Berkeley High has nurtured more top-shelf jazz musicians than any other high school in the nation that’s not organized around a music and arts curriculum.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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.
By Sarah Cline, Jazz Program Director at Berkeley High School
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.
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 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.
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