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Friday, April 17, 2015

Matt Wong: The Jazz Prodigy

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 9:49 AM

  • Scott Chernis
Matt Wong is a 16-year-old high school senior, San Francisco native, and “jazz prodigy,” according to Adam Theis of the Jazz Mafia, who has played with Wong.

Wong hit the stage at the world-renowned Blue Note jazz club in New York City at the age of 10, the majestic Davies Symphony Hall at 14, and Great American Music Hall at 16. His skills on the piano (and anything else with keys) have followed a similar trajectory as other musicians — but at an almost-alarmingly quicker pace.

But, that’s normal for Wong. He’s been skipping grade levels since elementary school, and has been on an accelerated learning track for his entire academic career.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jason Marsalis on His Family Dynasty and Jazz As Open Architecture

Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Jason Marsalis starts a four-night residency at SFJAZZ this Thursday, Dec. 4. - JEFF STROUT
  • Jeff Strout
  • Jason Marsalis starts a four-night residency at SFJAZZ this Thursday, Dec. 4.
It's one thing to stand at the crossroads of musical tradition and modern sound. It's quite another to stand at this crossroads as the youngest member of the Marsalis dynasty, New Orleans' famous “first family of jazz.” Percussionist Jason Marsalis hopes to prove the modern relevancy of traditional New Orleans music — whether in a standard jazz ensemble or with fusion sensation Snarky Puppy — and to this end, he brings his Vibes Quartet to SFJAZZ this week in promotion of his new record, The 21st Century Trad Band.

Marsalis has played the drums from a young age, adding the vibraphone to his active repertoire in 2000. The large mallet instrument, resembling a xylophone or marimba but distinguished by a series of resonator tubes topped with motorized valves (which provide the eponymous vibrato), holds a distinguished if limited role in jazz, with luminaries ranging from Lionel Hampton to the Bay Area's own Bobby Hutcherson.

Like his outspoken and conservative older brother Wynton, Jason has sparked some controversy within the jazz community — in this case centering around a 2010 YouTube video in which Marsalis disparaged musicians whom he described as prioritizing certain technical ambitions over melody, history, and consideration for the audience. Yet  this antagonistic rhetoric obscures a serious commitment to musical achievement, and looking past it reveals a genuinely appealing love of the art form that both sides of the tradition/modernism debate can agree on. We checked in with Marsalis ahead of his SFJAZZ residency, which runs Thursday, Dec. 4 through Sunday, Dec. 7.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Bad Plus' Dave King on How Touring in a Jazz Band Is Different From Touring in a Rock Band

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 4:30 AM

Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson, and Dave King (L-R) are the Bad Plus
  • Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson, and Dave King (L-R) are the Bad Plus

The Bad Plus visits the Bay Area on a regular basis, and we are grateful for this. As drummer Dave King told us in a recent conversation, that feeling is mutual. "San Francisco is one of the cities we've felt huge support from over the years," he says.

As one third of the Bad Plus, King anchors many of this hard-driving experimental jazz trio's tunes with a ferocity and physicality that's heard plainly on the group's recordings, but is even more evident live. It is largely because of King's contribution that the Bad Plus is often characterized as a jazz trio with a rock edge; the group also boasts the lyrical, harmonically complex piano work of Ethan Iverson and graceful, inspired bass of Reid Anderson. The trio operates in a truly co-equal fashion, with each member sharing in composition duties. Live, the communication of the unit is palpable as it establishes three things in parallel: restless innovation, musical sophistication, and an enormous sense of fun. King recently spoke with us by phone prior to the Bad Plus' performances at Yoshi's Oakland, today (Tuesday, April 30) through Thursday, May 2.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Don't You Forget About Molly Ringwald at Yoshi's on Tuesday

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 9:43 AM


No need to remind anyone who Molly Ringwald is -- teenagers (and the rest of us) are still watching those movies, and it's fair to assume they will for another generation or two, at a minimum. But it might come as a surprise to some who adore her 1980s work with John Hughes that she has been a lifelong singer as well as an actress. The daughter of a professional jazz musician, Ringwald has now come full-circle, returning to her first experiences in the creative arts with the release of Except Sometimes from Concord Records, a lush, polished album of standards. She will appear at Yoshi's SF on Tuesday, performing as part of a CD release party. Ahead of the show, Ringwald spoke to us by phone about her early experiences with music and the evolution of her multifaceted career.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The SFJAZZ Center's Opening Concert Is Streaming Live Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 3:19 PM

The SFJAZZ Center in Hayes Valley
  • The SFJAZZ Center in Hayes Valley

It's open! The SFJAZZ Center, the West Coast's first facility dedicated to jazz performance and education, opened its doors on Monday, and with only a few hiccups, most of which are now resolved.

