Berkeley High Jazz Alumni Home for the Holidays By KEN BULLOCK

Special to the Planet
Tuesday December 14, 2004

Four of the Berkeley High jazz program’s most illustrious graduates are coming home to the East Bay for a series of holiday gigs. And the teenagers now in the school’s Jazz Ensemble are doing all they can to follow closely in their footsteps. 

Four famed alumni of Berkeley High’s Jazz Band—Steven Bernstein, Benny Green, Charlie Hunter and Joshua Redman—are back home to groove and swing through Advent/Chanukah and Christmastide, past New Year’s to Twelfth Night. This past Saturday at the Redwood Empire Jazz Festival, the current Jazz Ensemble continued the program’s winning tradition, taking first place in its category. The judges also awarded three Berkeley High musicians the distinction of being the best on their instruments: pianist Julian Pollock, trombonist Danny Lubin-Laden and saxophonist Andy Baltazar. 

Right now at Yoshi’s on Jack London Square through Sunday, Dec. 19 is 8-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, well-known for clubbing throughout the Bay Area during the Hammond B-3 organ combo revivals of the ‘90s. Playing bass and lead simultaneously on his specially designed box, Hunter’s sound reminds at times of the great Hammond keyboard itself. With him in trio are saxophonist John Ellis and drummer Derrick Phillips, same personnel as on the Ropeadope CD, Friends Seen and Unseen. “Bluesier than ever!” 

Trumpeter/fluegelhorn player Steve Bernstein, of Sex Mob fame, will bring his quintet—reedsman Pablo Calogero, drummer Danny Frankel (Flying Karamazov Bros.), DJ Bonebrake (X’s drummer, but on vibes) and bassist David Piltch (from the Bill Frissell Quartet)—of his Diaspora Hollywood CD (third in the Diaspora series on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, following Soul & Blues) to the Jazz House at the Berkeley Fellowship Hall, Cedar at Bonita streets, for a two-show world premiere of his compositions from the CD, live, 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., on Saturday, Dec. 18. Bernstein first played Jazz House last year, sitting in with sax great Sam Rivers after dropping by to catch Rivers’ show. 

Jazz House, the innovative non-profit club that features young players, grade school to college-age, opening for—and sometimes playing with—well-known older players, has been homeless since Halloween. They lost their lease after two years’ on Adeline Street, with “the blue light above the door.” The search for a new home—and the necessary funding or sponsorship to bring it up to code as a showplace--is ongoing, says programmer Rob Woodward. 

Presenting this show at the Fellowship Hall, after a phone call from Bernstein, has Woodward elated: “I’m really a fan; his CD blew me away!” For more information, see www.thejazzhouse.org. 

Star tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman stretches out with his Elastic Band trio (Sam Yahel on organ; Brian Blade—from Josh’s original quartet—on drums) at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square over the new year. Redman is son of the great tenorman Dewey Redman (sideman to Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett) and Berkeley’s Renee Shedroff, librarian and dancer. 

Redman’s band will play the Oakland club from Tuesday, Dec. 28, to Sunday, Jan. 2, including a single, long New Year’s Eve show, starting at 9 p.m., that will be broadcast live, nationwide, on National Public Radio. Coming to prominence after winning the Thelonius Monk Award and recording for Vanguard, Josh is also artistic director for the San Francisco Jazz Festival. 

With famed pianist Benny Green (praised by Oscar Peterson) and guitarist Russell Malone (once Diana Krall’s accompanist) in a duet Jan. 3-6 (a jazz Epiphany?), Yoshi’s has cornered nine of the Twelve Days of Christmas with sounds by nationally-known Berkeley-bred players, home for the holidays—real Yule spirit. 

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently fingered the ever-present miasma these shopping days of Xmas tunes spinning endlessly, over and over, as the prime symptom of her own holiday malaise. For anybody down with it, the antidote is easy: celebrate locally with the festive spontaneity of live music.