Laura Booker: Front Desk, Jam Session Leader, Social Media Administrator







Laura May Abraham Booker is the “Kitchen & Gift/Gear Shop Manager” at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. She began learning the art of Hospitality when she found herself in her first married family’s business, a club on Lake Superior. That also began the music business aspect, but privilege had found her raised in a musical family; one side traditional Appalachian & Civil War songs, the other turn-of-the-century popular music, both under the umbrella of liturgical musical training. She was a single folk act in various settings during the Sixties. Her church choir sang an Ellington Mass with Duke himself and his Band, along with members of the San Diego Symphony. That was a turning point, and she barely escaped running away with Cat Anderson.

As Jazz kept entering her consciousness, through working as a college FM broadcaster, and presenting live music in Olympia Washington through most of the Seventies and Eighties (Mal Waldron, Joanne Brakeen, Don Cherry, and a host of Pacific Northwest great players), the late great Bert “Wheels” Wilson trained her to sing his compositions, a challenge which shaped her understanding and ability to hear. Those performances as a singer in his band were critical to the rest of her life. Serendipity took her to an unforgettably marvelous Session in Seattle at the end of the Eighties, and into the Nineties, where Buddy Catlett (Count Basie, Louis Armstrong) played every Sunday and Monday night. During this time she was fortunate to be Administrative Assistant to the Chair of the Music Department at Cornish College of the Arts, where Julian Priester, Hadley Caliman, James Knapp, Chuck Deardorf, Jay Clayton and many other luminary performing instructors were the daily intellectual fare.

When she left Cornish College in 1997, she was running the kitchen at a public golf course. She and Sonny Booker started a series there: Jazz on the Green, a summer weekly concert. He was a revered character on the Seattle jazz scene, and they left together to move to the Central Valley to be near family in late 2002. Sonny passed away shortly thereafter, and it was 2008 when Laura May first attended the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop. Volunteering became a feel-good thing every week, and a wonderful introduction to many new musical friends and kindred spirits. As she puts it: “BJW is church and school for me now!”

At the end of 2014 Laura May joined the Board in an effort to help keep the music flowing and the scholarship fund growing. It was a personal decision to bequeath her beloved Sonny Booker’s flugelhorn to Jorge Santos, trumpet student and Workshop Scholarship Recipient. “This is how we pass it on, through listening and learning.” Laura May hopes to keep her ear tuned to jazz musicians far into the future.

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