So it's time to party. And even if you're not the gala-hopping VIP-type, you can witness performances by jazz greats like McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea, as well as younger artists like Esperanza Spalding and the SFJAZZ Collective, as they happen this evening.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dave Brubeck: The Genius Who Made Experimental Jazz Accessible

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 10:49 AM


For a lot of people, jazz is just a stereotype -- a nebulous free-form art that comedians (or any of us, really) will parody without ever knowing what it's really about. Just hit some keys and scat a few syllables: jazz! And there are certainly performers who embrace the improvisational liberties offered by jazz so enthusiastically that they endanger their accessibility to mainstream audiences. However, Dave Brubeck was not only accessible but popular. His defining quartet, which toured and recorded together for 10 years (1958-1967), created the first million-selling jazz album, Time Out, in 1959 -- the same year that Miles Davis released Kind of Blue and Charles Mingus put out Mingus Ah Um (all on the same label, by the way).

Brubeck's accessibility was not the result of catering to the marketplace, but grew out of a confluence of public interest in "difficult" music and artists (Brubeck, Davis, and Mingus among them) who had been working in jazz for decades and had simultaneously matured as recording artists.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

12 Years of Jazz Mafia: Adam Theis on the Group's Rise and Anniversary Concert

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 9:47 AM

Jazz Mafia
  • Jazz Mafia

They wrote the world's first hip-hop symphony (Brass, Bows, and Beats) and performed it at the Monterey Jazz Festival. They held a regular Tuesday night gig at an S.F. club for a decade. They formed a live hip-hop group (Shotgun Wedding Quintet) that rhymed about Bay Area history. They've performed alongside artists like Beck, Carlos Santana, Digital Underground, and Lyrics Born. And this Saturday, Nov. 17, founder Adam Theis and the collective of San Francisco musicians known as the Jazz Mafia will celebrate their 12 years of existence with a blowout at the Fillmore featuring all of the group's spinoffs and artists, and with a special contribution from noted local DJ Qbert. Ahead of the show, we spoke with Theis about the origins of Jazz Mafia, how things have changed in 12 years, and what to expect at Saturday's show.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Go See Shirley Clarke's Groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Documentary at the Roxie

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2012 at 8:56 AM


Shirley Clarke was a trailblazing, staunchly independent filmmaker who fused documentary methods and subject matter with fictional storytelling techniques. Her films often dealt with urban living, jazz music, and American artists. Her 1963 feature, Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Milestone Films is in the process of restoring a number of Clarke's most influential and under-seen films, bringing them to home video for the first time. And her final film, Ornette: Made in America, is even getting some theatrical screenings, including in S.F. this week. This unique portrait of one of the 20th century's key jazz composers displays Clarke's fusion of documentary and narrative techniques to create a seamless, vivid portrait of a man whose influence not only in jazz but throughout a number of musical genres is still a creative force today.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

SFJAZZ Announces Lineup For First Concert at New HQ, Feat. McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, and Bill Cosby?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 at 1:57 PM

The new SFJAZZ center: A reality come Jan. 21.
  • The new SFJAZZ center: A reality come Jan. 21.

A few months ago, we updated you on the progress of construction over at 205 Franklin Street -- the fancy new headquarters of SFJAZZ -- which is set to open on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Jan., 21, 2013.

Today, the nonprofit announced the lineup for artists that will performing at the very first concert in the new live venue/community center/office building on Jan. 23. It's pretty impressive: Musicians include McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Esperanza Spalding, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, the SFJAZZ collective, SFJazz Beacon award winners Bobby Hutcherson, Mary Stallings, Rebeca Mauleón, the org's own artistic directors, and apparently even more special guests to be announced.

Oh, and guess who'll be master of ceremonies for the evening? Bill Cosby.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Live Review, 9/5/12: The Jack DeJohnette Trio Plays With One Mind at Yoshi's SF

Posted By on Thu, Sep 6, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Last night at Yoshi's: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Jack DeJohnette
  • Last night at Yoshi's: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Jack DeJohnette

The Jack DeJohnette Trio, featuring Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke

Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012

Yoshi's S.F.

Better than: The drum solo in Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick," and probably any drum solo in any rock song, ever.

One expects great things from the live performance of a trio led by someone like Jack DeJohnette, a drum luminary who's played with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and too many other jazz titans to name. But there was a moment onstage at Yoshi's last night when DeJohnette -- who's celebrating his 70th birthday with this tour -- fell into a magical section with bassist Stanley Clarke that blew up even our vague expectations.

It was the climax of the trio's rendition of McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance," where, for a few moments, Clarke and DeJohnette seemed to be playing from the same brain. Bass and drums often feel, at their best, like an extension of the other. But here, as Clarke wriggled out quick phrases, his fingers dancing up the neck of his stand-up bass, DeJohnette matched him almost note for note, tossing out snare rolls and tom taps in eerie unison. The section felt like a musical expression of a gleeful shudder, or like getting ants in your pants: Clarke flitted from the top of his instrument to the bottom in quick bursts, his face frozen and elongated in a lost expression. As he'd done all evening, DeJohnette snatched the architecture of the rhythm out of thin air, all the more impressive because Clarke's contribution suggested almost nothing in the way of tempo.

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