English majors unite! The Bricoleurs take Jupiter

The Bricoleurs under the Jupiter redwood, with guitarist René Planchon, Justin Baird, and organist Brian Ho.
The Bricoleurs under the Jupiter redwood, with guitarist René Planchon, Justin Baird and organist Brian Ho. Photo: Michelle Baird.

What’s in a name? For Berkeley drummer/composer Jared Baird, finding the perfect moniker for his Hammond B-3 powered trio marked a major step in uniting two distinct facets of his life. An English teacher at Marin Academy by day (he also spent six years on faculty at Berkeley High), Baird holds down Jupiter’s Tuesday Jazzidency series through the end of June with The Bricoleurs.

He lifted the band’s name from Michael Chabon’s book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, in a moment of inspiration when “one of the characters discovers this artistic approach to making comic books borrowing from the French avant garde,” Baird says. “The thought hit me that it’s a great visual metaphor for what I want to do, evoking this idea of bricolage, pulling from all these different elements. Later I came to learn that in common French a bricoleur is a handyman, a tinkerer, or an amateur, and l liked the spirit of that. I approach my music like a professional, but I don’t really play music for a living.”

Jared Drums
Jared Baird on drums. Photo: Courtesy Jared Baird

For Baird, bricolage comes into play via the band’s repertoire, which draws from the golden age of hard bop, circa 1955-65, when the rip-snorting music of B-3 greats like Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Don Patterson could be found on juke boxes as well as classic records released on Blue Note and Prestige. The cut and paste aesthetic comes into play when the collective trio applies its soul jazz sensibility to tunes by leading contemporary players.

Baird launched the group last year with rising San Jose B-3 organist Brian Ho (who can often be found working with Oakland guitar master Calvin Keys) and Portland-based guitarist René Planchon, with whom he started playing in high school. They’re often joined by saxophonist Tony Peebles, a mainstay in the Grammy Award-winning Pacific Mambo Orchestra.


While Baird harbored a passion for music since his teen years, he packed away his drum kit after following his girlfriend (now wife) Michelle to Berkeley in 2001 after she enrolled in a PhD history program at Cal. Her encouragement led him to get his groove back. “She said there’s a big piece missing for you,” he recalls. “You’ve got to start playing again. Slowly I pulled myself back into it.”

He introduced himself into the Bay Area mix by assembling the soul combo Miss Hix and The Superthicks, a group that performed regularly at the Boom Boom Room. “That was a really fun band,” he says. “We focused on originals, or we did clever arrangements of covers. We had a powerful vocalist Carrie Hicks and we played around a lot, but after several years we were getting some feedback that we had hit a ceiling and weren’t able to break through to weekends at the Boom Boom Room.

He connected with some of the region’s top jazz players when he answered a Craig’s List ad for a gig with the George Lacson Project, a group that connected him with Berkeley B-3 expert Wil Blades, trumpeter Anthony Ant, and eventually saxophonist Tony Peebles. He and Peebles decided to share an Oakland rehearsal space, and when Baird mentioned he was interested in starting an organ-based band Peebles told him to check out a group playing at the DoubleTree in the Berkeley Marina (where drummer Josh Jones now holds down a regular Saturday gig).

“I got to sit in and play with Brian,” Baird says, “and I knew I’d found my guy.”

Recommended gigs: Pretty Gritty Trio at Jupiter; Charlie Hunter and co at the Ivy Room

Justin
Justin Rock

Since moving to the Bay Area three years ago guitarist Justin Rock has become an important new voice and mover and shaker on the scene. He brings his Pretty Gritty Trio featuring drummer extraordinaire Hamir Atwal and 19-year-old bassist Logan Kane to Jupiter on Wednesday June 15. “I’ve been calling it the Pretty Gritty Trio,” Rock says. “The music’s kind of like that, pretty and gritty, not one or the other. We play some originals but mostly focus on standards.”

Seven-string guitar star and Berkeley native Charlie Hunter gets close to home on Friday when he plays Albany’s Ivy Room with his new trio featuring Berkeley drum maestro Scott Amendola and the brilliant New York cornetist Kirk Knuffke, heard recently around the Bay Area with drummer Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom.

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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