Fifty Palo Alto jazz tropes

1. Thelonious Monk live at Paly, 1968

A Palo Alto high student organized a concert with Thelonious Monk at Palo Alto High during a time fo racial unrest (soon after murder of Dr. King), cited in Prof. Robin Kelley’s Monk’s biography as a career highlight of the jazz titan.  (Update: Andrew Gilbert in The Chron and Nate Chinen on NPR announce that the record — vinyl or cd or stream— drops BOOM! July 19. Update: Monk Palo Alto cd and vinyl made many Best of 2020 lists )
2. Dick Fregulia at St. Michael’s Alley

the hippest, quickly becoming the new soul of the local bohemian scene. It was dark, woodsy, cozy, and intimate. Just two doors down from the Varsity Theater, it brought to University Avenue a new alternative to the hip scene at Kepler’s bookstore. When it became apparent that all that was lacking was a piano, I helped Vern, the owner, pick out an old upright with a speckled green paint job. which we placed against the wall in the darkest corner. It became a favorite place for jam sessions, usually involving some combination of drums, bass, a guitar, and/or saxophone. April 1, 1959 to June, 1965, epicenter and petri dish to be bop, the beats, proto-hippies — its where Jerry Garcia met Robert Hunter his lyricist, who also washed dishes there; Fregulia, also a former Paly basketball player became an educator in Marin but has remained actively gigging for 60 years and is the de facto historian of the scene. He is also a master interpreter and promoter in a sense of contemporaries like Bill Evans and Tom Harrell; here he (and Akira Tana) play a tribute at Yoshi’s in 1995 to producer Orrin Keepnews:

3. Stanley Jordan

Jordan was a track star at Gunn, went to Princeton to study math, had a gold record for Blue Note and has consistently performed and recorded his unique and diverse music for 40 years. He plays a tapping guitar style and lives in Sedona, AZ. 

4. Akira Tana

Former quarterback for a championship Gunn football team, Harvard and NEC student, sideman and leader. Akira also played in a rock band that opened for The Grateful Dead at their famous Be-In at El Camino Park. 

5. Tuck and Patti

I saw them once or twice while in high school and didn’t realize that not every town had a Spanish style courtyard with a guitar-vocal duo better than “Lucy and Desi”

6. Danny Scher: promoter, longtime Bill Graham Presents honcho — he built Shoreline Amphitheatre— and brought the aforementioned Monk show here. On Juneteenth, Verve Impulse announced that the Monk live historic recording will drop on July 19, 2020.  Besides the Monk show, he also promoted Vince Guaraldi and Duke Ellington. He worked as Bill’s right hand man for 24 years and still presents concerts for 300 in his Kensington Estate, a stones throw from Berkeley. 

7. Palo Alto Records
Palo Alto Records located here, run by musician and financial-products wizard Jim Benham with help from educator and hipster #1 Herb Wong, put out 80 vinyl releases, including sets by McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones

8. “Palo Alto” by Lee Konitz, although it’s not necessarily about here
9. Gunn High School jazz band
10. Palo Alto Jazz Festival, 1985
11. The New Varsity — see the archive by Randy Lutge
12. Outside at The Inside

13. Palo Alto Jazz Alliance
14. Tom Harrell: his music performed here October 24, 2019 at Palo Alto Arts Center. From Los Altos, son of a Stanford professor, but close enough for Plasty. 
15. Jason Olaine

He continued to work with Keepnews occasionally and he recorded 1985’s Just Feelin’ for Palo Alto, a strong quartet session produced by Bay Area jazz champion Herb Wong featuring esteemed San Francisco percussionist Babatunde Lea. But it wasn’t until Jason Olaine scored a booking coup by engineering the pianist’s initial meeting with tenor sax great Michael Brecker at Yoshi’s that Tyner’s Bay Area legacy fully took shape. That 1995 encounter led to the Grammy-winning Impulse! session Infinity, and marked the start of his annual turn-of-the-year Yoshi’s engagement.

