Tag Archives: Ashkenaz
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
IMAGINE NONVIOLENCE In response to the March 16 shooting at the club, which injured two employees, and violence in general, Ashkenaz is sponsoring an event called “Imagining Nonviolence” on Friday April 19. “This event explores, celebrates, and shares numerous ways that we heal from violence, individually and within community. Starting with a hands-on healing art workshop, participants will collage and may post their art to build a Wall of Peace in our Back Studio. There will be counselors available and a drum circle for kids. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. with a kids’ drumming circle and then a community drumming circle. At 9:30 p.m., SambaDá and cosmos Percussion Orchestra – the same bands that were playing the night of the assault – will perform. Tickets are $10-$12. The Ashkenaz Music and Dance Community Center is at 1317 San Pablo Ave. … Continue reading »
Molly Holm has lived a lifetime in between starting to record her debut CD Permission and its release last February. The Berkeley jazz singer, an esteemed educator and important collaborator with Bobby McFerrin and Terry Riley, lost both her parents, ended a relationship, and married her husband in the decade or so it took to bring the project to fruition.
Concerts marking the release of a CD are often billed as celebrations, but in Holm’s case Sunday’s performance at Freight & Salvage is almost a liberation. She’s performing with a superlative cast distilled from her collaborators on the album, including pianist/producer Frank Martin, bass master Jeff Chambers, drummer Deszon Claiborne, Antonio Minnecola on Hindustani vocal percussion, trombonist Wayne Wallace, and reed expert Melecio Magdaluyo. … Continue reading »
The Berkeley Police Department has released the name of one of the alleged shooters from Saturday morning’s robbery at the Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center, which sent two people to the hospital with serious injuries from the shooting.
On Tuesday evening, police publicly identified the man, who was arrested Saturday, as Christopher James Washington, 25, of Rodeo. Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said police do not plan to release a booking photograph of Washington.
“This case is still active and our detectives are working hard following up on leads,” she said in a prepared statement. “The release of the photograph could jeopardize the overall investigation.” … Continue reading »
Comfort Mensah was standing at the bar at Ashkenaz Dance and Music Community Center early Saturday morning when two gunmen burst in and demanded cash. She and her boss, Larry Chin, the dance hall’s managing director, had just discovered some counterfeit bills among the $5,000 to $7,000 taken in that night.
“We were looking for fake money when I heard ‘pop, pop, pop,’ and I realized it was a gun,” said Mensah, who has worked at Ashkenaz for the last 16 years. “When I looked everyone was lying on the floor because that was the only way to be safe.”
One of those on the floor was Chin, who had been shot in the head and lay bleeding. Mensah threw herself down and grazed against the gunman’s foot, she said. He didn’t notice because he was so intent on taking the money from the cash drawer, she said.
“He was shouting ‘Where is the manager? Where is the money?’” said Mensah. … Continue reading »
Two employees of Ashkenaz were shot and seriously injured early Saturday morning during an armed robbery of the popular dance center at 1317 San Pablo Ave., currently celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Two people with guns walked into the crowded dance hall around 12:05 a.m. and demanded cash, according to a press release by the Berkeley Police Department. The suspects fired guns during the robbery and bullets struck two employees, according to police. … Continue reading »
Guitarist Eric Thompson has been the heart and soul of Berkeley’s old-time and American roots music scene since the mid-1960s, but he got his start down the peninsula in Palo Alto as the youngest member of the Black Mountain Boys, a bluegrass trio featuring Jerry Garcia on five-string banjo and David Nelson on mandolin. A short-lived combo that never recorded — though there’s a bootleg or two floating around — the Black Mountain Boys are regrouping for a performance Friday as part of Ashkenaz’s 40th anniversary celebration (which kicks off tonight with a talent-laden band led by Garcia’s future Grateful Dead bandmate Mickey Hart).
With Garcia unavailable due to his ongoing big gig in the sky, the banjo chair is being filled by Rick Shubb, a distinguished old-time musician who’s probably better known these days as the inventor of the Shubb Capo, beloved by guitarists far and wide. Nelson, renowned as a founder of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, plays guitar, trading roles with Thompson, who’s handling mandolin duties. Filling out the band are fiddlers Paul Shelasky and Suzy Thompson (Eric’s wife and partner in musical mayhem in the Aux Cajunals, Bluegrass Intentions, Todalo Shakers, and other rootsy bands), and bassist Paul Knight, who tours with Peter Rowan and Kathy Kallick. Wake the Dead shares the bill. … Continue reading »