On a sunny day, Berkeley offers few better venues than the corner of Fourth Street in front of Peet’s Coffee. Prime real estate for buskers, the unregulated spot seems to attract an unusually accomplished array of performers, from Berkeley High jazz combos and string bands to soul outfits and lone fingerstyle guitarists.
With all the requisite ethnic politicking surrounding the fast approaching presidential election, the question of Barack Obama’s Irish-American coattails is once again salient. As the Dublin-born, Oakland-based singer Shay Black discovered with an acappella version of the Corrigan Brothers’ ditty “There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obama,” the urge to claim the half-Kenyan Hawaiian as a kinsman is potent indeed.
Berkeley’s Melanie O’Reilly was born into a family of storytellers, and now she’s spinning her own tales, combining her passion for jazz with her birthright Irish culture. Since moving from Dublin to the Bay Area in 2003, O’Reilly and her partner, guitarist and neuroscience researcher Sean O Nuallain, have introduced a new vocabulary to jazz’s increasingly global lexicon.