Handy example:
16. Palo Alto Jazz Quintet, especially at World Music Day, 2009 – 2015; good band featuring two doctors, a music teacher and my classmate Dan Adams on drums. 
17. Rebecca Coupe Franks — trumpeter
18. Connie Crothers — piano
19. Ted Gioia: see Dave Douglas podcast spring 2020 plus his book on subversive music; ran a label here. 
20. Josh Thurston Milgrom — bassist; son of Nobel laureate.
21. Josh Roseman kind of sort of
22. Matt Nelson and Ryan Snow — makes me dream of presenting a show with something called The Titan Horns
23. Joe Oliveira — son of the famous painter, sax player;
24. Smth Anderson — an art studio, but supported jazz in several ways;
25. Jenny Scheinman, 4th grade; fiddle player and composer.
26. Full Faith and Credit Band
27. Vince Guaraldi dies in Menlo Park
28. James Booker and Jerry Garcia at Keystone Palo Alto
29. Taylor Ho Bynum at Lytton Plaza; he stopped there on a tour that had the trumpeter biking from SF to LA and further.
30. Monarch Records
31. Windham Hill Records
32. EST at Art 21; piano trio at short-term gallery, they were on the cover of Downbeat but their leader died young in a scuba accident in Sweden;
33. Jack Walrath tribute to Jerry Garcia
34. Dan Adams Bob Adams
35. Stanford Jazz Workshop — James Nadel’s mammoth achievement that started as a summer camp; 
36. SF Jazz at Stanford Shopping Center
37. Jana Herzen of Motema Records; I would raise this higher on the list if I re-wrote this, based on having seen Gregory Porter at Frost in summer, 2021; Herzen saw Porter in a restaurant in New York and put out his first two cds. 
38. Dave Douglas Engage at The Mitch 2019;
39. supper jazz

40. Charlie Hunter Trio, TJ Kirk at The Cub, 1995

This was a rare co-bill of two leading SF Mission/”acid jazz” groups, both led by 8-string Novak guitarist from Berkeley Charlie Hunter, T.J. Kirk who played a medley mashup of James Brown, Monk and Roland Rahsaan Kirk, and Charlie Hunter Trio, which was on Les Claypool’s Prawn Song records soon to be on Blue Note. There were about 150 Earthwise shows at Cubberley and Charlie told me that I should keep doing it because it was a great listening room — about 20 percent jazz, plus rock, folk, blues. This was the first sell-out, in the 300 capacity theatre.

John Schott, Scott Amendola and Charlie Hunter, July 1995 in San Francisco — Charlie played the Cubberley Sessions five times in the 1990s, by Earthwise, five different lineups

41 Mohini Rustagi went to Gunn and Stanford, is an engineer, belly dancer and world music percussionist but close enough for Plastic Alto

Mohini was raised in Birmingham, AL and moved to Palo Alto, CA in 1998. Both of her parents are musically inclined: her mother, Rashmi, is well-versed in classical Indian music and her father, Pradip, played bluegrass on a violin. She was a member of the California Youth Symphony Percussion Ensemble and the Gunn High School Jazz Ensemble and has since been a part of many jazz programs, including PAJA, SJSC, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop.

Her talent has been shaped by Bay Area legends George Marsh, Tootie Heath, and Howard Wiley. Mohini is currently pursuing a degree in Architectural Design at Stanford University, where she plays for the Stanford Jazz Orchestra. She can be heard in a variety of jazz groups all over the Bay Area. (if she plays or played with Ellen Seeling’s fabled big band, she is definitely qualified for the “Plastic Alto 50”

42. Matt Haimovitz — classic cellist prodigy and now teacher at McGill, grew up in Palo Alto and played for PACO before family moved to New York to further his career; later toured with Rope A Dope Records all star band (Charlie Hunter, Steven Bernstein,DJ Olive) though has never played jazz here.
43 Aleta Hayes Stanford alumna and instructor of drama and dance but sang with William Parker and lived in town. Runs a troupe called the Chocolate Heads.
44 Dave Bendigkeit
trumpet player who grew up here and went to Gunn high although split his career between martial arts education and music played with numerous names in numerous sessions I actually have not heard him but Akira Tana said to look into including him on the list and in fact Dave and I traded emails; when the crisis Chris I can check them out together in Brisbane at 7 mile house pretty close to Palo Alto. See also: Titan Horns — Which is mythical at this point even by Plastic alto standards but who knows maybe it will be a big summit at SpangenBurg. While they’re at it why don’t they replace in Salt Lake a horn that actually can be sounded no disrespect intended wasn’t there a big band around here called the blues Saints?


