ZaSu Pitts Memorial Orchestra only gets together to play on occasion these days, but members jumped at the chance to be in Modesto next weekend to help honor one of their own.
Now working as an advocate for children in Modesto, Steve Ashman will receive the lifetime achievement award at the 19th annual Modesto Area Music Association Awards on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the State Theatre. Members of ZaSu Pitts will join him onstage to play a “very abbreviated set.”
“When the members of my band heard about it, they all wanted to come to Modesto and play,” Ashman said in an email interview. “I think that was the most humbling thing of all, the fact that they would travel here to share the evening with me. Many of them live 2-3 hours away, so I am so thrilled and appreciative of their love and generosity.”
While the 2018 MAMA Awards is an invitation-only event, the show will be streamed live for all to view beginning at 6 p.m. at modestoview.com.
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While Ashman’s selection for lifetime achievement is set, the rest of the winners depend on the votes of the public, with everyone able to make their selections. And take note: Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14.
To cast your vote, go to www.modestoareamusic.com/vote.
Presented annually, the awards celebrate talent and entertainment options in the Modesto region. There are more than 250 nominees in 21 categories this year — from favorite blue collar band to reggae and comedy, from best entertainment events to best venues.
Ashman works in Modesto as executive director of CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, which represents children and youth trapped in the court system. He founded the ZaSu Pitts Memorial Orchestra in San Francisco in 1983. The group went on to record multiple albums, was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, won Bammies (Bay Area Music Awards) and has played more than 3,000 concerts all over the world, he said.
“I have always played bass (my one major concession is that I have always been the bass player),” he said. “I used to sing and then I was lucky enough to recruit some of the best singers in the business — and I was then smart enough to stop singing. In addition to playing, I have always managed the band, negotiated contracts-gigs-tours … I am kind of the benevolent dictator.”
Today, the band plays primarily only major occasion shows. “Everyone (all 13 of them) are extremely busy with their own projects,” Ashman said of his band mates. Most of them have been in the group for more than 20 years.
But they’ll take time to join him onstage at the State on Tuesday with “many of my Modesto friends joining us (it will be a real circus!),” Ashman said. Among the locals will be Patty Castillo-Davis, Tim Allen, Joe Barretta, Shelly Streeter, Patrick Durr, Mattea Overstreet, Deb Farrell and Dave Hawkes, who will “all be joining the fray in addition to the regular band.”
The MAMAs ceremony is traditionally a music-filled event, with several local bands also performing.
Nominees are selected by local promoters, DJs, producers, media members and venue operators, according to a press release. The full nominee list is available at the Modesto View website.
Ashman said he was surprised to be chosen for the lifetime award.
“I am a bit embarrassed, flabbergasted and most certainly humbled,” he said. “The first question I had was ‘has everyone else died or are they out of town?’ (It’s a) wonderful surprise but I am still a bit overwhelmed by it.”