Strings Attached 

Talking - and playing - guitar with the Jazzmasters Workshop.

Bruce Forman came on the San Francisco jazz scene in the early '70s, when there were still old-school clubs where jazz stars were readily accessible after gigs. Those days are long gone, but the supremely swinging bebop guitarist is making sure that aspiring musicians can gain firsthand exposure to veteran players with the Jazzmasters Workshop, a nonprofit organization that produces free weekly clinics where budding guitarists can sit down with some of jazz's finest fretsters.

"There were so many opportunities to play and to get close to these amazing musicians when I was coming up," says Forman from his home in Carmel Valley. "So I decided I'd model this mentoring program after my own experience, the workshops at the Great American Music Hall with guys like Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, and Herb Ellis. And the informal situations, mostly in the back room at Keystone Korner after gigs, where we'd all just hang out and play and talk about guitar with George Benson and Grant Green. Those were really memorable, inspirational experiences."

The Jazzmasters Workshop holds its first major fund-raiser on Monday at Yoshi's, featuring Forman, the innovative "tap" guitarist Stanley Jordan, and Mundell Lowe, a jazz guitar patriarch who has recorded with legends from Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker to Sarah Vaughan and Benny Carter. Lowe will also stick around for a few days to participate in several workshops, joining a dazzling cast of players who have conducted clinics, including seven-string virtuoso Ron Eschete, Calvin Keys, Eddie Duran, Jerry Hahn, John Stowell, and Paul Mehling. Since spreading to four sites throughout the Bay Area last year, the program has offered more than 250 free workshops (adults are also welcome for a $20 fee).

"These are musicians who have so much to give, and are carrying on the tradition," Forman notes. "Eschete is doing his thing with the seven strings, Stowell is very modern and chordal, and me and Calvin Keys are straight-ahead guys. Eddie Duran plays unbelievable rhythm. And Paul Mehling is the West Coast expert on Django Reinhardt, so you've got really varied attitudes about how to approach jazz guitar."

Forman started developing the Jazzmasters Workshop concept during the decade he conducted monthly clinics for the Monterey Jazz Festival's year-round education program. He first launched the program two years ago in the Carmel Youth Center. With the support of two Silicon Valley jazz-guitar-loving venture capitalists Forman expanded the program to Mountain View, San Francisco, and Oakland, where clinics are held Thursdays, 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the Alice Arts Center. (Forman conducts Thursday's clinic and Lowe holds forth on April 25.) For Bay Area players like Calvin Keys, a fluent improviser with a beautiful rounded tone, the clinics have provided a perfect forum for passing on hard-won knowledge. "There's a whole new crop coming up, and they're going develop some different things, you watch," says Keys. "There's a certain torch being passed around. That torch was passed to me at some point in my life, and I'm trying to keep it burning by handing it on to some of these youngsters."

Jazzmasters Guitar Summit Benefit takes place at Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, on Monday, April 22, at 8 and 10 p.m. 510-238-9200.

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