Students in the REALM Charter School summer jazz camp practice. Photo: REALM School

If you happen to be on 4th Street this afternoon between 2-4 pm take a few minutes to check out the jam session in front of Peet’s Coffee. The kids are students at REALM, Berkeley’s first charter school, and most of them attended the school’s summer jazz camp. The camp was organized by saxophonist/bassist Peter Hargreaves, a Berkeley High grad (class of 2004) who was hired to run the new school’s music program. The jam session is part of his effort to collect instruments for REALM’s music program (they need saxophones, trumpets, trombones, violins, cellos, keyboards and pianos).

“Another thing is it’s an opportunity for the students, especially those at the summer camp, to have something to keep practicing for throughout the summer,” says Hargreaves, who notes that some friends from his Berkeley High Jazz Band days will be dropping by to sit in. “It’s a chance to play and interact with older musicians. On the other side, it would be great to have a few more instruments.”

In looking to raise awareness about REALM, Hargreaves aims to start building a parent support group for the music program like the one that has sustained jazz at Berkeley High for decades. During the year he tapped into Berkeley High’s extensive network of jazz band alumni, recruiting drummer Josh Jones to teach a percussion class. The summer music camp drew on the same vast pool of talent.

REALM students drumming at jazz camp. Photo: REALM

On a visit to REALM a few weeks ago in the midst of the summer session, Hargreaves, pianist/flutist Erika Oba and tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones (all Berkeley High alumni) played the Ellington standard “C Jam Blues.”

Like Berkeley High’s former jazz band instructor Charles Hamilton (and Phil Hardymon before him), Hargreaves and his fellow teachers hold their students to high expectations. Among the tunes they’ll be tackling on 4th Street are John Coltrane’s “Blue Train,” Tito Puente’s “Oyo Como Va,” and Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy.”

Kaila Cherry has learned to play jazz on her guitar at the REALM music program. Photo: REALM

The students seem to have responded to the approach. Kaila Cherry, 12, will be a seventh grader at REALM in the fall. She had started teaching herself acoustic guitar two years ago, and had little interest in jazz before she started at REALM.

“I played songs that I liked, and I hadn’t gotten that much into jazz,” Cherry says. “When I’d think of jazz, I’d think of saxophone solos, or funky bass lines. But I had two friends who were in the jazz band, and they convinced me to join. I got explore the guitar.  We all like being there and love our instruments.  I just want to keep playing it and see what happens.”

Blues tenor saxophonist Nancy Wright returns to the Cheese Board for the Friday lunch show with a new combo featuring drummer Cairo McCockran, Steve Lucky on organ, and Carmen Getit on guitar and vocals. One of the region’s busiest saxophonists specializing in blues, R&B and soul jazz, Wright started singing recently as well, encouraged by pianist Macy Blackman, who features her in his New Orleans R&B steeped band the Mighty Fines.

No stranger to New Orleans sounds, Wright relocated from her native Dayton, Ohio to San Francisco in 1984 to work with the Crescent City R&B combo Hot Links. The Mighty Fines gig has allowed her to delve deeply into the New Orleans repertoire, while also providing a steady forum for honing her vocals, which has led to her singing more on her own gigs too.

“Macy will ask me to sing tunes I would never pick for myself,” Wright says. “For better or worse I’m fearless, so I’m getting to sing some Irma Thomas stuff that I love.” She returns to the Cheese Board on Aug. 31 with another organ combo featuring Tony Stead on B3 and drummer Mick Mestek. Blackman plays the Kensington Farmers’ Market with the Mule Trio on Sunday, and lays down the boogie woogie at Bobby G’s on Friday, Aug. 24 with Wendy DeWitt.

Andrew Gilbert, whose Berkeleyside music column appears every Thursday, also covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley. 

Did you hear Berkeleyside has its own radio station? Listen to bands that are performing locally on Berkeleyside Radio, courtesy of DeliRadio. Read more about it.

Freelancer Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. Andy, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, covers a wide range of musical cultures, from Brazil and Mali to India and Ireland....