In seeking the District 3 seat on the City Council, local resident Jaz Sawyer hopes to segue into policymaking as his next endeavor.
An accomplished drummer and percussionist in his namesake music genre, Sawyer moved with his wife to South Pasadena six years ago from Oakland, after the San Francisco native added stops in New York City and New Orleans along the way. Sawyer said his work in those cities has given him an idea of the collaboration needed to serve other people.
“What I can bring, I’ve lived in four or five major cities and I’ve worked with all sorts of people,” he said in a phone interview. “I’ve worked in board rooms, the classroom, the bandstand. I think that’s my advantage. When there’s a problem, energy and momentum is important to get things done.”
Having grown up in an environment of activism and advocacy, Sawyer said that when he was in New York, he was compelled to join the housing and homeless programs created by then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Sawyer had journeyed to New York to study at the New School, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“That planted a little seed about how policy works,” Sawyer said, recalling his time working with those outreach groups. “I really saw a firsthand look at what it’s like for low-income people and all the challenges involved with applications and ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ and poverty and all of that.”
Sawyer grew up in the Haight-Ashbury district, graduating from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in 1996. He admitted to taking a little more than four years in his undergraduate studies at the New School, because of touring for his music career; throughout his years, he has backed up a variety of artists and has recorded and released his own trove of independent albums.
He was teaching music at the Oakland School of the Arts when he met his now-wife, who worked for a radio station. The couple relocated to South Pasadena because of skyrocketing rent prices in the Bay Area.
“We’re renters, and that’s half of the city,” Sawyer noted of South Pasadena.
Sawyer is presently in his second year of online music teaching for Fresno State and plans to join the California Jazz Conservatory. He earned his doctorate in education from Northcentral University.
In South Pasadena, Sawyer has been a member of the Public Art Commission and is also involved with the South Pasadena Arts Council. He affectionately called his new home “the center of the universe” because of its proximity to the freeways linking it to Greater Los Angeles in spite of its otherwise picturesque nature.
“It’s a real gem,” he said. “Between the farmers’ market and the tight-knit community, the growing diversity, the growing need for being involved for what’s going on nationally, it’s really a great town and it’s a great place to live. South Pas really celebrates the arts. The last few years they’ve really focused on celebrating diversity and culture and music.”
If elected, Sawyer said, he aims to bring the city back on track to financial accountability, in light of the ongoing issues related to being behind on audits and other accountability measures.
“The fact that we’re missing deadlines, that doesn’t make sense to any South Pasadenan,” he said. “We’ve got to get it together. We’ve got to be more efficient. We’ve got to have new energy.”
With housing looming as an issue for every California city, Sawyer said he also wanted to work to protect the city from developers looking to take advantage of what could be state mandates to build. The council recently shelved discussion of asking residents whether to raise building height limits to allow more density housing.
“It’s going to be a real issue, because you’ll start having developers come in here,” he said. “We have to hold firm not to allow that, because the city loses its identity and its makeup.”
Incumbent Richard Schneider is not seeking re-election to his District 3 seat, which has sparked a contentious race; Sawyer will face Alan Ehrlich, Michelle Hammond and Jon Primuth in the contest on Nov. 3.