging from jazz artists such as Miles Davis and Bill Stewart to other, less-expected artists such as Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Tito Puente, and The Toots and the Maytals.
The City Nights Jazz series is a chance for residents of the Central Coast to watch artists who traditionally perform in larger venues in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Word has spread of Raynor’s undertaking to the point that, while he contacts many of the artists who tour to schedule performances, just as many contact Raynor expressing interest in performing in the beach communities.
“A lot of artists contact me while doing West Coast tours. By meeting and networking with artists from these metropolitan areas, a good amount have heard of what my group’s doing and want to arrange for a quick breather in the area,” Raynor said. “They enjoy it just as much as the audience does. It’s a nice getaway for them and exposes their music to different scenes.”
Management at the venues is also enthusiastic about hosting Raynor’s group, viewing it as an opportunity to both invigorate the Central Coast music scene as well as gain business and publicity for the area’s hotels.
Mike Roemer, food and beverage director at the Inn at Morro Bay, expressed such sentiments.
“We started hosting the City Nights Jazz series about a year ago. It was successful and has since grown in popularity,” Roemer said. “Mike (Raynor) has worked very hard in getting notoriety for his program and getting big-name artists up here, artists who not only have jazz backgrounds but also backgrounds in folk music from the ’60s and ’70s.”
“We’re very proud to be participating in a very good program, a program that we feel offers an alternative to the downtown San Luis Obispo music scene and a beautiful view of the ocean with it. It’s a good opportunity for those whose taste in music is a little different.”
Raynor’s group has hosted such upcoming artists as Los Angeles vocalist Raya Yarbrough, New York City trombonist Elizabeth!, and vocalist Karin Carlson.
Local talent is not overlooked, however, as Raynor’s group performs weekly gigs at the two venues featuring a vast array of local talent, including saxophonist Karl Welz, vocalist Sunny Wright, trumpeter Ray Chang and vibraphonist Dave Brady.
Raynor draws on his past experience as a construction manager in coordinating both the weekly gigs and the City Nights Jazz concerts. He also uses his good standing with the two hotels as a means of promotion.
“I used to manage multimillion-dollar projects a while back, so I’m used to getting all my ducks in a row,” Raynor said. “But these are upcoming artists who perform at large venues, and their enthusiasm for exposing their music to new areas makes it easier to coordinate and manage them.”
Both the City Nights Jazz concert series and the weekly gigs by The Mike Raynor Group are performed free of charge at the two venues.