When Guillermo Garcia moved to the Bay Area in the mid-90s, he was an accomplished tango guitarist whose career path had left little time for performing. Born and raised in Argentina and trained as a sound engineer in Paris at the Pompidou Center’s cutting edge research arm IRCAM, he relocated to Berkeley in 1996 to take a job developing audio technology at the Gibson Guitar facility on 9th Street (a location that Gibson closed years ago).
On his first day on the job, Garcia surveyed the industrial-looking West Berkeley block and thought to himself, “I guess I’m not going to do any tango here.” On his way downstairs, however, he immediately discovered The Beat, a dance studio where Bay Area Tango Association founder and esteemed teacher Nora Dinzelbacher regularly offered classes. Garcia had stumbled upon the East Bay’s avid and active tango scene, and he’s been at the center of it ever since.
Trio Garufa, his ensemble with bassist Sascha Jacobsen and Swiss-born bandoneon player Adrian Jost, also a sound engineer, celebrates the release of its third album “El Rumor de tus Tangos” Friday at Ashkenaz, with an array of special guests.
Garcia first gained notice in the Bay Area with Flor de Tango, his collaboration with Argentine flautist Mirta Wymerszberg. The group performed widely at social dances, or milongas, and recorded a well-received eponymous album. When Wymerszberg relocated to Seattle, Garcia eventually launched Trio Garufa with Jost, who he had met through a sound engineering gig. Since the trio came together in 2001, several musicians have held down the bass chair, including the prodigious Dan Robbins and John Esckstrom, who was then CEO of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic (you never know where tango-mania might strike).
Garcia credits the rise of the Bay Area tango scene to the amazing success of the theater production Forever Tango, and the tireless efforts of Nora Dinzelbacher, who has taught thousands of aficionados the intricacies of tango. He’s also a dedicated dancer who teaches a weekly class at a studio in SOMA. Trio Garufa’s gigs are evenly divided between concerts and milongas, which often take place in dance studios.
“Ashkenaz has done a wonderful job,” Garcia says. “They’ve got a bar, a stage, a sound person. Other milongas can be very informal. Playing concerts and dancers are very nice in different ways. At concerts you have people’s full attention. For dancers the love comes in a different way.”
Not to be missed
From the early 1990s until about 2005, Dmitri Matheny was one of the most visible jazz musicians in Northern California. A protégé of trumpet great Art Farmer, the Berkeley Hills-based flugelhornist combined a beautiful, lustrous tone with a love of elegant, singing melodic lines. By approaching his career like he was running a non-profit arts organization, presenting a home season, hosting guest artists, and regularly unveiling well publicized premieres, he became a real force who leveraged his high profile to support music education (particularly Berkeley’s Young Musicians Program).
Matheny has been based in the Phoenix area since 2009, but even before he left California he had been mostly out of sight. Over the next week, he performs a series of gigs around the region that mark a return to his old form. On Sunday afternoon he presents a quintet at the Jazzschool featuring piano ace Matt Clark, veteran bassist Seward McCain, and the consummately musical drummer Deszon X. Claiborne.
Tenor saxophonist and Berkeley High grad Dave Ellis is Matheny’s featured guest. Another Bay Area jazz star who dropped off the scene for several years, Ellis spent several years on the road with the Grateful Dead alumni bands Ratdog and The Other Ones, and performed widely with his sister, vocalist Zoe Ellis, in the R&B-oriented Zadell. He recorded several excellent straight ahead albums under his own name, and with Matheny they’ll be focusing on standards, modern jazz classics and the flugelhornist’s noir-tinged originals.
“Dave and I went through a bunch of life changes at the same time,” Matheny says. “We played at Monterey Jazz Festival and he was on my very first CD, ‘Red Reflections,’ so it’s a reunion of sorts for me. He’s one of my favorite people. This is a really nice opportunity to gather some old friends together.”
Matheny also collaborates with the trio Tango #9 at the Bliss Bar in San Francisco on Sunday, May 6, and premieres “Crime Scenes” at Yoshi’s on Wednesday, May 9. Featuring the same band as the Jazzschool show (with Akira Tana replacing Claiborne), it’s evening length work weaving together themes from B movies, spy thrillers, blacksploitation films and 1970s detective shows like “Columbo,” “Rockford Files” and “McMillan and Wife.”
Andrew Gilbert, whose Berkeleyside music column appears every Thursday, also covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley.
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