On any given night one can find a handful of jazz gigs in Berkeley interesting enough to coax even a casual fan out of the house. But this Sunday offers something altogether rare with a convergence of two events that auger well for the future of the scene.
From noon to 5 p.m., the Berkeley High jazz program’s 20th annual Jazz on Fourth Street fundraiser turns the shopping district into a music-filled street party. And at the David Brower Center from 2-5 p.m., Jazz in the Neighborhood celebrates its second anniversary with a fundraiser and concert featuring the lustrous vocalist Clairdee, pianist Ken French, bassist Marcus Shelby, trumpeter (and Berkeley High alum) Erik Jekabson, pianist Glen Pearson, saxophonist/flutist Mary Fettig, trombonist Wayne Wallace, and drummer Hamir Atwal.
While the events might compete for some of the same audience on Sunday, they’re synergistic in the best possible sense. Jazz On Fourth is all about supporting a program that has produced more top-shelf jazz talent over the past four decades than any other high school in the country not specifically devoted to the arts. And every year a new crop of BHS students matriculate to some of the nation’s top music schools, from Berklee and the Manhattan School of Music to Oberlin and the USC Thornton School of Music. Should those alumni decide to pursue music as a vocation, Jazz In the Neighborhood is working to make sure that there are still some reasonably remunerative gigs if they return to the Bay Area.
JitN has forged relationships with various venues around the region, provides a modest subsidy for the jazz performances, or producing event themselves, like at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists. Veteran trumpeter and Berkeley native Mario Guarneri came up with the concept for JitN as an extension of what he was already doing on his own. After years on the Southland scene as a first-call studio musician who also performed regularly with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Guarneri returned to the Bay Area in the 1990s (while continuing anther career track as an educator with his current position as trumpet instructor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music).
Looking to work with top-shelf jazz colleagues, Guarneri started guaranteeing his bandmates $100 each for two hour gigs near his home in Fairfax, or at Café Devine in North Beach. When a friend suggested that the ever-present tip jar at Café Devine was demeaning, it helped push Guarneri to take innovative new measures to assure musicians a respectable wage.
“I’d been playing with the idea of getting a non-profit together to get a guaranteed salary for musicians,” Guarneri says. “I had the benefit of working in non-profits all my life, like the LA Philharmonic and LA Chamber Orchestra. I felt the people I was playing with are at an equally high level, but there’s no compensation.”
Joining forces with Jon Herbst, the Kensington film composer, audio engineer, music editor, and jazz pianist, Guarneri launched JitN. With growing membership and support from the Zellerbach Family Foundation, the American Federation of Musicians, and various donors, the organization has paid out some $40,000 to local musicians since April 2013 via gigs in Richmond, North Beach, The Mission, Mill Valley, Fairfax, Lafayette, San Rafael, and Berkeley (next up at the Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists is the estimable jazz/blues vocalist Pamela Rose on June 19 with pianist Tammy Hall, bassist Ruth Davies and drummer Allison Miller).
Interested in more than getting musicians paid, JitN is also working to build relationships between established artists and aspiring musicians. Sunday’s Brower Center program also includes the Oakland Future Trio with Ari Carpenter, Caleb Sankoh, Mikhi Woodley, a student ensemble from Randy Porter’s jazz program at Oakland’s Westlake Middle School.
“We’re looking for some new ways to keep jazz’s mentoring tradition alive, while making the music more accessible,” Herbst says. “One thing we’re doing is collaborating with existing venues and groups to find synergy. We partnered with Yerba Buena Center For the Arts when we presented Ben Goldberg at the Unitarian Fellowship, and we’re working with the Richmond Arts Center and Community Music Center in San Francisco. We bring an on-the-ground sensibility to these organizations that want to reach out.”
Recommended gig: Akira Tana
Drum maestro Akira Tana performs Sunday 3:00 p.m. at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple’s Satsuki Bazaar and Arts Festival with his Secret Agent Band featuring vocalist Annie Sellick, alto saxophonist James Mahone, guitarist Jeff Massanari, and Japanese organist such Akiko Tsuruga, who’s been making a name for herself in New York City through her work with octogenarian bop-and-blues alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. I wrote about Tana’s James Bond-inspired project for Berkeleyside.
Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. He also reports for the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. Read his previous Berkeleyside reviews.
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