The East Bay Jazz Guide
Feel like hearing some live jazz tonight? You don’t need to go far: The East Bay is packed with intimate clubs, elegant theaters, and a ton of talent playing every type of jazz, every night of the week.
The Legend: Ray Obiedo
Born: Richmond Lives: Oakland Age: 63
Guitarist Ray Obiedo grew up in Richmond during the 1960s, with the world’s most happening music scene just a bridge toll away.
“It cost a quarter to get across the Bay Bridge back then, and we would go every weekend,” says Obiedo, sipping coffee before a recording session in Berkeley’s famed Fantasy Studios. “I remember seeing Miles Davis play at the Keystone Korner, and the ticket was $7, which seemed like an absolute fortune at the time.”
Seeing Eric Clapton play with Cream provided an epiphany for Obiedo. “I bought a red Gibson SG Standard, just like the one he played,” says the longtime Oakland resident.
While Obiedo followed rock gods into his career as a professional musician, he found his calling in the jazz genre, excelling in everything from precise, smooth arrangements to wildly improvisational sets. Obiedo spent the 1970s touring alternately with organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith, trombonist Julian Priester, drummer Pete Escovedo, and pianist Herbie Hancock.
In 1989, Obiedo released the first of six solo albums, on the Windham Hill Jazz label. When he’s not recording soundtrack music and producing pop records for various musicians and bands, Obiedo gigs frequently around the Bay Area with his band, Mistura Fina, which blends Brazilian and Caribbean funk with a West Coast jazz sound.
“We love to play Armando’s in Martinez,” says Obiedo. “That’s just a great little music club.”
Obiedo says he feels a thrill with every performance, even after more than 40 years of playing music professionally.
“I will never forget the feeling I had—excited little butterflies in my stomach—when I was driving my guitar and amp over to my first gig in Berkeley,” says Obiedo. “I was nervous and excited, and did not know how it would go. All these years later, I still get that feeling before every show, every single time. That will never change.”
Studio Time: St. Valentinez
Obiedo spends a lot of time in the studio, producing other Bay Area musicians, including The St. Valentinez, a soul-funk–hip-hop outfit scheduled to release its debut album in 2014. One of the band’s guitarists is Francesca Simone (pictured), a graduate of the Bentley School in Lafayette, whose Obiedo-produced solo album Playground dropped last year.
What’s New: Herbie Hancock Box Set
Featuring guitarist Ray Obiedo
Obiedo is excited about his role in a sprawling new release from a jazz legend recently honored at the kennedy center by president obama. Herbie hancock: the Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972–1988 is “a 43–CD box set, and it is absolutely amazing,” says Obiedo. “I’m particularly excited about the release, because I play on three of the discs, two of which were only available in Japan until now.”
East of the Caldecott: Where to experience the Jazz Scene.
Jazz and Wine Pairings:
A major player in downtown Livermore’s quickly expanding nightlife scene, Double Barrel features live music several nights a week. An outstanding wine list is paired with piano jazz every Tuesday and Wednesday evening, and various jazz ensembles every Sunday at 4 p.m. 2086 First St., Livermore, (925) 243-9463, doublebarrelwinebar.com.
This cozy club in Martinez features a heavy rotation of jazz on its calendar: Check out Duo Gadjo’s Parisian-club stylings March 20, the romantic Nicolas Bearde Trio on March 22, and Mal Sharpe’s Dixieland music on March 27. 707 Marina Vista, Martinez, (925) 228-6985, armandosmartinez.com.
Free For All:
Peace Lutheran Church Jazz Series
One of the gems in the East Bay’s jazz scene is a free jazz concert series offered by Peace Lutheran Church in Danville.
The series was inspired by the famed Jazz Vespers program at Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, when the great drummer Max Roach told the church that the city’s jazz musicians wanted to attend church but couldn’t make the Sunday morning call time. So the church organized a 5 p.m. service Sunday evenings, featuring jazz music.
Danville’s Peace Lutheran has followed the tradition, offering free jazz concerts October to June on the first Sunday of each month, at 5 p.m. The series attracts top talent, including Kenny Washington, Ed Reed, and Inga Swearingen (pictured above). 3201 Camino Tassajara, Danville, (925) 648-7000, peacejourney.org.
