Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert

Giving thanks for Laurie Lewis, playing Berkeley Saturday

The Right Hands, left to right, Patrick Sauber. Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum , Tatiana Hargreaves, and Todd Phillips
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Laurie Lewis has a long list of musicians she’s grateful for, and somewhere near the top are Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, bluegrass music’s foremost foremothers. The longtime Berkeleyan gives a sneak peak at her upcoming album The Hazel and Alice Sessions at Freight & Salvage on Saturday with her band The Right Hands featuring her partner in twang Tom Rozum (mandolin, mandola, and guitar), Patrick Sauber (banjo), Todd Phillips (bassist extraordinaire), and Tatiana Hargreaves (fiddle).

“Tatiana is just amazing,” says Lewis, 65, noting that she’s the younger sister of fiddle star Alex Hargreaves. “I’ve known her since she was seven. She’s a little tiny 20-year-old who’s studying at Hampshire College in Amherst. I call her Hoss.” … Continue reading »

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Fred Randolph: Tales from a busy bassist

A bassist for all occasions (photo by Ruby Ray)
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A consummate musician who can be found playing jazz, salsa, samba, rock, fusion and any number of other styles, Fred Randolph is one of the busiest bassists in the Bay Area. The story of how he attained that enviable status is full of unlikely twists, with several instrumental detours along the way.

Though usually employed as a sideman, he’s released several engaging albums under his own name, most recently Song Without Singing (Creative Spirit Records), a project that showcases his rhythmic range and melodically charged compositional vision. Featuring Berkeley-raised trumpeter Erik Jekabson, pianist Matt Clark, saxophonist Sheldon Brown, and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte, the Fred Randolph Band celebrates the album’s release 8 p.m. Friday Nov. 20 at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists as part of Jazz in the Neighborhood program (pianist Ian McArdle, a former student of Randolph’s, opens the show). He’s joined by the same exceptional cast at the California Jazz Conservatory on January 15. … Continue reading »

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Dear Prudence: The Beatles’ muse returns to Berkeley

Preudence Farrow with Ringo Starr and the Maharishi The Beatles and their wives at the Rishikesh in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, March 1968. Credit:  Colin Harrison/Avico
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Growing up in the belly of the Hollywood film industry, Prudence Farrow learned early on that meeting stars in the flesh usually led to disappointment. But her fateful encounter with the Beatles at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Rishikesh ashram in early 1968 left her pleasantly surprised. It also left John Lennon with a song that ended up as the White Album’s second track “Dear Prudence,” which he wrote to coax her out of the room where she retreated for endless hours while seeking solitude and transcendence.

Prudence Farrow Bruns returns to Berkeley, where she spent years studying at Cal, and eventually earned a PhD in South Asian Studies, to talk about her recent memoir Tuesday at Northbrae Community Church at 7 p.m. Titled (what else?) Dear Prudence: The Story Behind the Song, the self-published book details how and why she ended up in India at the height of the tumultuous ‘60s, starting with her family life as the fifth of seven children by Irish-born MGM star Maureen O’Sullivan and Australian-born film director John Farrow.

“At seven I was crazy about Mario Lanza and had all of his records,” says Bruns, 67, her voice a dead ringer for her older sister, Mia Farrow. “My mother took me to spend a whole day with him and his family and he was a drinker. Starting from that day, I never wanted to meet anyone I admired. So I was not looking forward to meeting the Beatles, and I was pleasantly surprised.” … Continue reading »

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Accordion time traveling with Rob Reich in Berkeley

By Eddy Joaquim
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Some of the musicians featured at the recently launched Bands at Brower series approached the performance like any other gig, presenting their usual material. But for Rob Reich the David Brower Center’s ecological mission is a feature not a bug, and he’s designed an immersive multimedia event that explores the way music and natural settings can alter our consciousness.

This Friday’s Bands at Brower show introduces Reich’s new project Thymesia, which he describes as “a meditation on time and memory. I think most people have had the experience of music warping their experience of time. I want to tap into this powerful quality.”

Playing by candlelight to create the feeling of “an autumnal meditation,” Reich says the music will be accompanied by original abstract video projections by local video artists Thomas Bates, Ben Flax, and Brett Stillo. It’s just the latest musical sojourn by an artist who can always be found keeping interesting company, like an event next year with two other Bay Area luminaries who share his name, Cal’s Robert Reich and Stanford poli sci professor Rob Reich (the debut of new Rob Reich Trio?). … Continue reading »

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KlezCalifornia: Yiddishkeit comes to North Berkeley

Veretski Pass celebrate new album Poyln: A Gilgul at JCC East Bay on Sunday
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No one is ever going to mistake the Gourmet Ghetto for the Pale of Settlement, but this weekend the JCC East Bay turns the neighborhood into a vibrant outpost of Yiddish culture. KlezCalifornia, the festival that celebrates the music, dance, poetry, and humor of Eastern European Jewry, returns to Berkeley on Saturday and Sunday with a jam-packed series of workshops, talks and performances.

