Tag Archives: Berkeley High Jazz

From Cuba with love: Berkeley High Jazz at the UC Theatre

Berkeley High Jazz in Cuba. Photo by Bill Kinder.
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In jazz, timing is critical, and the Berkeley High jazz program has long demonstrated a gift for landing on just the right beat. When Fourth Street merchants decided to end its annual Jazz on Fourth event, a cornerstone of the jazz program’s annual fundraising efforts, the Berkeley Music Group’s newly opened The UC Theatre stepped into the breach. On Friday, the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble plays an opening set at the UC Theatre for the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which shocked the Latin music scene in 2014 by winning the Grammy Award for Best Latin Tropical Album.

“The Fourth Street merchants felt like shutting down the street was too disruptive,” said trombonist Sarah Cline, who’s finishing her fifth year as director of Berkeley High’s jazz program. “We so grateful for their support. They did Jazz on Fourth for 20 years, raised more than $200,000 over that time, and they’re still supporting us. Abrams/Millikan is one of the corporate sponsors of the UC Theatre concert, and we’re looking for more.” … Continue reading »

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One to watch: BHS grad, musician Spencer Stevens

Spencer Stevens. Photo: Courtesy of Spencer Stevens
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Ask Spencer Stevens how he became so musically inclined and he’ll probably give you a modest response. Something like: “I don’t know, I’m just blessed,” or “A lot of time and effort.” Whatever humble answer the 22-year-old Berkeley High graduate chooses, he’s downplaying the truth. That truth is that Spencer Stevens is just flat-out talented, and he seems to possess a clear understanding of most aspects of music. The work he’s done as a producer, engineer, manager and DJ has put him in the position of being one of the hottest rising stars in the Bay Area’s underground music scene.

With the success he’s had managing up and coming Oakland artist Legendvry, and playing the role of lead man for his DJ collective, Wavbros, Stevens has made himself a familiar face around the Bay. It seems there isn’t a musical event you can go to in the Bay Area where Stevens isn’t in attendance, and you can bet that each time he’s doing something different. … Continue reading »

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Jazz blooms in Berkeley with a rich choice of performers

Marcus Shelby
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On any given night one can find a handful of jazz gigs in Berkeley interesting enough to coax even a casual fan out of the house. But this Sunday offers something altogether rare with a convergence of two events that auger well for the future of the scene.

From noon to 5 p.m., the Berkeley High jazz program’s 20th annual Jazz on Fourth Street fundraiser turns the shopping district into a music-filled street party. And at the David Brower Center from 2-5 p.m., Jazz in the Neighborhood celebrates its second anniversary with a fundraiser and concert featuring the lustrous vocalist Clairdee, pianist Ken French, bassist Marcus Shelby, trumpeter (and Berkeley High alum) Erik Jekabson, pianist Glen Pearson, saxophonist/flutist Mary Fettig, trombonist Wayne Wallace, and drummer Hamir Atwal. … Continue reading »

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David Bowie to Broadway: Dan Wilensky back in Berkeley

Dan
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Fresh out of Berkeley High in the summer of 1979, Dan Wilensky had to make a fateful decision. The prestigious Eastman School of Music was offering a full scholarship at the same time that the Ray Charles Orchestra came calling for the young saxophonist. Wilensky chose Charles, and the gig turned into a six-month bandstand education that launched a gloriously diverse and insistently creative career. He returns to town next week for a series of gigs, making his first Berkeley appearances as a leader since heading to New York in 1980. Appropriately, he kicks off the run at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Freight & Salvage, performing as a special guest with the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble and Berkeley High Combo A (which just earned top honors at the Monterey Jazz Festival’s 2015 Next Generation Jazz Festival).

“I’ve played in the East Bay as sideman over the years with artists like Stevie Winwood and Joan Baez, but this is the first time I’m coming back under my own name,” says Wilensky, who relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2012 after three breathless decades on the New York scene. “I’m really excited to go back to Berkeley High to play and work with the students and tell them some stories about the life of a working musician.” … Continue reading »

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Paul Hanson: Bringing the Bass(oon) to Berkeley Friday

Oon with Paul Hanson and Ariane Cap
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Paul Hanson has spent much of his life taking the bassoon into realms where the horn has never before traveled. From world jazz and klezmer to funk and rock, the Berkeley native refuses to be bounded by the irascible double-reed’s traditional symphonic role. Based in American Canyon since the end of a four-year stint with Cirque du Soleil in Japan, he returns to town for a California Jazz Conservatory performance at 8 p.m. Friday with the duo Oon featuring the inventive electric bassist Ariane Cap.

Pronounced like the last syllable of Hanson’s instrument (“just subtract the bass from bassoon,” he says), the duo released a debut album Polaris in 2013, and they’ve continued to refine and expand a surprisingly varied array of material. While the album focuses on original material by both musicians (Cap often composes with Austrian multi-instrumentalist Wolf Wein, the album’s co-producer), they’ve also devised striking arrangements of familiar songs, such as “Stella By Starlight” and “Dear Prudence.” … Continue reading »

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

Bertram
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BHS JAZZ ALUMNI IN THE BAY AREA Alumni of Berkeley High’s renowned jazz program are returning to their native East Bay to ring in the new year at a couple different venues. Brooklyn-based Zongo Junction, an energetic Afrobeat ensemble founded by BHS grad Charles Ferguson, will play at Leo’s (5447 Telegraph in North Oakland) on Friday, Jan. 2. The $20 show is 18+ and starts at  9 p.m. Here in Berkeley on the same night, the Chase Jackson Quintet will play at the California Jazz Conservatory (formerly the Jazzschool) at 2087 Addison St. The eponymous vibraphone player, who now lives in LA, is an alum of the BHS jazz program, and is bringing to the stage with him several other young Bay Area musicians. The $12 acoustic jazz show starts at 8 p.m. … Continue reading »

