Arts Listings

Fourth Street Hosts Annual Jazz Festival

By Ira Steingroot, Special to the Planet
Tuesday May 15, 2007

Photograph: Wayne Wallace will be appearing at the Jazz on Fourth Street Festival this weekend. 



If you yearn for the days when jazz was played on the streets of New Orleans for free and all you had to do to join the second line was to get with it and dance to the beat you will not want to miss hearing the top-rated artists who will be performing al fresco and for free at the 11th annual Jazz on Fourth Street Festival this Sunday. 

The Marcus Shelby Quartet, Sugar Pie Desanto, the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Group and the Berkeley High Jazz Orchestra and combos will all be on hand to entertain you as well as to give you a taste of what can come from top flight musical pedagogy. 

Public school jazz education began in Berkeley in 1966 when Herb Wong, the principal at Washington Elementary, offered a jazz class to his music students. It was not long before every school in the district had a jazz band. When Phil Hardymon, who had worked with Wong at the grade school level, became band director at Berkeley High in 1975, he parlayed all the work that had gone on in the lower grades into the top-rated high school jazz education program in the country. 

Berkeley High jazz bands and members regularly win state and national competitions and scholarships and have performed at the Monterey, North Sea and Montreux Jazz Festivals—and why not when their alumni include such stellar players as David Murray, Craig Handy, Josh Redman, Benny Green and Peter Apfelbaum? 

What Herb Wong began has become a multi-generational community of teachers, alumni and students which gives the Berkeley jazz community a depth and resonance often lacking elsewhere. 

Unfortunately, major budget cuts are threatening this innovative and successful program. The proceeds from this eleventh annual festival, presented by KCSM/Jazz 91, Yoshi’s at Jack London Square and Fourth Street Merchants, will benefit Berkeley High School Performing Arts to help ensure that the jazz program is able to continue. 

This summer, Berkeley High hopes to send the ensemble to Japan to perform at several jazz festivals. While on tour there, the ensemble members will stay in the homes of Japanese students. Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble Parent Coordinator Ruth Tabancay indicated that without the proceeds from the Jazz on Fourth Street Festival, “people all over the world would not have the joy of hearing these accomplished musicians.” 

Appropriately, the festival begins at noon with two of the Berkeley High Ensemble’s top-rated combos. Next, award-winning bassist and composer Marcus Shelby leads his eponymously named Quartet in its festival debut with a program of jazz standards and swinging flagwavers. One of the most esteemed and in-demand performers on the local jazz scene, Shelby will lead a quartet of the Bay Area’s top jazz players. 

Long-time Bay Area blues favorite and R&B legend Sugar Pie DeSanto, who follows Shelby, is a mistress of soul, jazz, comedy, dance and the composer and/or lyricist of over one hundred songs. Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton in San Francisco, she was dubbed “Little Miss Sugar Pie” by bandleader Johnny Otis when she made her recording debut with him for Federal Records in 1955. Since then she’s recorded for Chess Records, appeared at the Howard in Washington, D.C., the Regal in Chicago and the Apollo in New York. After James Brown heard her at the Apollo, she became his opening act for two years. She has recorded two of her originals with Etta James, one of which, “In the Basement,” was featured on the soundtrack of the 1999 movie The Hurricane. 

Bay Area trombonist, educator, arranger and composer Wayne Wallace and his Latin Jazz Group are the last of the three headliners. Wallace, another in-demand sideplayer, is well-known in the Bay Area musical worlds of Latin, funk and jazz. He studied with, among others, the great post-bop trombonist Julian Priester, and his performances reveal a musician grounded in both jazz improvisation and Brazilian and Latin rhythms. He’ll be performing works from his latest CD, The Reckless Pursuit of Beauty. The festival grand finale will be a performance by the full Berkeley High Jazz Orchestra. 

Besides the onstage music, the Fourth Street merchants will get in the spirit of jazz by bringing their food and wares into the street and plaza. The whole afternoon promises to be an expansive, sunny, music-filled entertainment. 



Noon-5 p.m. Sunday, May 20, on Fourth Street in Berkeley between Hearst and Virginia. The festival kicks off at noon with two Berkeley High School Combos and features the Marcus Shelby Quartet (1:15 to 2 p.m.), blues singer Sugar Pie Desanto (2:15 to 3 p.m.), the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Group (3:10 to 4 p.m.) and closes with the Berkeley High Jazz Orchestra. 526-6294.  


Photograph: Wayne Wallace will be appearing at the Jazz on Fourth Street Festival this weekend.