Susan Muscarella likes to think big. Eight years after founding Berkeley's highly successful Jazzschool, she is launching the first Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival this Thursday with no less than forty indoor and outdoor jazz and correlated cultural events spread over four days. Excited by the plethora of great Latin musicians in the Bay Area, Muscarella chose "Latin Jazz" as the theme for the debut. The schedule also features such unusual ancillary events as Thursday's free evening of poets at Heyday Books (510-549-3564); Friday's screening of Louis Malle's classic thriller Elevator to the Gallows with Miles Davis' moody soundtrack (510-464-5980); and Saturday noon's free Latin Percussion Petting Zoo at Berkeley BART Plaza.
BART Plaza also hosts Thursday noon's free performance by Wayne Wallace and the Fourth Dimension. "This is one smoking band!" Muscarella exclaims about what may be the only four-trombone band in the United States. A day later, the unpredictable progressions and soaring, romantic melodic lines of Brazilian jazz fill the plaza, courtesy of Marcos Silva and Intersection. And after John Calloway and Diaspora present a free Friday night lecture and demonstration at the Jazzschool connecting the dots between jazz and Afro-Cuban music, Saturday noon at BART Plaza features percussionist John Santos and the Machete Ensemble's irresistible Afro-Latin jazz. According to Oakland's longtime jazz radio DJ David Tonelli: "The reason a lot of these local performers aren't more widely known is that they lack recording contracts. That says far more about the sorry state of the recording industry than the quality of their musicianship. Unless the record labels manufacture an artist, which these days has so much to do with their looks and marketable image, they're ignored."
Mark Levine, whom Muscarella acclaims as "one of the greatest Latin jazz pianists in the world, hands down," brings his Latin Tinge Quartet to the Jazzschool Saturday at 8 p.m. (510-843-5373). An hour later, pianist Rebeca Mauleón's beautiful, complex arrangements of Afro-Cuban and Caribbean jazz fill the Downtown restaurant (510-649-3810). Complete information is available from Jazzschool.com or 510-845-5373. Reservations for indoor events are essential. -- Jason Victor Serinus
Beckon Like Bender
Sweet and sour is the sneaky, snarky heroine of Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, and sweet and sour are the free potables as Lafayette Library's Lunch & Lemonade Book Club meets to discuss this classic novel-for-kids (Wed., 12:15 p.m.). ... Take a syncopation vacation as the Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival presents poets Lucille Lang Day, Francisco Alarcón, George Davis, and others at the offices of Heyday Books, 2054 University Ave.; for details, call 510-845-5373 (Thu., 7 p.m.). ... Her short story about a grief-stricken librarian who self-medicates by boinking male patrons won Aimee Bender a lot of fans. She reads from her latest collection, Willful Creatures, at Pegasus Downtown (Thu., 7:30 p.m.). ... The backbeat goes on and on as the Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival matches cellist Gael Alcock and bassist dartanyan brown with California Poet Laureate Al Young and fellow bard Adam David Miller at the Berkeley Public Library's Central Branch (Sat., 4 p.m.). ... It's a virtual mob of poets at Spellbinding Tales in Alameda, as Cathy Dana, Deborah Garcia, Ken Peterson, Diana Quartermaine, Selene Steese, Lenore Weiss, Judy Wells, and Linda Zeiser take turns at the mic (Sat., 4 p.m.). ... After surgery helped her drop two hundred pounds in less than a year, spoken-word artist Beatrice Hall, aka Jus' Bea, founded the Scared Into Shape Project. Chew the fat about gastric bypass at the Oakland Public Library's Martin Luther King Jr. Branch (Sat., 1 p.m.). ... Long before it had sunken submarines and Solzhenitsyn, Russia was a land rich in goddess lore, according to Secret History of the Witches author Max Dashu, who celebrates Eastern Europe's pagan past at Changemakers (Sat., 7:30 p.m.). ... Mealtime is murdertime in Kit Sloane's new culinary mystery, Extreme Cuisine. Find out what's in the fridge at Black Oak (Mon., 7:30 p.m.). ... An earthquake shakes up more than bathroom shelves in MacKenzie Bezos' new novel The Testing of Luther Albright, set in Sacramento. Bezos considers the Richter scale at Mrs. Dalloway's (Tue., 7 p.m.). -- Anneli Rufus
East Bay Espresso
Hardcore East Bay-ites would never admit it, but there was always something missing from the local cafe scene compared to Over There's North Beach. No more. Caffe Trieste, one of the city's most beloved caffeine-and-making-the-scene hangouts, is up and running on the newly energized San Pablo Avenue strip below University in Berkeley, with something happening practically every day of the week. On Wednesdays, the Stitch 'n' Bitch group hauls out their needles. This Friday night, lissome singer Meli Rivera sings Puerto Rico-influenced tunes from her CD Songflowers (Elefunt.com/meli) at 8 p.m. Pappa Gianni and the North Beach Band play Italian traditional music and operatic arias this Sunday afternoon, and Trovatore does the same every Monday evening. Tuesday night, the Howard Barkan Trio quotes everyone from Miles to Milton Nascimento, 7-9 p.m. Caffe Trieste is at 2500 San Pablo Ave. (at Dwight Way), 510-548-5198. -- Kelly Vance
The whys and hows of symphonic hip-hop
Who says there are no musical geniuses anymore? Take Geoff "Double G" Gallegos, aka Dakonduktah, for instance, a Los Angeles-based musical visionary earning raves for successfully combining contemporary and classical music with the daKAH Hip-Hop Orchestra. The 75-piece ensemble takes the Roots' popular live concert segment "Hip-Hop 101" and ratchets it up a notch. daKAH's live debut album includes a symphonic suite of the musicians' favorite Gangstarr songs, as well as ambitious, audacious, original compositions guaranteed to flip your wig -- powdered or otherwise. The ultra-big band -- which has played South by Southwest and the SF Jazz Festival -- closes the Stern Grove Festival on Sunday, but on Saturday, Gallegos will host a free, interactive one-hour talk at La Peña in Berkeley focusing on the whys and hows of orchestrating urban music with the classical tradition, including such interesting tangents as hip-hop's jazz and Latin roots, and the importance of melody and harmony in relation to the groove. 1 p.m., www.lapena.org -- Eric K. Arnold
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