Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Jazz Lives Today With Jenny Ferris and Friends

When my friend, Tony, offered an evening of live Jazz in Berkeley last night, I jumped at the chance. We were rewarded with two hours of the real deal, a good, inexpensive dinner, quality beer, and, in a way, a peek into the past.

Caffe Trieste sits at 2500 San Pablo Avenue, at Dwight, in Berkeley. It's in a quaint little business block. You enter at the corner and see the counter ahead of you, its wares displayed, and in the rest of the place, small tables with chairs. In the back, in a narrow space, were our musicians. It felt like it must have entering an Italian cafe in San Francisco's North Beach in the late 1950's. You could hear the alto sax and piano going when we arrived. Even the man next to me's horn rimmed glasses and beard evoked the time of beat poetry, plentiful Jazz, and bohemian living.

We grabbed a good table up near the musicians. Jenny Ferris, the featured vocalist, stood, and to her left was Rich Lesnik, a man with a rack of wind instruments at his disposal. He was superb on alto and soprano saxes, and the clarinet too. The flute sat until the final number, when he took it out for a spin. His many solos were finely modulated, soothing, and sometimes provided a little extra kick when he squeezed out a special high note or silky cascade of notes on the golden saxes.

Behind him, along the windows, sat Laura Klein. She was saddled with a very ungrand, but quite serviceable upright piano from which she pulled a great range of sounds. She comped behind soloists and singer when she wasn't providing a rousing solo of her own. She displayed a wide range of dynamics and could really build a phrase up to a satisfying conclusion. Laura also teaches the Alexander Technique.

Behind Laura, Ron Crotty held down the upright bass duties with ease. I later spoke with Ron, who told me he was 83 and had been playing bass for 65 years! You could tell. He had the right stuff. He also said he was Dave Brubeck's first bassist, and that's definitely a great thing to have in your CV. Ron provided a number of subtle, but always swinging solos.

Way in back of the narrow band space sat Tom Hassett, a popular local Jazz drummer, who played so subtly at times using his white brushes on seasoned skins, that you could hardly hear him. But you could always sense his presense, keeping the numbers moving. He pulled out the sticks sometimes in the more uptempo songs. Tom got a chance at a few solos and provided a nice tour of his modest drum kit. My companion Tony, a drummer himself, studied Tom's every move, and had a chance to talk shop with him after the show.

The group played two sets, featuring a range of Jazz classics, but especially fine selections from Johnny Mercer, including Come Rain or Shine, Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive and My Shining Hour. Jenny produced a CD, Day In Day Out, in 2005 that features 15 Mercer compositions. It was for sale at the show; click the link to learn more or order your own copy.

Jenny is the kind of singer you like right away and still enjoy after a set or two. She doesn't push too hard, and has a great range and a delightful subtlety of phrasing. She told me that she has performed for a long time, and she displays both the depth you acquire with experience and a smoothness that shows she hasn't abused her instrument.

All too soon, the two hours were over. My visit to 1958 ended, but the good feelings were only beginning. I'll enjoy exploring the CD now as well.

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