Talents uniting at UC Theatre to salute Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble
By Lou Fancher
Like vinyl albums, CD’s and Spotify playlists that become a collector’s audio scrapbook, live music experiences form indelible memories associated with an event in history.
The collective energy of an audience grooving in lockstep adds remembrances of instant, symbiotic community to the mix.
And so it is that the full spectrum — live show and CD for longterm listening — comes May 12 to the UC Theatre in Berkeley. Producer/drummer Jeff Weinmann’s Alma Matters CD release party features musicians on the album and an all-star lineup of special guest artists: multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum with his band, Sparkler; vocalist Sandy Cressman; trombonist Jeff Cressman; saxophonist Eddie M; trombonist/vocalist Natalie Cressman; percussionist/band leader John Santos, Santana vocalist Tony Lindsay; Terrence Kelly of Oakland Interfaith Choir, the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble led by director Sarah Cline; and more.
The bountiful talent gathers not just to celebrate a new recording, but as a benefit for the BHS jazz program.
For many of the performers, the vibrant music education program first introduced in the schools by Herb Wong in the late 1960s or Berkeley’s thriving jazz scene in the 1970s launched or had impact on their careers.
“One of the things that’s so great about BHS jazz is that every band has its great performers who go on to do wonderful things in the wider world,” says Cline, an accomplished trombonist. “When I was young and just coming into the band, Peter Apfelbaum was one of those amazing musicians. He wrote all original music for his 18-piece big band, The Hieroglyphics Ensemble, which I got to play in. Getting to share a stage with him is always fun.”
The BHS Jazz Ensemble will open the show with funk and Latin dance tunes that reflect the influence of their tours to Cuba and showcase a contemporary slant, like that of a Steven Bernstein arrangement of “Compared to What?”
With neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan marches happening right across the street from the school — ”Something I thought I would never see, not in Berkeley,” Cline says — the work’s title is provocative. She writes in an email: “Here are our young people, about to launch out into the world, and what models are we giving them about how to be a citizen, a leader, a human being? Our young people are trying to make it real, but compared to what?”
Of course the concert is about camaraderie and contribution, not comparisons. Proceeds from the show will support scholarships for middle and high school students, travel to festivals and tours, instruments, sheet music, visiting guest artist fees and more.
“(Promoter) David Mayeri got his start working in music production when he was at Berkeley High School,” Cline says about the show’s origins. “We approached each other last year to put together an annual concert that would be a big musical to-do and would benefit BHS Jazz.”
Although she’s thrilled to join former classmate Eddie M., who went on from the BHS band to work with Prince and Sheila E., Cline says she’s equally proud to be onstage with the outstanding student musicians.
Jasim Perales is a profoundly talented trombonist; bassist Owen Storey possesses impeccable technique and unique expressive range; lead trumpeter Julian Freedberg performs with grand strokes but also sensitivity to other musicians; pianist Alexis Angulo is an accomplished vocalist.
“You get the picture,” Cline says, expounding on their skills and those of other students. “This is just, straight up, a great group of musicians.”
All of that young talent leads up to the headline acts. With Apfelbaum and the Cressman family anchoring many of the tracks on Alma Matters — a highlight is Apfelbaum’s brass arrangement of “Wade in the Water” with the vocals of Destani Wolf and Terrance Kelly — the show is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But if the thought of the concert being a one-and-done — and even a CD to take home too slim comfort — Cline has a suggestion. “The band has one more concert this year,” she says, “our end of the year bash at the Florence Schwimley Little Theatre on June 9 at 7 p.m.” Later, Cline adds, “More than half of our students are graduating and going off to college, including a lot who will major in music at Julliard, The Manhattan School of Music, The New School, USC and UCLA. And then we come back in September with a band that has more than half new faces and we put it all together again. There are some great young students coming up, and every year has its own special feel.”