Tag Archives: Berkeley JazzSchool
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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.
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 »
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 »
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 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 »
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 »
Just about every city has a first-call jazz drummer, the player that heavyweight out-of-towners hire when they’re traveling without their own rhythm section. From 1968 until his death last September at 73, Eddie Marshall was the cat who got the call.
Even before he became the house drummer at the storied North Beach jazz club Keystone Korner, accompanying a steady parade of legends such as Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz, Bobby Hutcherson and Woody Shaw, Marshall had established himself as a true trap set poet. An unfailingly swinging and tasteful accompanist whose combination of poise and intensity elevated every gig he played, Marshall choose the San Francisco good life over the New York hustle, assuring that his reputation as a superlative player was confined mostly to his peers.
He was so busy accompanying other players that he was well into middle age before he started to concentrate on leading his own band. When he assembled a quintet in 1989, Marshall recruited veteran peers, like pianist Mark Levine, and rising young stars, like Berkeley High alumnus Peck Allmond. In honor of his life and spirit, the Jazzschool, where Marshall was a longtime faculty member, is launching the Eddie Marshall Scholarship Fund at Freight & Salvage Sunday with the 1st Annual Eddie Marshall Tribute. … Continue reading »
If Berkeley had a hall of fame for musicians, pianist Dick Whittington would be inducted as part of the inaugural class. As an educator, presenter, and ebulliently swinging player, he left an indelible mark on the city’s jazz before decamping for the Monterey Peninsula in the mid-1990s.
In an all-too-rare return to Berkeley, he performs Saturday at the Jazzschool with his trio featuring bassist Robb Fisher, drummer Vince Lateano and special guest Andrew Speight on alto saxophone.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Whittington made his first major contribution to the Bay Area scene in the late 1960s when he and trumpeter Phil Hardymon helped found the Berkeley public school system’s innovative music program. By the time he retired in 1991, he had helped initiate several generations of musical visionaries into the art of improvisation, including Peter Apfelbaum, Rodney Franklin, Steven Bernstein, Jessica Jones, Joshua Redman and Benny Green. … Continue reading »
As the mother of seven daughters who started going through high school in the 1960s, Merrilee Trost thought she had hit on a foolproof plan to help keep the kids away from drugs. Born on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash, she herself had grown up in Kansas City, Mo. soaking up the riffing, rollicking blues of the Count Basie Orchestra while nursing a cola.
“I got the crazy notion that if they could hear some really good music, they could get into it without being high,” Trost recalls with a laugh from her home in Alameda. “It never occurred to me that jazz was synonymous with drugs.” … Continue reading »
In the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the glorious harmonies on stage flow directly from the harmonious vibe off the bandstand.
Maintaining smooth sailing in any creative endeavor involving 55 people is no easy feat.
After a quarter century, however, the ensemble has learned a little something about coexistence and how to gracefully elide fundamental differences. A shared sense of devotion to the spiritually charged African-American art form is the force that seamlessly melds a multi-generational cast representing an array of races, religions and creeds.
A few ground rules help too.
“We agree to disagree on things. It sounds easy, but it’s not,” says the choir’s founding director, Terrance Kelly, who leads the ensemble Sunday at Freight & Salvage in a concert celebrating release of the “Hear My Prayer,” the OIGC’s fifth album. … Continue reading »