Tag Archives: Berkeley JazzSchool

Audrey Martin: A dream fulfilled, plus more Berkeley gigs

Audrey Gilbert. Photo:  Irene Young
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On her 40th birthday Audrey Martin decided to sing. As a marriage and family therapist, she had spent years helping other people work through traumas, resolve deep-seated conflicts, and discover their true selves. Along the way she had set aside her adolescent ambition for a life in music, a sublimated dream that resurfaced with her midlife milestone. Martin’s long and winding creative journey resulted in the captivating debut album Living Room (full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes). She celebrates the CD’s release Sunday afternoon at Berkeley’s California Jazz Conservatory, which played an essential role in her musical education.

“This is the culmination of 17 years of planning and effort at learning the art of jazz and bringing together music that I‘ve wanted to perform and record,” says Martin, a Berkeley resident since 1998. “It also represents an integration of my musical self and my life as a psychotherapist.” … Continue reading »

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Smith Dobson V, Friends with Benefits, play Berkeley

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Contrary to what it might seem, the Roman numeral in Smith Dobson V’s name doesn’t mean there are five guys with the same moniker playing music around the region.

Rather, his daunting facility on drums, vibes, and alto and tenor saxophones means he can be found in any number of situations, including Friday at the California Jazz Conservatory (formerly the Jazzschool) with Friends with Benefits, a collective quartet featuring the masterly Berkeley clarinetist Ben Goldberg, bassist Doug Stuart and pianist Michael Coleman. For that band Dobson plays alto and tenor sax.

Dobson holds down a regular Tuesday night gig at Club Deluxe in the Haight playing tenor with a formidable quartet, and then returns on Wednesdays as a drummer with top-shelf saxophonist/composer Patrick Wolff. On May 10 he’ll be holding down the drum chair at the Sound Room with Berkeley-raised trumpeter Erik Jekabson’s New Orleans Quintet, a different band than the one featured on Jekabson’s album Live at the Hillside Club with the superlative rhythm section of Dobson, bassist John Wiitala, and percussion great John Santos. … Continue reading »

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Erik Jekabson Quintet in Berkeley: Let the good times roll

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Normally, lightning striking twice in the Berkeley Hills would be a cause for concern, but when trumpeter Erik Jekabson is the force responsible for the conflagration, it’s an invitation to let the good times roll.

The Berkeley High alum wasn’t expecting to record a live album when he brought his talent-laden quintet featuring percussion star John Santos to the Hillside Club back in 2011. Thrilled at the opportunity to collaborate with Santos, he wrote and arranged a passel of new music, and when he listened to the recording of the concert months later he was so pleased that decided to make it available on the CD Live at the Hillside Club.

Featuring bassist John Wiitala, drummer Smith Dobson V, and pianist Grant Levin, Jekabson’s quintet returns to the intimate venue Saturday to celebrate the new album’s release (the group also plays the Jazzschool on April 18).

A grant from San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music helped Jekabson pay the musicians a recording session rate, but he hails the Hillside Club’s music director Bruce Koball with making the CD possible by putting in many hours of post-production work. … Continue reading »

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The Best Songs In Life Are Free, With Kim Nalley

Kim Nalley. Photo: Scott Chernis
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By aesthetic, academic and cultural inclination, Kim Nalley is ideally suited for presenting “Freedom Songs,” a program at the Jazzschool on Sunday afternoon tracing the role of music in the long African-American struggle for liberty and human rights. A supremely soulful jazz singer who’s equally versed in the blues, Nalley is also a doctoral student in history at U.C. Berkeley focusing on American ex-pat musicians in post-war West Germany.

As landmark anniversaries of events in Civil Rights movement arise, she’s often been asked to offer musical insight, like at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute’s commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington last year, where she also served as musical director. For Sunday’s Jazzschool program, Nalley is taking an encompassing view, drawing connections between familiar Civil Rights anthems and earlier resistance movements. … Continue reading »

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Foolish Hearts: Peter Eldridge and Matt Aronoff

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As a vocalist and composer who has forged an intoxicating jazz-steeped sound that draws on R&B, pop and Brazilian music, Peter Eldridge is best known for keeping company with other singers.

A founding member of the vocal quartet New York Voices, he’s also a part of the all-star vocal ensemble Moss, which features Luciana Souza, Kate McGarry, Theo Bleckmann, and Lauren Kinhan (a fellow New York Voice). For his performance Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool, Eldridge changes gears, performing in a stripped down duo Foolish Hearts with bassist Matt Aronoff that couldn’t be more different from his cooperative vocal ventures.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m enjoying this so much.” Eldridge says. “In Moss and New York Voices you get to be a kid in a candy store with all these people offering all these colors. What’s fun about the duo is how intimate it is. It’s all about seeing how little you can get away with and still have the music be transcendent, having all that space and seeing how effective that can be.”  … Continue reading »

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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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Lorin Benedict scats and the Berkeley Festival of Choro

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From a late blooming jazz musician to a versatile flutist besotted with Brazilian music, here are two tales of very different, but equally intense creative sojourns.

Describing Oakland’s Lorin Benedict as a scat singer is kind of like calling Sherlock Holmes a detective. It’s accurate as far as it goes, but doesn’t begin to capture the singular nature of his achievement. Over the past decade, Benedict has crafted an uncanny vocal style employing words and phrases that can easily be mistaken for English, but in fact are entirely of his own invention. At first encounter, he often inspires double takes, followed by slack-jawed amazement at the exuberant but rigorous musicality of his performance.

Benedict performs two shows on Sunday, playing an afternoon Jazzschool gig with the long-running collective trio The Holly Martins featuring saxophonist Kasey Knudsen and Berkeley guitarist Eric Vogler, and an evening Berkeley Arts Festival show introducing a new collective trio with Knudsen and Berkeley clarinet master Ben Goldberg. … Continue reading »

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Saxophonist Steve Heckman gets off the Trane track

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For much of his career, Oakland saxophonist Steve Heckman has worshipped at the altar of John Coltrane, with every gig a veritable quest to attain the spiritually charged intensity that defined Trane’s epochal recordings of the early 1960s. He left no doubt about his mission with first two albums, 2003’s With John In Mind and 2005’s Live at Yoshi’s. But his new CD, Born To Be Blue, finds Heckman in a more lyrical state of mind, focusing on American Songbook standards like Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean,” Van Heusen’s “I Thought About You,” and Schwartz’s “Alone Together.”

He celebrates the album’s release Saturday at the Jazzschool with a stellar Bay Area band featuring guitarist Terrence Brewer, bassist Aaron Germain, drummer Bryan Bowman, and tenor saxophonist Rob Roth. Heckman credits his new direction on Born To Be Blue to his collaboration with guitar ace Howard Alden, which evolved out of a casual evening of jamming after a dinner party at a friend’s house in New York. When Alden came through the Bay Area several months later for a series of gigs they cemented the budding friendship at Fantasy Studios, with the guitarist’s beautifully calibrated phrasing inspiring a more lithe and relaxed sound from Heckman. … 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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