Arts Listings

Jazzschool Benefit Features Prominent Stars By IRA STEINGROOT Special to the Planet

Friday March 10, 2006

If you missed the Jazzschool’s 2004 benefit concert featuring the Heath Brothers, you missed a major jazz event. The music went from great to unforgettable when 81-year-old bassist Percy Heath, who died last April 28, sat down to pluck out unaccompanied piccolo bass solos on Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” Fats Navarro’s “Nostalgia” and the Johnny Green/Edward Heyman standard “Out of Nowhere.” It was like hearing cello virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich performing with the lyricism, grace and inspiration of an improvising jazz musician.  

This year’s Jazzschool benefit, March 17, promises to be just as intriguing with the imaginative pairing of opera diva Frederica von Stade with jazz piano sensation Taylor Eigsti. 

At 21, Eigsti is already a veteran jazz performer. He grew up in Menlo Park and began taking lessons at four. By the age of eight he was opening for David Benoit. At 13, he was performing with Dave Brubeck and not long after was opening for Al Jarreau and Diana Krall. His first recording was in 1999. At 15, he was teaching at the Stanford Jazz Workshop. After his freshman year as a jazz studies major at the University of Southern California, he dropped out to go pro. No longer a prodigy, but with the same incredible chops, he comes to the jazz scene as an adult with the equivalent of two decades of dues-paying behind him. 

His work with Dave Brubeck led to frequent shows with the Brubeck Brothers Band. When Michael Morgan and the East Bay Symphony performed Chris Brubeck’s “River of Song” for orchestra and voice, Taylor was an obvious choice for pianist. He had previously met the vocalist for that piece, Frederica von Stade, at a Music in the Schools benefit. Since then, they have worked together on other occasions performing from both the jazz and classical repertoire. 

Observing the history of pairing long hair performers with pop material is a little like looking at a stretch of highway littered with car wrecks. Often when opera singers wrap their vocal chords around standards, they act like they are jumping into the Concorde for a quick hop from San Francisco to Oakland. They forget Noel Coward’s dictum: “Strange how potent cheap music is.” 

These tunes stop working their emotional magic if you overpower them with too much that is conventionally or inappropriately beautiful. It can be like drinking from Wedgwood at a Japanese tea ceremony.  

Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade is skilled at avoiding these errors in decorum. She has the ability to shift musical gears so that she can apply one kind of superb treatment to Mozart’s “Parto, parto” aria from La Clemenza de Tito, another to Magnolia singing “Make Believe” in Kern/Hammerstein’s Showboat, and yet another to Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” from Annie Get Your Gun. 

In fact, she began as a singer of standards and Broadway material who, although she loved opera from childhood, did not consider it as a career until she was in her early twenties. Her talents as both singer and dramatic actress led to her debut at the Metropolitan just a few years later when she was 25.  

Known to her fans as “Flicka,” she has excelled in the classic operas of Mozart and Rossini, especially in trouser roles, revived interest in works by Rameau and Monteverdi, and championed new, experimental operas like Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. She has also appeared in and made albums of operettas and musicals including The Sound of Music, The Merry Widow and A Little Night Music. 

What makes her art so compelling is not just her gorgeous voice with its range, power and control, but her dramatic ability. She is a consummate actress who infuses every role, every song, with a persona in whom we can believe. This is what allows her to do, in her own way, what jazz vocalists do when they invest songs with their personalities. 

These are two exciting performers with Bay Area connections and international reputations who have the potential to inspire each other beyond even their usual level of excellence. 

Although the ticket price may seem steep at $125, it is actually a bargain when you consider the intimate nature of the event, the complimentary food and beverages provided by some of the most esteemed names in Bay Area gourmandaise, the chance for some fascinating conversation with the performers, and the promise of brilliant music from the artists. 

In coming up with a program to benefit itself, the Jazzschool has again found a way to give back more to its benefactors than it receives.  


The fourth annual benefit for Berkeley’s Jazzschool will take place on Friday, March 17 at the First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley. The music starts at 8 p.m. followed by dessert, wine and a chance to meet the artists at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $125 per person, tax-deductible, and all of the proceeds go to benefit the Jazzschool. For more information call 845-5373 or see o