The event was founded in 2003 by Red Hot Chachkas fiddler Julie Egger and Berkeley’s Judy Kunofsky, who moved to town in the mid-1970s for a temporary position teaching mathematics at Cal and decided to hang around. Last held in Berkeley in 2013 with events at the Magnes Museum, Gaia Building, Subterranean Arthouse and other venues, KlezCalifornia celebrates its Bat Mitzvah season at the JCC East Bay with a concentrated dose of Jewish soul. … Continue reading »

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Jacob Szekely in Berkeley: No mellow cello

Train Station_by_Michael_Roud
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For cellists looking to venture off the well-trod path from the conservatory to the symphony orchestra or string quartet these are the best of times. What started with 1970s pioneers like Abdul Wadud, Hank Roberts, Diedre Murray, Akua Dixon, and later Turtle Island String Quartet’s Mark Summer has turned into a veritable movement, and no one is doing more to open up possibilities for cello players in the Southland than Jacob Szekely.

The Los Angeles based player and educator makes his Bay Area debut with his trio at Oakland’s Sound Room on Friday, Oct. 30, and presents a Saturday afternoon master class at Freight & Salvage, “Introduction to the Improviser’s Guide to the Cello.” Like the vast majority of his fellow cello players Szekely grew up studying European classical music. After earning degrees from the Interlochen Arts Academy and University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music he launched a series of string ensembles, from the jazz steeped quartet Supernova and the plugged in fusion combo Eartha Austria Trio to Quarteto Nuevo, world jazz chamber group with percussionist Chris Garcia. … Continue reading »


Jazz’s cool queen gets hot with Swing Fever

Denise Perrier
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Denise Perrier’s theme song could be “Travelin’ Light,” as the supremely stylish San Francisco jazz singer continues to follow her wanderlust to the wide corners of the world. Since she first lit out to tour Australia some five decades ago, Perrier has performed in more than two dozen countries, a tireless itinerary that means she’s often introducing herself to new generations of Bay Area jazz fans when she gets back home. You can catch her Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory with Swing Fever, but then she’s off for San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, followed by her first trip to Cuba in December.

Like so many of her previous foreign connections, Perrier got the chance to fulfill her longtime desire to sing in Cuba by being in the right place at the right time. A few months ago she was performing at Bird & Beckett, the invaluable San Francisco bookstore and venue in Glen Park, where she met the great Cuban poet, translator and essayist Nancy Morejón and “we ended up at the Sheba Lounge singing in Spanish together,” Perrier says. “She talked with the minister of culture and got me this invite.” … Continue reading »

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Ramona Kelley: A dancer grows in Berkeley

Daniel Baker, Ramona Kelley, Nicholas Coppula, Eva Trapp- credit: Ruven Afanador)
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The big bang of 20th-century ballet was detonated by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a generative explosion that sent creative waves sweeping across the Americas, all the way to Berkeley. With Twyla Tharp in town for a Cal Performances residency to celebrate her fiftieth year as a choreographer on Oct. 16-18, Berkeley’s deep dance history is embodied Ramona Kelley (who connects with Ballet Russe by about three degrees of separation).

The daughter of esteemed Bay Area dance teacher Wendy Diamond, whose numerous teaching positions include an almost three-decade tenure at North Oakland’s Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Kelley grew up in Berkeley attending Oxford Elementary, King Middle School and Berkeley High, where she studied dance with Linda Carr (who’s still teaching dance there with Naomi Diouf Washington.) “Students had a lot of opportunities to choreograph,” Kelley says. “It’s a great program.” … Continue reading »

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Bringing it all back home: Shelley Doty rocks Berkeley

Photo by Eden B. Jones
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Shelley Doty didn’t play in the school jazz band as a teenager but one concept she picked up at Berkeley High continues to shape her musical world. The polymorphous ensemble she brings into Freight & Salvage on Thursday is known as the Shelley Doty X-tet not because as an X-factor guitarist, songwriter and vocalist she can rock, groove, swing, stomp or croon as the particular musical moment demands. Rather, she christened her band with the indeterminate letter because “I recall from high school algebra that X is a variable,” Doty says.