Jazz in the Creek
Head to Walnut Creek for cool jazz during the hot summer months: Diablo Regional Arts Association hosts a concert series at the Lesher Center for the Arts in July and August. The series features renowned artists, including Karrin Allyson and John Pizzarelli (pictured), performing in the 300-seat Margaret Lesher Theatre. lesherjazz.org.?
Lafayette Jazz Workshop Concerts
Each summer, the Generations in Jazz Foundation invites a range of outstanding performers to come instruct students by day and then perform in public concerts each evening. August 3–8, lafayettejazz.wordpress.com.
Livermore’s gorgeous Bankhead Theater makes sure to schedule top-shelf jazz concerts in its 500-seat auditorium every season. Look for acclaimed pianist Fred Hersch on March 7 and the classic sounds of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band on April 24. 2400 First St., Livermore, (925) 373-6100, livermoreperformingarts.org.
Guide to a Groovy Date Night
Eat: Peace Lutheran is less than half a mile from Blackhawk Plaza, home to several great restaurants. We love Blue Gingko’s sushi.
Drink: Blackhawk Plaza’s destination restaurant, Blackhawk Grille, has one of Danville’s best bars.
Park: No bridge. No tunnel. Free parking. Free show. What’s not to like about live jazz in Danville?
The Pioneer: Scott Amendola
Born: NYC Lives: Berkeley Age: 45
Drummer Scott Amendola, currently on a national tour with prolific East Bay guitarist Charlie Hunter, has jazz in his DNA. Amendola, a Berkeley resident, grew up just outside of New York City. There, his grandfather, Tony Gottuso, worked for decades as one of the go-to studio session guitarists during the heyday of the Big Apple’s jazz scene, playing with everyone from big band leader Artie Shaw to legendary crooner Frank Sinatra.
“I heard some pretty cool stories, and I just learned a ton from [my grandfather],” Amendola says. “He was a real jazz player from the early days: He swung his butt off.”
The grandson’s career has been no less prolific, albeit more experimental. Since moving to the East Bay in the early ’90s, after graduating from Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music, Amendola established himself as one of the premier drummers in avant-garde jazz. He’s provided rhythm for a seemingly countless array of cutting-edge acts—including internationally recognized names such as guitarists Hunter and Nels Cline—each of whom incorporate rock, blues, funk, classical, and other nonjazz influences into their music.
Between the touring, recording, and a stream of gigs around the Bay Area with a who’s who of local jazz artists, Amendola keeps busy playing year-round.
“Playing live is what makes music exciting,” he says. “It’s an electrifying thing: No matter who you’re playing with, as long as the spirit is right and everyone is there for the right reasons, you’ll end up having a great time.”
His attitude echoes that of his grandfather, who also found success adapting to, and playing with, a wide variety of musicians. Gottuso passed away in 1997, but not before he had a chance to watch Amendola perform with Hunter in New York—to which the lifelong guitarist had a somewhat surprising response.
“He really loved it,” Amendola says. “I remember him saying about Charlie, ‘That guy is unbelievable. I’ve got to go home and practice.’ ”
Amendola’s first orchestral piece, “Fade to Orange,” was written for his wife and refers to a sunset viewed from the Bay Bridge. He performed it with the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra in 2011, and is currently raising money to record the composition. –E.F.
What’s New: Pucker
By Scott Amendola and Charlie Hunter
A follow-up to their critically acclaimed Not Getting Behind is the New Getting Ahead, pucker dropped late last year. the album is described by jazz writer Andrew Gilbert as “marked by fierce grooves, caressing melodies, introspective balladry, and startlingly intuitive interplay.” All songs were composed by Amendola, except for one: “Scott’s Tune,” written by Amendola’s grandfather, Tony Gottuso. —E.F.
West of the Caldecott: Where to Experience the Jazz Scene.
The Duke of Swing
We can always count on the folks who book Cal Performances to keep things classy, which is why we can’t wait for the May 2 jazz concert, The Legacy of Duke Ellington: 50 Years of Swing!
Bay Area jazz great Marcus Shelby has put together an all-star orchestra to interpret the legendary Ellington’s compositions, and transport an audience at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall back to the days of New York’s Cotton Club. calperformances.org.
Worth the Toll:
The $64 million, 35,000-square-foot SFJAZZ Center opened last year to great acclaim. The events calendar is a lineup of living legends: Saxophonist Wayne Shorter heads a quartet for a four-night residency at the end of March; Branford Marsalis visits April 29–30; and Herbie Hancock will be honored on May 16.
