Arts Listings

Anna Leads a Busy Weekend at Downtown’s Jazz Island

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday August 27, 2009 - 01:27:00 PM

Music is the way I interpret the world,” said Anna De Leon of Anna’s Jazz Island. “That’s been true my whole life. And it’s how I view my place in the world, too.” 

Anna’s personal philosophy is reflected by her intimate club in downtown Berkeley, and in particular by the bookings for this weekend, which feature pianist Larry Vuckovich and his Latin Jazz Quartet (Sunday), classic jazz balladeer Ed Reed and his All-Star Quartet (Saturday)—and Anna herself, singing “less-sung ballads and not-ballads” with her Trio (Friday). 

The eclectic mix, night after night, is nothing new, as patrons of Jazz Island or her two previous Berkeley venues can attest.  

“I grew up in the first desegregated housing project in L.A.,” Anna recalled, “And was part of the community sing every Monday night from the age of 6. I heard all this music: country, blues, jazz ... and a church met there, so there was a choir in the project. It was very multicultural, after the war. You develop big ears that way. I was very lucky.” 

She’ll be working with Shota Osabe on piano; Ruth Davies, bass and Dave Rokeach, drums. Of Osabe’s accompaniment, Anna said, “It’s interesting to play with somebody not American. Shota doesn’t differentiate so strongly between country, blues, jazz ... That affects me in that I can sing all those kinds of songs, so I’ll be singing lots of them, mostly heartfelt ballads—and not-ballads!—with interesting changes I don’t get to sing that often. ‘An Occasional Man,’ ‘Tennessee Waltz,’ ‘I Hear Music’ ... Most piano players are not so comfortable with those songs.”  

Not long ago, Anna recorded an album with the great Kenny Barron on piano, the liner notes by the dean of jazz critics, Nat Hentoff, who wrote, “A rather rare phenomenon in jazz, she is a club owner who, to say the least, identifies with the musicians. Her sound and phrasing are so intimately evocative that her music will stay in your mind.” 

Of Ed Reed, Anna said “Ed really is a treasure, so unusual. He’s in his 80s and now there’re articles about him, CDs, more gigs ... it’s a shame the world didn’t know about him the last 40 years.” She spoke of singing with him at New Bridge, a residential treatment facility. “Music flows in and out of him, but he devotes equal time to his counseling work. I’ve sung at New Bridge for Bread & Roses, and suggested we’d have a great evening if he joined me. It was a Sunday evening, in front of several hundred people. He sang some, I sang some; we did a couple duets. It was magnificent. And then Ed said to the audience, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow!’ He works there; they know him as a counselor!”  

Reed’s club act is polished and upbeat. Every other Tuesday evening, he does something different at the Cheese Board on Shattuck in North Berkeley, “covering all these charts, including obscure songs” pianist Brian Cooke puts together for Reed’s trio there, including bassist Robb Fisher, an adventuresome ongoing session for Reed and the other singers, including Anna, who stop by to sing a guest number or two, or join Reed in a duet. 

Nat Hentoff wrote of Reed’s singing, “He uses space as an inner musical instrument.” 

At Anna’s, Reed will be accompanied by Larry Dunlap on piano; Jessica Jones, tenor saxophone; Dan Feiszli, bass; and on drums the producer of his two CDs, radio personality Bud Spangler. 

“Larry’s a genius, just a great player—fun, warm, a fantastic musician,” Anna said of Vuckovich, a native of Montenegro in former Yugoslavia, where he was classically trained, hearing jazz on American Armed Forces Radio during the Second World War and after. He came to San Francisco at 14 in 1951, studying with pianist Vince Guaraldi, playing with alto saxophonist John Handy, accompanying singer Mel Torme’—and working with singer-lyricist Jon Hendricks for 25 years with Hendricks’ Evolution of the Blues show. 

“Like Handy, his audience is not here,” Anna said, “It’s all over the world, and because of his recordings. Larry’s the most treasured Latin keyboard player in the Bay Area. He’s played with all the truly great players in that genre. That’s why everybody wants to work with him. And these are phenomenal musicians!” 

Vuckovich will be accompanied by Hector Lugo on percussion; Buca Necak, bass; and Paul von Vonnigan, drums. 


Friday: Anna De Leon and Her Trio 

Saturday: Ed Reed and His All-Star Quartet 

Sunday: Larry Vuckovich Latin Jazz Quartet  

Shows start at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. $14. 841-JAZZ.