Live @ the Library Concerts returning Sept. 14 to Alameda
By Lou Fancher
Long ago, Alameda Free Library patrons most often heard “shush,” not Big Band swing, or “be quiet,” not the blues or Latin jazz. And full-power blasts on a Hammond B3 organ or a flugelhorn, a brass instrument similar to a trumpet but with a deeper sound, would have been unthinkable.
All of that changed 11 years ago and in 2019, the Live @ the Library Concerts series will again feature a top-tier lineup of Bay Area musicians. The sound masters of jazz in this year’s three concerts are jazz pianist Larry Vuckovich and his quintet on Sept. 14; Mimi Fox on Oct. 12, joined by Brian Ho on Hammond B3 organ and Lorca Hart on drum; and flugelhornist, lyricist and composer Dmitri Matheny on Nov. 16, accompanied by Charles McNeal (tenor sax), Matt Clark (piano), John Wiitala (bass) and Leon Joyce Jr. (drums).
“When we started, we said we wanted to be at the level of Lincoln Center, Yoshi’s, the Monterey Jazz Festival and SF Jazz,” says concert producer and Friends of the Alameda Free Library board member Eileen Savel. “Many of our musicians have played at one or more of those venues.”
Arriving from Yugoslavia in 1951, Vuckovich first heard American Jazz on the Armed Forces radio station. He studied under Vince Guaraldi, among others, and developed a repertoire reflecting the thick harmonies of jazz standards and the hard swing of bebop and contemporary world music. Articulate keyboarding and imaginative use of Latin jazz rhythms are signature features of Vuckovich’s.
Vocalist Alvon Johnson and the instrumentalists joining Vuckovich (John Santos on Latin percussion, Akira Tana on drums, Jeff Massanari on guitar and Doug Miller on bass) are sure to enliven the performance, Savel said.
“Larry is a most amazing 80-something-year-old. He brings wonderful people together,” she said.
Vuckovich will perform on a piano provided by Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland.
“We pay for pickup and delivery, but they do not charge a rental fee,” Savel said.
The second concert, headlined by Fox, is a particular thrill for Savel, who spends much of the year attending concerts and other events in search of top talent.
“I was taking an Osher jazz class and she was a guest,” Savel recalled. “I heard her play and literally said, ‘OMG.’ I asked her if she’d ever consider doing a library jazz series. She does world tours in big venues, so I was thrilled she agreed. Truthfully, when I heard her, I had never heard anyone who plays the range she plays.”
Fox’s most recent albums include a return to her roots and acoustic arrangements in “This Bird Still Flies/Acoustic Sessions,” and a Sgt. Pepper project and album, “May I Introduce to You,” featuring music of The Beatles and performed with San Francisco String Trio band mates Mads Tolling, and Jeff Denson. Impossible to pigeonhole, Fox creates jazz arrangements for orchestras, loves show tunes and Motown music and writes in an email about the upcoming show, “From greasy blues to infectious funk … from luscious ballads to blazing bebop … a memorable show is not to be missed.”
The organ, she adds, is the instrument that first sparked her interest in jazz and “touched me to my bones.” Fox says listening to guitarist Wes Montgomery and his trio’s recordings that included an organist led her to tours with B3 organists Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Barbara Dennerlein and at the library with Ho.
Savel says the library’s roughly 100-seat venue is ideal for Matheny. Not only because his compositions include intimate, melodic ballads and the introduction of a “new” instrument invites historical explanation and audience interaction, but because of the stories he will tell.
“He has a warm personality and talks about the music, about inspiration for songs he’s written. He’s gracious about telling personal stories about his bandmates. Not everyone does that,” she says.
Ultimately, the purpose of the series is to bring people to the library. Proceeds from the event that sells out every year support the library’s many programs for all ages, as do the Friends’ other activities that include the popular, biannual book sales. Savel says people without tickets can come and try their luck for last-minute availability.
“If there’re any unclaimed seats, we’ll fill them. My favorite part is that people come at 7 to socialize and buy wine. They love jazz music and listen from their heads to their toes. Our audiences are famous in their own right.”
Asked to dream of a performer she would like to bring to the library in the future, Savel says, “Just last night at the California Jazz Conservancy, I heard the Grammy award-winning drummer Brian Blade from Louisiana playing with Jeff Denson, CJC’s dean of instruction, on bass; and from Paris, Romain Pilon on electric guitar. The trio’s prerelease tour of their CD, ‘Between Two Worlds,’ made for a musically adventurous show. I’d like our Alameda audience to hear the group, most particularly to hear the one and only Brian Blade on drums.”