Tag Archives: Ashkenaz

Getting Frisky with Macy Blackman & The Mighty Fines

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Maybe a Manhattan methadone clinic wasn’t an auspicious setting for encountering a musical hero, but Macy Blackman wasn’t going let an opportunity to hang out with New Orleans drummer Charles “Hungry” Williams go to waste. Looking to get clean in the bitter winter of 1978, Blackman was sitting on a couch in the lounge of the Bernstein Institute strumming a guitar when someone informed him that Fats Domino’s drummer was in the next room.

“After a while he came in and started singing Chuck Willis’ ‘You’re Still My Baby’ with me,” says Blackman, a Kensington resident for the past 13 years. He celebrates the release of his new album Friskin’ the Whiskers with his band The Mighty Fines at Ashkenaz 9 p.m. Thursday, April 2.

A pianist, cornetist, and vocalist with a gruff, rhythmically assured delivery, Blackman is one of Northern California’s leading exponents of classic New Orleans R&B, and he absorbed a good deal of the music directly from the source. He and Williams struck up a fast friendship after that first encounter, and ended up playing music together up until the drummer’s death in 1986. Blackman, who still supplements his income as a piano technician, even taught Williams his trade. … Continue reading »

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Events

The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Peter Nero. Photo: Courtesy Cal Performances
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GERSHWIN PROJECT Pianist Peter Nero, a two-time Grammy winner, “romps through” George Gershwin’s music with bassist Michael Barnett and vocalist Katherine Strohmaier on Sunday, Feb. 8 at Zellerbach Hall, as part of Cal Performances’ jazz series. Nero’s trio will perform songs from musicals and films like “Strike Up the Band,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Funny Face,” “Girl Crazy,” and “Shall We Dance,” as well as standards from the Great American Songbook. Zellerbach Hall, 7 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 8. Tickets available from Cal Performances.  … Continue reading »

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Update: Man found dead in Berkeley was Gary Skupa, 70

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Update, Feb. 2, 12:25 p.m. The man found deceased on West Street was 70-year-old Gary Skupa, according to a close friend of his who asked to remain anonymous. Skupa was a native of Colorado, a long-time Berkeley resident and activist, and a volunteer and board member of Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center on San Pablo Avenue. Authorities said they were unable to confirm the identity at this point. Asked why the case was first described as “suspicious,” Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said: “Initially, the investigation was classified as suspicious because it appears the victim passed away, unattended in a public area. We have to gather as much information as possible to try and determine what may have occurred.  It appears the victim may have been riding his bicycle and collapsed.  This is not a ‘murder’ investigation, it is a death investigation.”

Original story: The body of a man was found on West Street near Delaware on Sunday afternoon. Berkeley Police are classifying it as a suspicious death.

“We received a call of a person down, BFD responded and the male victim was pronounced deceased,” Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats told Berkeleyside.

The call came in around 4:30 p.m., Officer Coats said. There did not appear to be any sign of foul play. … Continue reading »

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Feel grateful (dead) for the holidays: Stu Allen in Berkeley

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Stu Allen holds down one of the most consistent gigs in Berkeley. For the past three years the guitarist has led Mars Hotel, which is less a band than a revolving cast of accomplished players dedicated to the music of the Grateful Dead. While Allen and his merry crew perform around the region, his homebase is Ashkenaz, where he’s held down a weekly gig that now serves as the hub of the Deadhead community. He closes out 2014 next week with a three-night Ashkenaz engagment, exploring different facets of the Dead constellation.

The run opens Wednesday with Stu Allen and the Spike Drivers featuring Sandy Rothman, Brian Godchaux and Murph Murphy. The band formed in January to “explore the old-timey music that the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band was doing,” Allen says. “We branch out from there a little bit and bring that sound to some other tunes.”

On Thursday, he performs with the Reflections, a group that plays plugged in Garcia Band material, and on Friday he returns to the Dead with Mars Hotel.

“Spike Drivers is the only one with a consistent line up,” Allen said. “I put the Reflections and Mars Hotel line ups together from the same pool of guys on the scene. There are about 20 bass players,” including Robin Sylvester, a longtime member of Bob Weir’s RatDog, and Reed Mathis, who gained renown as a member of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and now plays with Tea Leaf Green. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley concert marks free speech movement’s birthday

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As a brief catalytic blast of energy, the Free Speech Movement achieved its primary goals so quickly that it didn’t have much time to inspire enduring songs and anthems. But music played an important role in those heady fall months of 1964, when students forced UC Berkeley’s administration to drop campus restrictions on political speech. Saturday’s concert at Ashkenaz celebrates the 50th anniversary of the FSM, while connecting the musical threads between the FSM and earlier progressive struggles.

