Tag Archives: Ashkenaz
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 »
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 »
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 Avenue, 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 »
Evie Ladin was practically born dancing, and she’s made it her life’s work to get everyone around her moving and grooving. Best known as a founding member of the all-female East Bay old-time combo The Stairwell Sisters, she’s also a bandleader in her own right who has released two albums featuring her inventive arrangements of old-time tunes and consistently captivating original songs.
Ladin performs Friday in a duo distilled from last year’s Evie Ladin Band CD with guitarist/banjoist Erik Pearson at Starry Plough as part of a twangy triple bill featuring Bay Area honky-tonkers Emily Bonn and the Vivants, and Michigan’s Western swingers Lindsay Lou and Flatbellys. At full strength, Ladin’s band is a rollicking quartet featuring her husband, body music maestro and bassist Keith Terry, Pearson, and the ubiquitous fiddler/vocalist Dina Maccabee, though Ladin can hold an audience as a one-woman band.
“I do a mix of music, song and dance,” Ladin says. “Some traditional songs done with a different feel, and some straight up. I play old time claw hammer banjo, clog dance, and sometimes dance and sing and play all at once.” … Continue reading »
When Guillermo Garcia moved to the Bay Area in the mid-90s, he was an accomplished tango guitarist whose career path had left little time for performing. Born and raised in Argentina and trained as a sound engineer in Paris at the Pompidou Center’s cutting edge research arm IRCAM, he relocated to Berkeley in 1996 to take a job developing audio technology at the Gibson Guitar facility on 9th Street (a location that Gibson closed years ago).
On his first day on the job, Garcia surveyed the industrial-looking West Berkeley block and thought to himself, “I guess I’m not going to do any tango here.” On his way downstairs, however, he immediately discovered The Beat, a dance studio where Bay Area Tango Association founder and esteemed teacher Nora Dinzelbacher regularly offered classes. Garcia had stumbled upon the East Bay’s avid and active tango scene, and he’s been at the center of it ever since.
Trio Garufa, his ensemble with bassist Sascha Jacobsen and Swiss-born bandoneon player Adrian Jost, also a sound engineer, celebrates the release of its third album “El Rumor de tus Tangos” Friday at Ashkenaz, with an array of special guests. … Continue reading »
The 12-piece Brooklyn Afrobeat band Zongo Junction plays hard-hitting West African funk inspired by grooves emanating from Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin, but the group’s roots extend directly to Berkeley. Founded by drummer Charles Ferguson after a six-month sojourn in Ghana, the band features several of his fellow Berkeley High jazz band buddies, including keyboardist Eli Sundelson and bassist Noah Garabedian.
A California tour brings Zongo Junction to Berkeley on Saturday for a gig at Ashkenaz (see them in action in video above).
“I think the biggest influence that the BHS jazz program had on us and the band’s sound was the diversity of music we would play,” Ferguson said. “Charles Hamilton, the band director, opened a lot of us up to a ton of different styles of music, as did a bunch of other guys in the area we all took lessons with (like Josh Jones, Peter Apfelbaum, Wil Blades). We would go to these high school jazz festivals where other bands were just playing boring straight ahead jazz tunes. We would play Tower of Power, Duke Ellington and Mongo Santamaria all in the same set.” … Continue reading »
Richard Nagler sent in the following report and the photo above: “Joan Baez performed at Ashkenaz last night to a sell-out crowd. Joan was the guest artist for the extraordinary American debut of singer-songwriter Marianne Aya Omac who stunned the crowd with her brilliance and virtuosity. Marianne performed with percussionist Gabriel Harris, who is the son of Joan Baez. It was a memorable night in Bay Area music history.”
To find out what is going on in Berkeley and … Continue reading »
More recent atrocities may have pushed the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe out of the news, but the devastation wrought by the iron-fisted Robert Mugabe and his kleptocratic ZANU-PF party continues apace. During a decade of incomprehensible hardship, the spirit of Zimbabwe’s people has been buoyed by the music of Mawungira Enharira, a hugely popular band that puts a sophisticated, contemporary spin on mbira, a folkloric Shona style played on the thumb piano of the same name.
The … Continue reading »
Sound is life at the Meyer Sound facility on San Pablo. The 32-year-old Berkeley business continues to churn out professional sound products for concert halls, churches and traveling bands from around the world.
“We’re a family-run company, privately owned still,” said Helen Meyer, executive vice president of Meyer Sound. “We’re still private to this day. That’s kind of a unique feature of our company.”
I sat down with the Meyers to discuss sound, local lifestyles and new technologies.
CEO John Meyer founded the company in 1979 after he and Helen attended an inaudible Donovan concert at the Oakland Coliseum. When they sat down to take in the performance from one of their favorite folk singers, the couple soon realized they couldn’t hear a thing.
“It was barely louder than if someone was just there without anything,” John said. “Everyone in the audience was dead quiet and we still couldn’t hear. We said, ‘there’s got to be a better way.’ ” … Continue reading »
By Andrew Gilbert
Jazz and country music are often cast as antithetical cultural forces, signifying a blue state/red state divide. The former is black, urban, and sophisticated, while the later is white, rural (or suburban), and populist.
The truth is that jazz and country music have been kissing cousins since the styles took shape early in the 20th century, and in fact formed a blissful union with the rise of western swing in the late 1930s.
For case study of how savvy artists can seamlessly meld two quintessentially American musical forms, look no further than “Crazy In Love With Patsy Cline,” a side project that Lavay Smith pursues when she’s not delivering her Red Hot Skillet Lickers repertoire of jump blues and swing anthems (songs she performs regularly at Ashkenaz).
The San Francisco diva originally paid tribute to Cline back in 2006 as part of a collaboration with New Orleans vocalist Ingrid Lucia, and Miss Carmen Getit, resident chanteuse with Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums. But for the past year or so she’s made the project her own, and she brings her inimitable sass to the Nashville sound Friday at Freight & Salvage. … Continue reading »
Berkeley newbies may have trouble finding a cold beer and clog-dancing lesson on a Friday night. Bay Area long-timers, however, know the old brown building on San Pablo Avenue is a good place to start.
Since 1973, Ashkenaz has bridged cultural divides, supplying Berkeley residents with world music performances and a variety of dance lessons on an almost-daily basis.
“Ashkenaz has been around for 40 years, and it’s definitely a unique institution,” said Aaron Simon, board president of Ashkenaz. “We’re a world music venue with roots in the Berkeley counterculture and protest movement. We’re a favorite venue with many national touring acts and an important stage in the local music scene.”
Music enthusiasts are hard-pressed to find a more diverse show calendar. Ashkenaz’s upcoming week boasts western swing, Cajun/Creole, alternative rock, east-coast reggae and conscious hip-hop.
Most concerts at Ashkenaz follow a dance lesson that fits the mood. … Continue reading »