The Berkeley Public Library might seem like unpromising territory to develop a thriving practice as a jazz trombonist, concert presenter, and all-around East Bay mover and shaker, but Pat Mullan is an expert at creating spaces for the culture she loves. She spent a quarter century ensconced at the downtown branch, where she found numerous ways to bring jazz into the stacks. But since retiring seven years ago, Mullan has poured her energy into the hard swinging 19-piece Junius Courtney Big Band, which performs a program focusing on the music of Thelonious Monk tonight at Yoshi’s with powerhouse guest vocalist Zoe Ellis (Berkeley High class of ‘88). On Friday, Mullan brings her unusual trombone quartet Trombonga to the Westside Café on Ninth Street.
The Junius Courtney Big Band was born in Berkeley, and it’s entirely fitting that the irrepressibly swinging 19-piece ensemble kicks off a series of events celebrating its 50th anniversary with a dance party Friday at Freight & Salvage, a venue that has hosted the band regularly for the past decade.
When an ensemble keeps performing after the death of its namesake leader, it’s known as a ghost band. Though descriptive rather than pejorative, the term often carries a whiff of the dismissive, as if a musical legacy should be interred with its creator (things work differently in the world of dance, where no one seems interested in tossing dirt on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater).
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