See other events to mark the anniversary of the free speech movement

Hosted by Lynne Hollander, an FSM founder and the widow of movement icon Mario Savio, the evening opens with a song circle led by singer-songwriter-activist Hali Hammer, followed by brief sets by Country Joe McDonald and Nancy Schimmel, a veteran of the folk and women’s music scenes who sees many connections between the FSM and today’s Occupy movements. She’s likely to sing “Billy Boy,” a song by her mother, Malvina Reynolds, about the 1960 San Francisco protests over the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, an FSM forerunner. … Continue reading »

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Safra: The sound of coexistence at Berkeley’s Ashkenaz

Berkeley’s Jewish Middle Eastern ensemble Safra makes its Ashkenaz debut on Sunday
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If only coexistence was as easy in the Holy Land as it is on the bandstand. The East Bay ensemble Safra, which makes its Ashkenaz debut on Sunday, has developed a sumptuous body of Sephardic music drawn from North Africa’s intermingled musical traditions, combining Hebrew lyrics, Middle Eastern instrumentation, and popular melodies from the Middle East and beyond. The band’s vision isn’t so much utopian as a refraction of an increasingly riven region’s shared cultural heritage.

Launched in early 2013 by two Berkeleyans, vocalist Eliana Kissner and oud player John Ehrlich, Safra quickly took shape with the dynamic percussion tandem of Debbie Fier on dumbek, riqq and bendir, and

Susie Goldenstein on dumbek and riqq. For Sunday’s show, the quartet will be joined on violin, oud and percussion by the Bay Area’s great Moroccan musician Bouchaib Abdelhadi, a master of cross-cultural collaborations (Bruce Bierman teaches Yemenite dance before the concert). … Continue reading »

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Sharing the music in a Berkeley backyard, Cajun-style

Cajun music. Photo: Dorothy Brown
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By Dorothy Brown

It is Monday evening and five folks with fiddles are seated in a circle in the backyard. Four of them are learning a traditional Cajun tune, The Milk Cow is Dead.* There is no sheet music in sight, and nobody expects any. You learn this music by ear.

Joel Savoy is sharing his intimate knowledge of the song, and his expert techniques with the instrument and the style. He plays the tune through, and then breaks it down into phrases that he invites the group to repeat. The notes themselves are the easy part. What makes a good Cajun fiddler is nuance and flair, and Joel breaks that down too.

“You want to get those pulses in there.” “…a little bit bouncier there. Slide into that last note.” This tune has a lot of that, and Joel enjoys that part. “Just slide up to C# and stop when you get there!”

This is how Cajun music has been shared and taught for generations. After a long day’s work, people gather together to play. It is easy to imagine this scene is taking place in Southwest Louisiana, but this is a backyard in Berkeley, California.  … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

American skateboarder Kenny Reed skating in Palestine
PHOTO: Qalqilya site
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SKATING IN PALESTINE Adam Abel, a New York City filmmaker, will premiere his newest project Friday night at La Peña Cultural Center. The film, called Qalqilya, will show at 7:00 p.m. It’s a feature-length documentary about “Sajed, a Palenstinian skater, who mentors a group of Palestinian youth who skate, do parkour, and perform beatbox and hip-hop in Qalqilya, a city in the West Bank of Palestine,” according to the La Peña website. More information is available at the film’s website. You can make donations to the film at the premiere or at this website. Make your reservation online now. … Continue reading »

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Tango with a Z: Playing the seductive dance in Berkeley

Photo: James Marco Starr
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With its seductive conflation of eros and combat, tango has beguiled many a music and dance lover, so there’s nothing surprising about Bendrew Jong’s obsession with Argentina’s most passionate export. What’s unexpected is that his expertise in tai chi and kung fu provided ideal physical and mental training for mastering tango’s intricate dance moves, and that dancing has made him more dangerous on the mat.

“Tango is the ballroom dance closest to martial arts, and when I spar I use tango moves all the time,” says Jong, the lead singer and bandoneon player for Orquesta Z, which performs at Ashkenaz on Thursday, March 6 and Palache Hall in St. Clement’s Episcopal Church on Claremont Avenue on Sunday afternoon, March 9.

“Tango is all about balance, keeping focused, extending a leg but not shifting weight, and it felt natural after all the tai chi I’ve done.”

