Terrence Brewer may well be the busiest jazz guitarist in the Bay Area. On a recent weekend, he played a party at San Francisco's Ferry Building Friday night, a convention of minority automobile dealers from around the country Saturday afternoon, and an hour afterward hopped BART with his Heritage archtop guitar and twelve-pound AER amplifier to take the bandstand at Jupiter in Berkeley. On Sunday, he followed his regular three-gig Oakland routine: rehearsing and performing contemporary Christian music with the band at Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Oakland, playing hard bop in the afternoon with saxophonist Jim Grantham's quartet at the Coffee Mill, and providing dinner music with his own trio a few blocks away at Mezze Restaurant and Bar. On Mondays and Tuesdays he also teaches jazz, classical, and rock guitar to some twenty students, children and adults, beginning to advanced. And, for the past seven years, he's done Thursdays at Butterfly Restaurant on Pier 23 in San Francisco. Wednesday is his day off — if he's not rehearsing with one of his several groups.
"To be really frank, it gets tiresome, but to be honest, when I pick up the guitar, it changes," Brewer said during a break between the church and Coffee Mill gigs at the Alameda apartment he shares with his college-instructor wife and their two friendly Doberman Pinschers. "If I'm really feeling low-energy, I can kinda put it on cruise control, play some medium swing stuff, and not be too crazy," he continued, referring to his Mezze dinner performances. But it's not always so easy. "You can't really get away with that at Jupiter. It has to be full-on energy, so I just dial it in and make it happen."
Born 33 years ago in Oklahoma City — also the hometown of the late jazz electric-guitar pioneer Charlie Christian — and raised in Pittsburg, California, Brewer played clarinet and saxophone before taking up rock guitar as a teenager. "Part of me wishes I were in a really good rock band right now," he says. "There's a certain aesthetic that goes with playing rock or funk or R&B that you don't get with jazz, and vice versa. Being able to see a crowd really move the way you can physically move people when you're doing rock or funk is something that's really amazing."
Although he still does the occasional funk or R&B gig — he spent two weeks in December backing former Supreme Mary Wilson at the Plush Room — he has focused on straight-ahead jazz guitar since his days at Los Medanos College. Brewer's post-bop style has been likened to that of the late Grant Green and his warm, round tone to Russell Malone's, yet unlike those two musicians, he uses his fingers instead of a pick.
"A lot of people say it's interesting that a guy who's in his early thirties is playing straight-ahead stuff," he said. "When I was in high school, while I loved all these modern guitar players, not only rock guitar players but fusion guys like John Scofield and Robben Ford and Steve Vai, the music that I liked was more Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, and Eric Dolphy, so I just tended to be a more straight-ahead player. Some people like to hear a drummer play a nice backbeat, but for me, I hear a swing pattern and it just makes me happy."
On his regular gigs, Brewer mixes jazz and popular standards such as "Doxy," "Lullaby of Birdland," "Misty," and "Just Friends" with a few of his own harmonically sophisticated compositions. He will be showcasing his own tunes, especially those from his just-released QuintEssential, the third volume in a series titled The Calling on his own Strong Brew Music label, Monday night at Yoshi's with a tight, swinging combo made up of himself, saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, pianist Ben Stolorow, bassist Ravi Abcarian, and drummer Micah McClain.
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