Tag Archives: Berkeley JazzSchool

The return of vocalist extraordinaire Rhiannon

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Whether she’s improvising fearlessly on stage, teaching a master class, or raising organic produce on her farm in Hawaii, Rhiannon wants to change the world.

A legendary figure among vocalists who helped found Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra, the former Berkeley resident returns for an all too infrequent run of engagements over the coming week, an array of events that offer rare insight into this singular and widely influential artist. On Saturday she celebrates the release of her memoir Vocal River at the Jazzschool with a discussion and performance (she also teaches a Jazzschool master class Sunday morning). On Monday she’s performing at the Jazzschool’s 5th Annual Mark Murphy Scholarship Concert, joining a glittering cast of jazz vocalists at Yoshi’s including Clairdee, Nicholas Bearde, Jackie Ryan and Laurie Antonioli. And on Nov. 25 she performs at Freight & Salvage with the WeBe3, an improvisational vocal trio with Joey Blake and David Worm. … Continue reading »

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Sundays On Telegraph start slow, but show potential

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After low turnouts at the first three Sundays on Telegraph events, organizers hope that better weather and increased awareness will draw bigger crowds in the coming weeks.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Janet Klein, who serves as coordinator and liaison between the Telegraph Business Improvement District and the office of Mayor Tom Bates.

Sundays on Telegraph, or SoTelegraph, is a new weekly street fair that closes off two blocks of Telegraph Avenue, from Durant Avenue to Haste Street. The original plan was that from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Sunday from June 9 through September 27, music, activities and weekend strollers would be free to take over the neighborhood. It is an attempt by the City of Berkeley to revamp the area as a cultural destination — one of many ideas that have been proposed over the years — particularly during the time of year when most UC Berkeley students have left town.

But the program did not have a particularly inspired start. … 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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Kai Eckhardt’s zeitgeist: Berkeley bassist plays home

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Kai Eckhardt is recognized internationally as one of jazz’s most prodigious electric bassists, but few people know the extraordinary sojourn that brought him to Berkeley.

He was born in the Rhineland to a Liberian father and West German mother who settled in Monrovia after fleeing her homeland as an outcast due to having a mixed-race child. Eckhardt returned to Germany by himself at the age of 10, taken in by a foster family, and was already an acclaimed artist when he came to the United States to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, which is where guitar legend John McLaughlin recruited him for his expansive trio with Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu.

It’s not surprising that Eckhardt’s new band Zeitgeist, which performs Friday at the Jazzschool, reflects his global aesthetic. The ensemble has spent the past 18 months playing low-profile gigs and honing a repertoire of intricate original tunes while gradually peeling off personnel. These days Zeitgeist is a world-fusion quartet featuring Eckhardt on bass and vocals, Egyptian-born keyboardist Osam Ezzeldin, El Cerrito High alum Deszon Claiborne on drums, and Australian guitarist Chris Robinson, who’s now based in Benicia.
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The Black Mountain Boys, sans Jerry Garcia, ride again

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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 »

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The Face of the Bass: Denson, Zilber and Friends

Jeff Denson
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Good bass players are rarely in want of work, but since arriving in the Bay Area two years ago to teach at the Jazzschool Institute, Jeff Denson has been keeping a fairly low profile. Over the past two years he’s generally been too busy teaching or performing internationally with the cooperative trio Minsarah or the octogenarian alto sax legend Lee Konitz to forge ties with Bay Area players, but Sunday afternoon’s Jazzschool gig with saxophonist Mike Zilber offers an opportunity to witness some promising musical relationships taking shape.

One of the most incisive post-Coltrane tenor saxophonists on the West Coast, Zilber is also a dedicated educator who teaches at the Jazzschool Institute and runs the jazz studies program at Los Medanos College. His proximity to Denson led to some informal sessions last year, and when Jazzschool founder Susan Muscarella happened to hear one “she said I want you guys to do something together,” Zilber recalls. … Continue reading »

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Kim Nalley: Masterly singer has focus on jazz’s roots

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Discussions about race and jazz can get heated pretty quickly, like the recent row over New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s campaign to rechristen jazz as Black American Music (BAM). A few years back, the Jazzschool and Yoshi’s became embroiled in a controversy over a perceived dearth of black representation, a conversation that aired concerns much bigger than the two local institutions.

Rather than pointing fingers, vocalist Kim Nalley decided to take it upon herself to address jazz’s shifting demographics with a scholarship aimed at reversing a disconcerting lack of young black musicians engaging with the historically African-American art form. A masterly jazz and blues singer equally authoritative belting salty Bessie Smith tunes, caressing Billie Holiday ballads, or interpreting Nina Simone’s charged anthems, Nalley raises funds for the scholarship Saturday at Berkeley’s Jazzschool with her longtime trio featuring bassist Michael Zisman, drummer Kent Bryson and pianist Tammy Hall. … Continue reading »

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Andrea Wolper: Musical explorer with audience in mind

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Whether she’s caressing an American Songbook standard, reinterpreting a contemporary pop tune, introducing a poetic original, or launching into a high-wire free improvisation, Andrea Wolper is a musical explorer who unfailingly seeks the same destination.