You can’t go wrong with any seat in Miner Auditorium, which features steeply raked seating that surrounds the stage on all sides. With a capacity of 700, the auditorium offers an intimate encounter with performers at every show. 201 Franklin St., San Francisco, (866) 920-5299, sfjazz.org.
Ask any musician from Piedmont to Paris: When it comes to West Coast jazz, Yoshi’s is the place. Located in Jack London Square (with a second venue in San Francisco), Yoshi’s offers an often eclectic, always exceptional calendar of concerts from fine artists, best enjoyed after dinner in the club’s excellent restaurant. The 330-seat music room is state of the art, intimate yet grand.
And oh, those performers: Look for The Manhattan Transfer (pictured above) to play March 1 and 2; John Coltrane’s daughter Michelle on March 6; and Latin jazz legend Poncho Sanchez on March 21 and 22. 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, (510) 238-9200, yoshis.com.
Come for the drinks:
Stay for the Jazz
Looking for dinner, drinks, and jazz in the same spot? Berkeley’s Jupiter; Paragon Restaurant and Bar at the Claremont Hotel; and Duende and Picán in Oakland are all restaurants with bars that feature live jazz of the highest order. jupiterbeer.com, paragonrestaurant.com, duendeoakland.com, picanrestaurant.com.
Guide to a Groovy Date Night
Eat: Jack London Square’s dining scene keeps getting better. Right now, we’re thinking Bocanova for date night. Or Haven. Or Forge. Or ...
Drink: The square’s literary namesake liked to knock one back at Heinold’s First and Last Chance saloon. Pour us one, too.
Park: Plenty of paid garage options. Most restaurants validate; some have valet service.
The Master: Brian Pardo
Born: Brooklyn Lives: Walnut Creek Age: 57
Walnut Creek resident Brian Pardo has toured the country, playing guitar with jazz legends such as Stan Getz and Jack McDuff. But these days, he spends most of his time instructing today’s musical prodigies. Pardo, the director of jazz studies at the Bentley School in Lafayette, is also on the teaching faculties of the Jazzschool in Berkeley, Mills College, Diablo Valley College, California State University East Bay, and UC Berkeley.
You’re on the faculties of so many jazz programs here in the East Bay. Why are these music classes such an important part of a student’s education?
Obviously, music is my background, and I’m partial to it, but the truth is that music ties into so many other disciplines. There is a huge push in the United States to put such an emphasis on science and math, and it’s had a very serious impact on music education. Schools have become much more left-brain oriented, emphasizing analytical thinking and de-emphasizing intuitive and creating thinking.
While the arts have been cut in many public schools, this community still supports and funds programs, such as the jazz program that Bob Athayde has run at Stanley Middle School in Lafayette for many years.
Absolutely. In the 1980s, I was living in Berkeley when my kids were very young—and moved to Lafayette specifically so my son and daughter could go to the school Bob Athayde was teaching at. People don’t realize what a gem he is in this community.
What other programs and venues would you recommend for Diablo readers to get a crash course in live jazz?
Without question, the Jazzschool in Berkeley (jazzschool.org) is the place to start. It’s just wonderful. Next, check out Mills College, which frequently hosts free performances with some great talents. And finally, there’s a terrific nonprofit based in Oakland called Jazz in the Neighborhood (jazzintheneighborhood.org) that does some really interesting programs.
One Stop Shop
The Bay Area’s best jazz record shop, bar none, is this long-running store on the Oakland-Berkeley border. Owner Rick Ballard is a walking encyclopedia of jazz info: His customers come from all continents to peruse the LPs and CDs on his shelves. Ballard’s e-newsletter keeps fans apprised of East Bay concert news and record release info. 5555 Claremont Ave., Oakland, (510) 655-8400.
Crash Course: San Ramon Library
A place to start to learn about Jazz.
San Ramon’s public library at 100 Montgomery Street has one of the best collections of jazz music and books anywhere in the Bay Area. The collection of more than 2,000 CDs is so impressive that jazz aficionados have reached out from every corner of the country to borrow from it. In the fall, the library also hosts four Friday night concerts, featuring top-shelf players. sanramonjazz.org/wp.