Billy Buss: BHS alum class of 2006, plays Jupiter in Berkeley on Monday

Sometimes Berkeley brims with so much musical activity that there’s no need to even contemplate what’s happening in Oakland, let alone San Francisco. This is one of those weeks. From Jupiter and Ashkenaz to the Freight and the Jazzschool, there’s a surfeit of inviting sounds.

Let’s start with the return of Billy Buss, Berkeley High class of 2006. When we caught up with the trumpeter last summer he was hustling on the New York jazz scene, working with a diverse array of artists. Back in town for his annual stint teaching at the Jazzschool (he leads a workshop on “Motivic Development” Monday night), Buss celebrates the release of his debut album Scenes From A Dream Friday at Jupiter with monster drummer Jeff Marrs, tenor saxophonist Stephen Norfleet, keyboardist Michael Colman, and bassist Doug Stuart.

While most of the album features a quintet made up of fellow twentysomething players who are just starting to make a name for themselves, Buss is joined on three tracks by tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens, one of the most widely admired players of his generation. About a decade older than Buss, Stephens graduated from Berkeley High in 1997, and has hired the trumpeter for several high-profile New York gigs. More importantly, he’s served as a mentor, offering career and life advice to the trumpeter.

Both players left their local schools (Alameda High for Stephens and Acalanes High  for Buss) to “be part of that magical thing” in BHS’s vaunted jazz program, Buss says. They both went on to earn the Monterey Jazz Festival’s coveted Jimmy Lyons Scholarship, which covers the full four-year tuition Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

“We both ended up going to the Monk Institute right out of college, and then moved to New York,” says Buss, referring to the prestigious masters program that was run by trumpeter Terence Blanchard. “Dayna’s really helped me realize what I want to do, helped guide me through being a professional musician.”

While he maintains a regular presence in New York City, Buss moved back to Boston about eight months ago, drawn by numerous teaching opportunities. He’s still in touch with several contemporaries from the Berkeley High jazz program, such as pianist Julian Pollack and drummer Charlie Ferguson, but “everyone’s hustling so hard to survive there’s not much time to be high school buddies,” he says.

More than anything, he’s held onto the ethos instilled by Charles Hamilton and the numerous players who have gone on from the BHS jazz program to make significant contributions. “It’s never really been about personal success,” Buss says. “It’s more about love of the music and the creative opportunities you can find. Taking that approach has allowed a lot of them to be successful.


While Buss’s gig at Jupiter promises to be a high-energy affair, Friday also brings Matt Renzi’s Cello Quartet to the Hillside Club (pictured above). A chamber jazz ensemble built around conservatory-trained cellist Misha Khalikulov, who’s best known for his expressive work in the popular SF combo Rupa and the April Fishes, the band features the top-shelf rhythm section tandem of bassist John Wiitala and drummer Smith Dobson V. Renzi is an inventive reed player who has explored an international array of influences flowing from time spent in India and Japan, though the Cello Quartet explores a decidedly West Coast sensibility with roots dating all the way back to drummer Chico Hamilton’s popular mid-1950s combo with the singular cellist Fred Katz (who’s still active at 94).

Back at Jupiter on Saturday, seven-string bass master Edo Castro performs with a stellar quintet featuring guitarist Michael LaMacchia, pianist Greg Sankovich, drummer Andy Dillard, and tenor saxophonist Dann Zinn. While steeped in jazz, Castro is a versatile player whose lyrical lines have graced a vast array of settings.

Bay Area guitar ace Mimi Fox, a player more often found touring internationally than on local stages, regroups with powerhouse vocalist Greta Metassa at the Jazzschool on Sunday afternoon. They recorded a fantastic live album back in 2003, Two For the Road (Origin Records), and haven’t performed a duo show in about a decade. Something of a local legend in Seattle, Metassa is a vocalist whose versatility and killer pipes leave a vivid impression.

The Pine Leaf Boys, arguably the finest young Cajun band in Louisiana, performs Tuesday at Ashkenaz. Powered by the turbo-charged accordion of Wilson Savoy, who’s been performing since he was a teenager in the Savoy Family Band, the quintet features Courtney Granger on fiddle and vocals, guitarist Jon Bertrand, bassist Thomas David, and Drew Simon on drums and vocals.

And finally, the incandescent vocalist Aoife O’Donovan, best known as a founding member of the Boston newgrass string band Crooked Still, makes her Bay Area debut leading her own band at Freight & Salvage on Wednesday.

Billy Buss: From Berkeley to New York via trumpet (07.12 12)

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.

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events — the calendar is free and self-serve.

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....