“What it always comes down to for me is communication,” says the adventurous jazz vocalist. “I want to communicate feelings with everyone in the room. The audience is a huge part of the equation, and I want everyone to have fun.”

Long based in New York City, the Bay Area native plays her first run of hometown shows in five years, performing tonight at the Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco and Saturday at the Jazzschool with guitarist Dave MacNab, drummer Vijay Anderson, and New York bassist Ken Filiano. She also offers a Jazzschool workshop on Sunday afternoon “The Jazz Singer in You!” geared to singers of various levels. … Continue reading »

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Erik and Erika: Berkeley High returnees are home to play

Erik Jekabson
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The Berkeley High jazz program is the gift that keeps on giving. Hardly a year goes by without at least a handful of excellent young musicians emerging from its ranks, and, while many head east to attend elite conservatories and music schools, Berkeley’s oversized gravitational pull often brings them back home.

Pianist Erika Oba and trumpeter Erik Jekabson hail from different Berkeley High generations, but they’ve made many of the same moves and have both recently released highly personal albums.

Oba, a member of the talent-laden class of 2004, performs Friday (tonight) at the Jazzschool, celebrating the release of her alluring new duo project with bassist Chris Bastian, “Carry On.” One of the finest trumpeters in the Bay Area, Jekabson, class of 1991, performs Tuesday at Freight & Salvage, focusing on music from his ambitious new album “Anti-Mass,” a stellar project inspired by artwork at the DeYoung Museum.

On her debut album Oba displays a gift for crafting memorable melodies and a savvy sense of space, letting her notes breath and ring. As an interactive duo with both musicians inhabiting the foreground she and Bastian engage in a series of graceful pas de deux rather than extended solos with accompaniment. They each contribute four original pieces to “Carry On,” and Oba’s music hints at her primary compositional influence, Thelonious Monk, while her keyboard touch evidences an affinity for the lustrous tone of Bill Evans. … Continue reading »

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Noam Lemish: Swinging in Shangri-La

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Noam Lemish had been in Bhutan for a few months when he discovered that his efforts to bring new musical currents to the Himalayan kingdom had won a powerful ally. Hired in 2009 to launch a music school in the capital, Thimphu, the Israeli-American jazz pianist dedicated some of his spare time to spinning discs at a radio station, focusing on jazz, Western classical and international music from beyond the borders of the long isolated Buddhist nation.

“One day I got a text message saying that the king really likes your show,” Lemish says, still sounding a little stunned. For a country that banned television until 1999, the tech-savvy communication caught him off guard. But Lemish was far more astonished when The Royal Office of Media commissioned him to compose a new piece for the celebration of King Wangchuck’s 30th birthday. Lemish performs the 30-minute suite, “The People’s King,” Saturday at the Jazzschool with his quartet featuring saxophonist Matthew Rothstein, bassist Jason Carr and drummer Alex Aspinall (along with a multimedia presentation on the music and culture of Bhutan). … Continue reading »

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It takes three to tango: Trio Garufa play Berkeley Friday

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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 »

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Berkeley sings, Jazzschool is hub that makes it happen

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The word is out on the musicians’ grapevine. When it comes to vocals, the Jazzschool has become an invaluable forum for transmitting the tradition and presenting many of the most creative singers on the scene.

This weekend’s programming makes the case, with two rising stars from New York City offering concerts and workshops. Sachal Vasandani, a Chicago native who has quickly established himself as one of the most confident young male singers finding inspiration in jazz, performs Friday night and presents a vocal skills master class on Saturday afternoon.

With three releases on Mack Avenue since 2007, Vasandani has displayed a sharp ear for interesting material, a warm, deep-grained tone, and supple, relaxed phrasing at even the briskest tempos. He’s joined Friday by prodigious saxophonist Dayna Stephens, a Berkeley High grad who’s become a major force in New York City despite dealing with a life threatening medical condition. … Continue reading »

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Out in Berkeley: First annual Women in Jazz Festival

Susan Muscarella performs during The Jazzschool's International Women's Day concert on March 11
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Trumpeter Ellen Seeling and saxophonist Jean Fineberg have never been the types to sit around and moan about injustice. When they got frustrated by the dearth of opportunities for women in Bay Area jazz orchestras, they went ahead and launched their own rip-roaring combo, the Montclair Women’s Big Band, which has earned a devoted following on the strength of its tight ensemble work and improvisational firepower.

Two years ago, they struck another blow for female players by creating a summer Girls’ Jazz & Blues Camp, a program produced with the Jazzschool in downtown Berkeley. And this weekend, Seeling and Fineberg introduce another showcase for the region’s impressive array of women instrumentalists, the First Annual Women in Jazz Festival. … Continue reading »

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