While the name sounds like it should come attached to a 1920s shortstop or a rodeo star, Plucky Strum actually refers to a duo pairing Sheryl Bailey and Harvie S, two of jazz’s most prodigious players. A quietly dazzling partnership dedicated to a diverse repertoire of original compositions arranged for standup bass and acoustic guitar, Plucky Strum kicks off a wide-ranging series of concerts around the region 4:30 pm Sunday at the California Jazz Conservatory (drum maestro Akira Tana joins the action at Armando’s in Martinez on Wednesday, Feb 24, and the duo returns to the CJC on Feb. 28 for a workshop).
Neighbors in the Bronx, S and Bailey started getting together to play informally a few years ago, and before long they decided to turn their playfully virtuosic rapport into an act “The main thing is I love playing duo,” says Bailey, 49, who’s performed extensively in duo settings with fellow guitarists such as Howard Alden, Paul Bollenback, and Jack Wilkins.
“When you’ve got two players with a strong sense of time you can kind of cut loose if you really trust each other. With Harvie, if somebody makes a mistake, it’s never a mistake. We’re listening and the interaction is so immediate no one would know except us. There’s a lot of space between us, and we both have to be the rhythm section for each other.”
Bailey has been most visible in the Bay Area through his 15-year tenure with clarinet master David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness! though she also plays in his world funk project Ancestral Groove. S, who legally changed his name more than a decade ago after enduring lost gigs and hotel reservation hassles due to Swartz being misspelled, has performed extensively with Bay Area guitar star Mimi Fox. He’s also worked with gifted Oakland jazz singer Sherri Roberts, producing and arranging her albums Dreamsville and The Sky Could Send You.
Roberts joins Bailey, S and Tana at Cafe Pink House in Saratoga on Feb. 25, and at San Francisco’s Art Poppy Art House on Feb. 26. Plucky Strum closes the Bay Area sojourn with a Feb. 28 performance at Chez Hanny, one of the Bay Area’s best and longest running house concert series.
More than a virtuoso, S is a master of conversational improvisation sought out by the jazz’s elite, including Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Jim Hall, Tommy Flanagan, and Yusef Lateef (he released two beautiful duo albums on HighNote in 2013 featuring piano great Kenny Barron: Witchcraft and Now Was the Time). In some circles he’s still best known as the daredevil who partnered with Sheila Jordan in the 1970s and 80s on a series of extraordinary duo recordings documenting their unprecedented bass-and-vocals improvisational high-wire act.
A professor of jazz and bass at the Manhattan School of Music, S has contributed to some 300 albums while working with a staggering array of jazz artists, though his immersion in Latin music overshadowed his jazz reputation in the 1990s. While S returned to jazz full time in the 21st century, his music is deeply marked by his love of Afro-Caribbean grooves.
“A lot of the music down there has a different concept of form,” says S, 67. “They’ll play a tune that’s very complicated up front, then an open groove section and a big ending that never goes back to the intro. I’ve used some of that. I never really tried to have an authentic Cuban band. My music was always built on jazz.”
Beyond his instrumental prowess, prolific work as a composer and producer, S is universally lauded by his peers as a mensch. Like Dizzy Gillespie, he has a knack for collaborating with exceptional female players. After his landmark duo with Jordan, he went on to work with guitarists Mimi Fox and Leni Stern, pianist Peggy Stern (no relation), soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, and saxophonist Virginia Mayhew. With Bailey, he’s deep in his comfort zone, playing at the edge of his imagination with an equally resourceful improviser.
Recommended gig: Mary D’Orazi at the California Jazz Conservatory
As the producer of the consistently well-programed Jazz at the Chimes concert series Mary D’Orazi has helped enliven the East Bay jazz scene for more than a decade. Now she’s stepping up to the microphone herself with the release of a beautifully conceived and realized album To Brasil and Bacharach, a collaboration with the great Rio-born pianist/arranger Marcos Silva. She celebrates the album’s release at the California Jazz Conservatory, where Silva is head of the Brazilian music program, 8 p.m. Friday (and at her Chapel of the Chimes series on March 20). A protégé of Silva’s, D’Orazi possesses a warm, winsome sound and unimpeachable taste. With Silva she’s honed a winning repertoire encompassing obscure Brazilian pop songs, classic songs by Jobim, Toninho Horta and Ivan Lins and hits by Hal David and Burt Bacharach like “A House Is Not A Home,” “Alfie” and “I Say A Little Prayer” effectively rendered as bossa novas.
Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. He also reports for the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. Read his previous Berkeleyside reviews.
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