Dave Bendigkeit

45 Chuck Travis

tenor sax played with Tommy Dorsey band during the war years, and worked at Hague’s Music store, where budding musicians could sample the LPs in booth’s before buying.
46. Dave Eshelman trombone player, Cubberley grad, educator arranger (not to be confused with the Stanford Prison Experiment guard). 
47 Al Young poet laureate, who had an office about the restaurant at the Nevada Building, University and Bryant, what is now Keen’s Shoes and the headquarters of Laurene Powell Job’s do-good enterprises. Among his jazz writings, popular book on Mingus. im it enjoys today. The book examines Mingus in his creative fits and starts and is unabashed in its celebration of him. There are mixed tenses, anecdotes that wind their way haphazardly into others and disjointed leaps from memory to memory – and so what? While ”Mingus/ Mingus” may have its narrative bumps and sharp curves, it rushes forward with the energy of a stand-up monologue and serves as a faithful mirror of one of modern music’s more difficult personalities. ”Mingus/Mingus” is a breezy but heartfelt tribute to an irascible talent, a collection as passionate and unruly as its subject. Until that definitive Mingus biography comes along, these remembrances – funny, respectful and revealing – will serve nicely; Al Young died in 2021 at 81; 
48 Michael Hedges – virtuoso guitarist who had a residency at the Varsity in its heyday; 
49 Hershel and Wendy – -Hershel is best known as Chris Isaak’s guitarist – -he’s in Bo Crane’s “Ticket To Rock” which was presented at the Palo Alto Historical Association annual dinner in 2019, whereas I presented a version of this list to PAHA in winter, 2017 — but also a diverse player. He said that at age 19 he would play every night that summer at the ice cream parlor on Ramona, get high with Hedges in the alley behind the Varsity and talk music half the night, clean the church, sleep, repeat. 
50 Plastic Alto the blog named for the soccer field /Earthwise Productions

51 Freddie Gambrell

52. Ray Drummond bassist with 10 sessions as a leader and another 80 or so as a sideman (Houston Person, Jack Walrath), received an MBA at Stanford and was part of the jazz scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s according to Fregulia. Also involved with Stanford Jazz Workshop.

53. Hague’s Music and Melody Lane

54. Nairobi Corner

55. Easy Street

56 Percussion Box

57 Bill Evans at The Varsity , Chuck Brown Presents — advertised in the Stanford Daily – also Sam Rivers earlier that week — October 28-29, 1975. Also, Randall Kline the founder of SF Jazz Festival and venue told me that his first show as a presenter was Oregon at The New Varsity late 1970s. Dick Fregulia has a Bill Evans tribute cd.

58. Dayna Stephens

based on Cubberley-grad Neil Howe’s essay on archetypes, “Fourth Turning” for Lions With Wings, a Bandcamp label started during Covid-lockdown, named for a Stanford landmark sometimes called “the Stanford Griffons”. Stephens is usualy associated with Berkeley or Paterson, NJ but he has worked at Stanford Workshop many times and two shows for Earthwise of Palo Alto. 

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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2 Responses to Fifty Palo Alto jazz tropes

  1. This is great to see. I went to Cubberley HS. Graduated in 1966. Led a big band 67-69 that featured Tom Harrell and others. Also was heavily involved in The Blue Saints and can supply some info on them if you wish. Alumni include Grant Geissman, Gary Pack, Madaline Duran, Rory Snyder and Rich Bice. The band toured the world and presented concerts with the Cal Tjader Quintet and Don Ellis at Cubberley. From ’79 on, leader of The Jazz Garden Big Band (see web link).

  2. Pingback: I cannot believe it took me nearly six years to hear Radiohead ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ | Plastic Alto with Mark Weiss

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