Tinseltown Tummlers 

Musician Steven Bernstein pays tribute to the Jewish composers of classical Hollywood.

The original in-your-face jazz trumpeter from Berkeley High, Steven Bernstein has a reputation for his attitude as well as his music. The Web site of his raucous New York band, Sex Mob, which recently tore it up at the San Francisco Jazz Festival, displays an animated version of the quartet's current CD, Dime Grind Palace<, below which is a message: "Click here for free sex."

"When I moved to New York 25 years ago it was to play trumpet, and here I am!" Bernstein said in a phone interview from the Brooklyn home he shares with his wife, also a Berkeley High alum, and their children. Through offbeat bands such as the Lounge Lizards and his own Spanish Fly trio (slide trumpet, slide guitar, and tuba) and Sex Mob quartet, Bernstein has built an international reputation for music that doesn't fit categories. That reputation keeps him busy. This year alone he has assembled and directed Sting's Rainforest Benefit band and played or recorded with Lou Reed, Elton John, Billy Joel, Laurie Anderson, Linda Ronstadt (her just-issued CD of jazz standards, Hummin' to Myself), Bette Midler, Beth Orton, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, and the McGarrigle Sisters, among others.

Since the late '70s at Berkeley High and later in classmate Peter Apfelbaum's Hieroglyphics Ensemble, Bernstein has relentlessly pursued the edgiest music he can find. That search eventually led him to a much quieter place with his new CD, Diaspora Hollywood. The CD, on buddy John Zorn's Tzadik label -- which is dedicated to "Radical Jewish Culture" -- boasts some of the most thoughtful and hauntingly beautiful music of Bernstein's career. Now he is bringing the CD's Los Angeles quintet to an unlikely spot, Berkeley's Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar St. (at Bonita Ave.), this Saturday for CD release concerts at 8 and 9:30 p.m., produced by the Jazz House.

Last summer Bernstein hung out at the nonprofit, all-ages Jazz House across from the Ashby BART station, met director Rob Woodworth, and asked to do a concert. "All the years I was growing up here, this is exactly the kind of club I was looking for," he says, "but then it had to close down. But Rob and I stayed in touch, and this is the show, presented by the Jazz House." (The Jazz House's landlord reportedly plans to raze the building.)

Diaspora Hollywood grew out of Bernstein's love of West Coast jazz and his discovery that many Hollywood film composers and arrangers in the early days were Eastern European Jewish immigrants, hired because they were classically trained and could compose and arrange for films: Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, et al. "So there's that feel to it, but also I love the jazz guys like Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne," Bernstein says. "They swung so great. Then I was reading a book on that scene and found out they're Jews, and nobody knew it. Presto: I had the concept for my next record!"

The CD was even recorded in the Hollywood hills with Los Angeles musicians, the same band that plays with Bernstein on Saturday -- bass clarinet-baritone sax-flute player Pablo Calogero (he and Bernstein have known each other since their '80s days in the Flying Karamazov Brothers and Kamikaze Ground Crew), X drummer D.J. Bonebrake on vibes, and k.d. lang's rhythm section, drummer Danny Frankel and bassist David Piltch. For more show info, visit TheJazzHouse.org


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