You might have seen Jerry Mandel playing his saxophone around town — perhaps at the annual Orange County Arts Awards Ceremony after party at Costa Mesa’s Samueli Theater. While the self-possessed gentleman is a long-time jazz musician, his expertise on his horn is the tip of the iceberg of a decades-long arts and entertainment career.

The president of the Irvine Barclay Theatre, former San Diego State University dean of the arts, and former president of the Orange County Performing Art Center, not only looks back at an illustrious career. Today, at age 79, with the energy, passion and enthusiasm of a much younger person, he looks forward to advancing the Barclay’s programming and upgrading its facility, both to be accomplished over the next several years, and especially to, “having a chance for a legacy here,” he explains.

Jerry Mandel at the Irvine Barclay Theatre Holiday Party Photo by Alyssa Valencia

In Mandel’s words: “I grew up in Culver City, right next to the MGM studios. My grandfather was a violinist who played in all of the major movie musicals, and my father was a drummer who was quite a performer and played a lot of gigs. I graduated from Culver City High School, where I played reed instruments as well as sports. And the parents of my classmates worked in the movie industry. That’s how Culver City was in the old days.”

The still handsome musician and arts administrator continues: “I attended Long Beach State University where I studied the liberal arts. I played saxophone in the college marching band, and supported myself through college by playing in music combos on the weekends. I attended more weddings and bar mitzvahs than anyone I knew because I performed in them.”

Not eschewing his military duty in the 1970s, Mandel says: “During the Vietnam War, I joined the United States Coast Guard, and played in the coast guard band. Then I returned to graduate school at Purdue University where I earned a Ph.D. in communication and organizational leadership. Working in academia, I advanced through all of the professorial ranks as assistant, associate and full professor. I was dean of the arts at San Diego State University and then became executive vice president at the University of Las Vegas, vice president at Long Beach State University, and vice chancellor of advancement at the University of California at Irvine from 1995 to 1997.”

Forever in love with his music, he explains, “Here’s where the story gets interesting. All of these years that I was involved in academic administration, music was the thing that meant the most to me. So during my tenure at UC Irvine, I served on the board of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Then I was asked to become the president of the Performing Arts Center in 1997. Working in that position truly changed my life. Being at the helm of the third largest performing arts center in the country, I experienced and curated several art forms, including the symphony, opera, ballet and Broadway, to name a few.”

Mandel also conceived of the creation of a small multi-faceted theater on the Orange County Performing Arts Center campus. That idea resulted in the Samueli Theater, opened in 2006, with its stadium and club/cabaret seating for recitals, jazz performances, banquets, meetings, seminars and other special events.

Jerry Mandel Photo by Skye Schmidt

“I concluded my career at the Performing Arts Center in 2006 during the completion of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall,” he says.

As retirement in his mid-sixties did not suit the irrepressible Mandel, he again pursued his dream “of getting back into playing jazz music. I performed locally, went on tours, did a few workshops, and performed and recorded in New York City.”

In 2015, Mandel’s sterling reputation as an arts executive beckoned him to the Irvine Barclay Theatre (which opened its doors in 1990). “In September of 2015, I was asked by Stephen Barker, UC Irvine’s dean of the arts, to step in here on a three-month interim basis [as the Barclay’s founding president, Doug Rankin, had left the venue]. But I’m still here almost four years later. As CEO, I’m responsible for the overall functioning of the organization, including all of the management, programming, fundraising and budgets.”  

At the Barclay Theatre, Mandel delights in greeting and welcoming musicians to the most musician friendly theater in the world, as he explains, adding, “We have the best sound and lighting people.” He also brings to the theater a variety of world class performers and speakers, including jazz musicians Wynton Marsalis, Joey Alexander and George Benson, Broadway musical comedy star Sutton Foster, and even Adam Schiff, U.S. Representative for California’s 28th District (Burbank) as a speaker. “While most people my age don’t work,” Mandel says, “I’m having so much fun here. And I also love being on the stage and watching the audience come in.”

Before he retires, Mandel’s goals for the Barclay include raising significant funds, installing new lights and seating, upgrading the lobby and building a smaller second black box theater with 250 seats. He also wants to continue to host major performers from around the country and beyond, to have the venue be open 300 nights a year, and to, he explains, “make the Irvine Barclay Theatre into one of the best performing arts venues in the country.”

Upcoming events at the Irvine Barclay Theatre include:

  • Backhausdance, May 22, a company fusing classical with contemporary dance
  • The Wooden Floor, “Of Knowing Where” dance recital, May 30 through June 1
  • UCI Symphony Orchestra, June 7
  • Dance recitals for kids and families:
    • Southland Ballet Academy, “Grand Defile,” June 8 and 9
    • Focus Dance Center, “Sweet 16,” June 12 through 15
    • “DanceLova, The Recital,” June 16
    • Pacific Dance, June 19-22
    • Rhythmic Arts Academy of Dance, “The First Annual June Showcase,” June 28
  • Ivan Amodei’s Secrets and Illusions, June 30