Founded by Jong around the end of 2010, Orquesta Z is a quintet featuring an impressive cast of musicians, including violinist and Crowden School instructor Jim Shallenberger, a founding member of Kronos Quartet who spent years touring with the hugely popular production Forever Tango. Holy Names Symphony violinist Carol Braves was earliest member of the ensemble to join Jong, followed by Prometheus Symphony bassist Sandy Schniewind, and pianist Barbie Wong, who teaches at the Oakland Public Conservatory and also plays a mean ukulele. … Continue reading »

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Z’Amico: A world of sound… in Berkeley Thursday

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At 26 years old, David Eagle hasn’t had a chance to travel much outside the United States. But by just about any measure the Berkeley percussionist is a supremely cosmopolitan artist well versed in many African diaspora rhythmic traditions. He plays the trap drums Thursday at Ashkenaz with his hard-grooving Afro-Brazilian-Caribbean band Z’Amico, and then picks up the washboard as a member of the funk-soul-reggae combo FenToN CooLfooT and The Right Time.

Weaned on capoeira, the graceful Afro-Brazilian martial art dance form, Eagle credits the East Bay’s wealth of musical talent with providing an invaluable cultural education.

“This is the coolest place ever,” Eagle says. “I haven’t even been to Brazil yet or Cuba, but I’ve played with Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, Jamaicans. It has everybody you can imagine at the top levels. Either I’m playing with them or I can go see them at La Peña or Ashkenaz, venues that understand the importance of music.” … Continue reading »

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Crime

Judge says alleged Ashkenaz shooter must stand trial

Ashkenaz's rustic-looking building on San Pablo. Photo: Jeremy Brooks
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After nearly two days of witness testimony, the man arrested earlier this year in the shooting that sent two Ashkenaz employees to the hospital with serious injuries was ordered to face the nine felony charges brought against him by the Alameda County district attorney’s office.

The preliminary hearing for Christopher James Washington of Rodeo took place Tuesday and Wednesday at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland with Alameda County Superior Court Judge Richard Couzens presiding.

Authorities say Washington is one of two men who robbed Ashkenaz during a crowded 40th anniversary party March 15, shooting two long-time employees in the process. But witnesses for the prosecution said this week that the men began their criminal activities that night with a robbery and sexual assault in Oakland. A victim in that case tracked her stolen phone into Berkeley, where she said she spied Washington and his associate just before the Ashkenaz robbery, then again minutes later as they ran up Gilman Street pursued by a Berkeley Police cruiser. … Continue reading »

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The Six String Season / BHS jazz at Ashkenaz today

Seasons Anthony Wilson
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Most guitar quartets are highly rehearsed ensembles devoted to a repertoire of intricately arranged material. Seasons is something very different. Balancing searching improvisation with exquisite through-composed passages, the ensemble brings together four brilliant, versatile, and accomplished composers and bandleaders with Anthony Wilson and Larry Koonse from Los Angeles, São Paulo’s Chico Pinheiro, and New York City’s Julian Lage. The group performs Friday at the Jazzschool as part of a California tour, a tricky undertaking for a group with so many divergent musical commitments.

The son of legendary Los Angeles bandleader and composer Gerald Wilson (who’s still active at 94), Anthony Wilson has spent the past dozen years accompanying Diana Krall (and performing and recording with a diverse array of artists when the vocalist is on break, including Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Bobby Hutcherson, Barbra Streisand, Madeleine Peyroux, and Aaron Neville). But before Krall became his primary commitment, Wilson had established himself as a savvy bandleader and inventive composer with a series of acclaimed nonet albums. … Continue reading »

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Two to Tango: María Volonté and Mavi Díaz

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No musical style is as inextricably linked to a particular city as tango is to Buenos Aires. So what happens when you take one of tango’s most acclaimed vocalists and plop her down in the Bay Area? For María Volonté, the result is a burst of inspiration, as she forges ties with some of the region’s finest jazz and Latin American musicians. Which isn’t to say that she’s cut her ties to Argentina. Volonté performs Sunday at the Garden Gate Creativity Center on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley, an early stop on her Wapas tour with Mavi Díaz, the founder of the seminal 1980s all-female Argentine pop band Viudas e Hijas de Roque Enroll. While steeped in different traditions, both women are intensely passionate performers who share a rare gift for self-revelation and playful self-mockery.

Accompanying themselves on guitar, they’ll perform together and separately, playing original material and exploring classic songs by grandes mujeres Violeta Parra, Chabuca Granda and Tita Merello. Volonté’s regular musical partner, harmonica player Kevin Footer, will also join the proceedings (a particularly apt accompanist as Díaz’s father is the late great Argentine harmonica maestro Hugo Díaz). … Continue reading »

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