We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Bridges: The music is right here

Billy Buss: BHS alum class of 2006, plays Jupiter in Berkeley on Monday

Sometimes Berkeley brims with so much musical activity that there’s no need to even contemplate what’s happening in Oakland, let alone San Francisco. This is one of those weeks. From Jupiter and Ashkenaz to the Freight and the Jazzschool, there’s a surfeit of inviting sounds.

Let’s start with the return of Billy Buss, Berkeley High class of 2006. When we caught up with the trumpeter last summer he was hustling on the New York jazz scene, working with a diverse array of artists. Back in town for his annual stint teaching at the Jazzschool (he leads a workshop on “Motivic Development” Monday night), Buss celebrates the release of his debut album Scenes From A Dream Friday at Jupiter with monster drummer Jeff Marrs, tenor saxophonist Stephen Norfleet, keyboardist Michael Colman, and bassist Doug Stuart.

While most of the album features a quintet made up of fellow twentysomething players who are just starting to make a name for themselves, Buss is joined on three tracks by tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens, one of the most widely admired players of his generation. About a decade older than Buss, Stephens graduated from Berkeley High in 1997, and has hired the trumpeter for several high-profile New York gigs. More importantly, he’s served as a mentor, offering career and life advice to the trumpeter.

Both players left their local schools (Alameda High for Stephens and Acalanes High  for Buss) to “be part of that magical thing” in BHS’s vaunted jazz program, Buss says. They both went on to earn the Monterey Jazz Festival’s coveted Jimmy Lyons Scholarship, which covers the full four-year tuition Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

“We both ended up going to the Monk Institute right out of college, and then moved to New York,” says Buss, referring to the prestigious masters program that was run by trumpeter Terence Blanchard. “Dayna’s really helped me realize what I want to do, helped guide me through being a professional musician.”

While he maintains a regular presence in New York City, Buss moved back to Boston about eight months ago, drawn by numerous teaching opportunities. He’s still in touch with several contemporaries from the Berkeley High jazz program, such as pianist Julian Pollack and drummer Charlie Ferguson, but “everyone’s hustling so hard to survive there’s not much time to be high school buddies,” he says.

More than anything, he’s held onto the ethos instilled by Charles Hamilton and the numerous players who have gone on from the BHS jazz program to make significant contributions. “It’s never really been about personal success,” Buss says. “It’s more about love of the music and the creative opportunities you can find. Taking that approach has allowed a lot of them to be successful.


While Buss’s gig at Jupiter promises to be a high-energy affair, Friday also brings Matt Renzi’s Cello Quartet to the Hillside Club (pictured above). A chamber jazz ensemble built around conservatory-trained cellist Misha Khalikulov, who’s best known for his expressive work in the popular SF combo Rupa and the April Fishes, the band features the top-shelf rhythm section tandem of bassist John Wiitala and drummer Smith Dobson V. Renzi is an inventive reed player who has explored an international array of influences flowing from time spent in India and Japan, though the Cello Quartet explores a decidedly West Coast sensibility with roots dating all the way back to drummer Chico Hamilton’s popular mid-1950s combo with the singular cellist Fred Katz (who’s still active at 94).

Back at Jupiter on Saturday, seven-string bass master Edo Castro performs with a stellar quintet featuring guitarist Michael LaMacchia, pianist Greg Sankovich, drummer Andy Dillard, and tenor saxophonist Dann Zinn. While steeped in jazz, Castro is a versatile player whose lyrical lines have graced a vast array of settings.

Bay Area guitar ace Mimi Fox, a player more often found touring internationally than on local stages, regroups with powerhouse vocalist Greta Metassa at the Jazzschool on Sunday afternoon. They recorded a fantastic live album back in 2003, Two For the Road (Origin Records), and haven’t performed a duo show in about a decade. Something of a local legend in Seattle, Metassa is a vocalist whose versatility and killer pipes leave a vivid impression.

The Pine Leaf Boys, arguably the finest young Cajun band in Louisiana, performs Tuesday at Ashkenaz. Powered by the turbo-charged accordion of Wilson Savoy, who’s been performing since he was a teenager in the Savoy Family Band, the quintet features Courtney Granger on fiddle and vocals, guitarist Jon Bertrand, bassist Thomas David, and Drew Simon on drums and vocals.

And finally, the incandescent vocalist Aoife O’Donovan, best known as a founding member of the Boston newgrass string band Crooked Still, makes her Bay Area debut leading her own band at Freight & Salvage on Wednesday.

Billy Buss: From Berkeley to New York via trumpet (07.12 12)

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.

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events — the calendar is free and self-serve.

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  • berkeleyhigh1999

    How charming that he ‘left his local school” to fraud his way in to Berkeley High. Are we supposed to be celebrating this? Renting an apartment in the Gaia building so his parents living in Lafayette or Orinda could steal from Berkeley tax payers.

    I would doubt that he is “struggling” to survive whatsoever.

  • originalone

    Oh my goodness, do I detect a latent envy in b/h1999’s post, or something along that order? Give the young man a break, as he is giving back with his talent. After all, you make it sound so evil, sort of on a par with the N.S.A. snooping on everyone, like on the taxpayers dime no less, even yours.

  • berkeleyhigh1999

    yes total envy. His rich parents rent a place in the Gaia building so he can go to school in Berkeley. And he claims to be a “native from Berkeley”.

    yes, mid twenties is totally a “young man”. Not a lying grown up like his parents were stealing and education for him.

    He is “struggling to survive”. I bet he made his parents proud stealing from BUSD and then bragging about it.

  • BillysMom

    Wow, BH1999, you need to get your facts straight! Check the Alameda county public records and you will learn a few things. First, we moved from Lafayette to Berkeley when we bought a house here. Yes, bought, which means we pay our fair share of taxes to the city of Berkeley. Did we move so Billy could attend BHS? Yes, but did so legitimately and legally. Second, Billy was born at Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley so I think he can claim to be a Berkeley native. Third, we aren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but sacrificed a great deal to support the amazing talent and passion we saw in our son. And, yes, he makes us incredibly proud, both as a musician and a person.

  • berkeleyhigh1999

    “Already a member of the prestigious SFJAZZ High School All-Stars, Buss ended up transferring to Berkeley High in the 11th grade, a move facilitated by his mother’s rental of an apartment downtown.”


    Did you buy him a house in Boston too? Jazz had become a facilitator for those with means to feel “hip and struggling”.