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Events

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

Dr. Herb Wong, Washington Elementary School Principal invited world class big bands to perform for BUSD students.
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BERKELEY HIGH JAZZ ALUMNI CONCERT The “father” of Berkeley High’s acclaimed jazz program will be commemorated on Sunday at the third annual Berkeley High Jazz Alumni Concert. Musicians, spanning decades of Berkeley High jazz, will celebrate Wong’s life. Performers will include multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum, saxophonists BEnnett Friedman and Hitomi Oba, bassoonist Paul Hanson, percussionist Josh Jones, trombonist Sarah Cline (the current director of the program), and surprise guests. Charles Hamilton, who led the jazz program for 28 years to 2009, will be the day’s music director, and KCSM DJ Jesse “Chuy” Varela will emcee the day. Wong was principal of Washington Elementary in the ’60s, and was an early advocate for jazz education. The City of Berkeley will present a posthumous award honoring Wong’s inspiration to generations of Berkeley students. Sunday, June 1, 2-5 p.m., Coventry Grove, Kensington. Tickets are $20 at the door or through advance purchase on Eventbrite (recommended). Children under 5 are free. The concert benefits Berkeley High’s jazz programs. Doors open at 1 p.m.  … Continue reading »

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Three cheers for Jazz on Fourth, Sunday in Berkeley

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There’s nothing like free music in a public space to bring people together, and there’s no better line up on tap in town this season than the 19th Annual Jazz on Fourth, which runs this Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

A festival supporting the Berkeley High School Jazz Program, the event features powerhouse blues belter Sista Monica Parker, the dance-inducing Afro-Cuban grooves of Tito Y Su Son De Cuba, and the stylish jazz balladeer Ed Reed, whose remarkable late-blooming career has brought him international renown in his 80s. Of course, the festival is also a student showcase with performances by the award-winning Berkeley High School Combo A and the full 22-piece Berkeley High School Ensemble, directed by Sarah Cline.  … Continue reading »

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Herb Wong: Visionary founder of BUSD’s jazz program

Dr. Herb Wong, Washington Elementary School Principal invited world class big bands to perform for BUSD students.
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By Sarah Cline, Jazz Program Director at Berkeley High School

We at Berkeley High School and in BUSD Jazz lost our founding father this Easter. Dr. Herb Wong passed early in the morning Sunday April 20. He was 88.

Wong was the visionary principal of Washington Elementary School who was responsible for hiring Phil Hardymon, Dick Wittington and Bob Chaconas to teach jazz to little kids in the Berkeley Unified School District, way back in the late 1960s. At the time, Wong was one of a … Continue reading »

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A life in clave: Josh Jones keeps the beat

Josh Jones
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Josh Jones has had a fair share of glory. An early product of the Berkeley Unified School District’s jazz education program, he’s toured and recorded with jazz legends, helped spark the Bay Area’s acid jazz scene in the 1990s, and worked with hip hop icons like Tupac Shakur, Digital Underground, and Too Short. But his most important work has taken place away from the spotlight, teaching young musicians about the intricacies of swing, funk, and clave, the essential pulse of much Afro-Cuban music.

On Friday night he leads the Josh Jones Latin Jazz Orchestra at La Peña, an annual event for an ongoing rehearsal band that he launched around the turn of the century. His connection to the cultural center goes back to grade school days when he was drawn to La Peña by the regular presence of Cuban music workshops and bands. About 13 years ago he applied for a California Arts Council grant to support an array of classes he wanted to teach, covering salsa, hop hop, hand percussion and drum kit. … 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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18th annual Jazz on Fourth kicks off on Sunday

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The 18th annual Jazz on Fourth Street Festival kicks off on Sunday, May 19 at noon. The free festival supports the renowned jazz programs at Berkeley High.

“School districts around the country have trouble keeping their arts and music programs thriving,” said Marshall Lamm, who helps organize the festival. “Berkeley High’s jazz program has been a source of pride for the community for so long. It takes a community and it takes concerned citizens to support the kids. Every bit helps.”

Sunday’s program includes Dixieland from Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz Band, blues from Mark Hummel and the Blues Survivors, and Latin jazz from drummer and BHS alumnus Josh Jones and his Latin Jazz Group. The full 22-piece Berkeley High School Ensemble, directed by Sarah Cline, will provide the festival’s finale. … Continue reading »

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BHS alum has ‘Daddy Skills’ in new DJ Dave video

Even rockers and rappers grow up and have kids. Two Berkeley High alums, both musicians, have collaborated on a music video that, while being upbeat and funny, also makes a candid stab at exploring the peculiar transition that happens when you segue from carefree youth into parenthood.

DJ Dave, aka David Wittman, will be known to Berkeleyside readers as the creator, via his company Fog and Smog, of the popular “Whole Foods Parking Lot” video, and the “Berkeley Enough” follow-up he put out with local performer LaeCharles Lawrence. Wittman met Sam Dorman at Berkeley High, although Dorman graduated in 1994, two years behind Witman. The pair got to know each other well when they both lived in Los Angeles. … Continue reading »

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