“Over the many years I’ve had the X-tet the number of musicians can be different per night. The wonderful thing at the Freight is that throughout the night the number will change. There are all these musicians who I love to play with, and we’ll have duos and trios and larger lineups with maybe as many as 10 people.” … Continue reading »

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Getting actualized with John Schott

Actual Trio 1
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Berkeley drummer John Hanes paid his blues dues at Larry Blake’s in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, a rigorous bandstand education in the fundamentals of laying down a sly Jimmy Reed shuffle and a searing John Lee Hooker boogie. His schooling in the crucible of Larry Blake’s “Rat Band” led to widespread work on the East Bay blues scene, and he attained the kind of authority that let him emerge at the end of a gig backing R&B legend Etta James without the salty tongue lashing she liberally bestowed on drummer’s faking the funk.

When he played with Berkeley jazz guitarist John Schott for the first time about a decade later Hanes immediately recognized a kindred rhythmic spirit. “It was a trio and Myles Boisen was playing a blues shuffle and John was playing rhythm guitar,” Hanes recalls.  “I had experience playing with black blues players in Oakland, and when John started playing this blues he sounded correct. I thought oh my God, he really knows what he’s doing.”

They’ve been collaborating ever since, and kick off a West Coast tour celebrating the release of Schott’s new album Actual Trio (Tzadik) with Berkeley bassist Dan Seamans Friday at the Berkeley Arts Festival gallery and Sunday at San Francisco’s Red Poppy Art House. Schott created the group about four years ago when he acquired the musicians’ holy grail of a regular gig. The group still plays the first Sunday of every month at North Oakland’s Actual Café, and they’ve used the long-running residency to hone a loose-limbed approach drawing on postbop harmonies, graceful song forms, and quicksilver rhythmic shifts. It’s a stylistically encompassing sound that never sheds a blues sensibility. … Continue reading »

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The utopian vision of the Ben Goldberg School

Ben Goldberg - photo by Adam Goldberg
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Interviewing choreographer Twyla Tharp for an upcoming story about her 50th anniversary tour I was struck by her description of her new dance “Preludes and Fugues” set to J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier as belonging to a utopian streak long at the center of her work. “You take a huge responsibility in imagining the world as it should be,” she said.

I haven’t asked him about it directly, but it seems that a similar vision animates Berkeley clarinetist/composer Ben Goldberg’s band Ben Goldberg School.

Featuring alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, Santana trombonist Jeff Cressman, Berkeley bassist David Ewell, drummer Hamir Atwal, and Rob Reich on accordion, the sextet performs 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory. Founded about three years ago, the ensemble wasn’t created as a vehicle to transmit information as much as to provide a forum for group revelation. Devoted to Goldberg’s melodically charged, blues-and-roots steeped tunes, School creates a rarified musical space in which some of the Bay Area’s most ardent improvisers can fully express themselves. … Continue reading »

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Change of the century: Musical tribute to Ornette Coleman

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A few nights after Ornette Coleman’s death on June 11 at the age of 85, Berkeley guitarist John Schott put out the word that anyone interested in share music, memories, or thoughts relating to the iconic saxophonist should come by the Berkeley Arts Festival space for an informal gathering.

The event was warm and unscripted with musicians describing life-changing encounters with Coleman and offering impromptu versions of some of his beatific blues. Jazz lovers are almost used to the loss of our foundational artists, as the ranks of players born before World War II continues to dwindle.

But Ornette was far more than a seminal improviser who exponentially expanded the music’s rhythmic and harmonic possibilities. He embodied the playfully heroic duality-erasing ideal at the center of African-American musical innovation. Radical and rootsy, avant garde and populist, philosophical and visceral, genius and trickster, Coleman arrived on the Los Angeles scene in the mid-1950s with an utterly and insistently individual aesthetic and never strayed from his own wending path. … Continue reading »

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Guitarist George Cotsirilos: A nighthawk flies in Berkeley

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Chicago-reared George Cotsirilos arrived in Berkeley in 1969 as an aspiring young guitarist deeply under the sway of the three blues Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie). In the midst of his undergrad studies at Cal he took some time off to play with a blues band in Ann Arbor, and when he re-enrolled to continue his sociology studies he came under the sway of legendary East Bay guitar teacher Warren Nunes, who turned his attention to jazz and “opened up other vistas,” Cotsirilos says.

These days the long-time Berkeley resident is one of most tasteful and dependably swinging jazz guitarists on the Bay Area scene, and the leader of a lithe and quietly dramatic trio with bassist Robb Fisher and drummer Ron Marabuto. The group performs at Jupiter on Wednesday night. … Continue reading »

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