Thursday, July 31, 2014

High School All-Star Alumni Interview: Sam Reider

August's All-Star Alumni interviewee is Sam Reider, Jazz pianist turned Folk accordionist and member of the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars from 2004 to 2007. Since attending Columbia University, Sam has had some of the most diverse musical experiences of any of our All-Star alumni! A founding member of the highly acclaimed group, The Amigos (, Sam has recently been traveling internationally as an artistic ambassador. Be sure not to miss The Amigos’ upcoming Bay Area performance at the Freight & Salvage on Sunday, August 3rd, at 8pm (

Tell us about your most significant memory of being in the High School All-Stars program.

"I have fond memories of many of the amazing performances I was able to see, like Sonny Rollins and Etta James, and also of getting to interact directly with many of the artists in the SFJAZZ Collective. Once, during my senior year of high school, I was called to play with Miguel Zenón at a private party. It wasn’t until I arrived at the party that I realized we were going to be playing duo, without any of my other friends from the High School All-Stars joining us. This was pretty intimidating for me, but Miguel was so nice about it. We rehearsed the tunes and gave our performance, and then he let me follow him around, giving me little tips like, "When you’re at a party, always hold something in one of your hands," or "Make sure you know about stocks and baseball so you have something to talk about with people." I can’t say I really took that second one to heart, as it's been seven years since that party and I still don’t know anything about stocks or baseball. But I do remember that moment frequently after shows when I’m speaking to people, and Miguel is still one of my favorite saxophonists!"

What made you choose piano as your instrument? Is there anything that reinforces that choice nowadays?

"My grandfather and my father both played piano, and I began studying when I was five years old. So, I suppose there wasn’t a great deal of choice in the matter, at least at first. I studied classical music until I was ten or eleven, and then switched to Jazz. In high school I joined the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars program, and when I graduated I moved New York City to pursue Jazz. At Columbia University, I became more and more interested in American folk music, blues, bluegrass, and Rock and Roll. I wanted to find a way to take part in that sound—and piano didn’t always fit so easily with acoustic guitars, banjo, fiddle, etc. My junior year, I brought back an old accordion from my basement in San Francisco that my high school drama teacher had given me. I began bringing it with me to gigs, pulling it out at parties, practicing it in my spare time. I started transcribing Bluegrass fiddle and mandolin parts, learning the Folk repertoire, and singing three-part harmony with two of my friends, Justin and Eddie. At a time when I was feeling sort of lost with piano, and not sure if I wanted to continue playing Jazz, accordion re-inspired me and allowed me to grow in new directions. Now I feel confident in saying that my efforts to play Bluegrass, Cajun/Zydeco, Gypsy Jazz, and Western Swing on the accordion have not only kept me invested in music, but have definitely enhanced and deepened my relationship with the piano."

In what ways did your high school and college training inform your recent projects' eclectic sound?

"In college, I majored in American Studies, focusing on art and music of the Great Depression. I was interested in the way in which, at a time when society was being reorganized and restructured, different regional and ethnic folk music traditions were emerging and colliding with one another. I was passionate about finding instances of Jazz and popular music being directly influenced by Folk music and vice-versa. By exploring the Folk repertoire, I was both challenging myself to find new ways to improvise and navigate simple harmonic structures, and also liberating myself from the feeling that there was a predetermined right and wrong way of doing things. Above all, the Folk music I was listening to moved me emotionally, and this has always been the thing that has guided my ear and my hands. I found some like-minded individuals, and as a group we challenged each other to get deeper and deeper into what seemed at the time like the underbelly of American recorded music. The Amigos were born out of this musical exploration and also out of our enjoyment of singing."

Accolades for the Amigos:

"This accordion-based group (yes, accordion!) is updated Americana at its best. Taking mostly Folk-Rock then adding Jazz and Zydeco-Cajun influences, you get music that's impossible not to stomp your feet to (or dance around in happy circles). Plus, their instrument solos pretty much shred it.”
- Huffington Post

"With a seal of approval from the likes of David Amram and Pete Seeger, it’s easy to see why The Amigos are one of our new favorite bands right now. Their blend of nearly every genre of American music, from Blues to Folk-Rock to Zydeco and beyond, makes the band an absolute thrill to hear on record and in person.”
- Elmore Magazine

Can you tell us about your recent work overseas?

"In 2013, The Amigos applied for the American Music Abroad program, which sends American bands overseas as cultural ambassadors on behalf of the State Department. It’s a program that was started during the Cold War as a type of soft-diplomacy. Duke Ellington’s band travelled overseas on one such grant, and he famously wrote the Far East Suite about his travels. Suffice it to say we were very excited and honored to be chosen for the program. In March and April of this year we traveled for six-weeks in Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. We gave over forty performances at concert halls, festivals, schools, markets, and circus tents, and also collaborated with local artists everywhere we went.

When you collaborate with a group from another culture, it can be challenging to find repertoire in common. In preparation for China, we had put together an arrangement of the Chinese popular song "Jasmine Flower.” We also knew ahead of time that the American song “Country Roads,” made famous by John Denver, was a particular favorite with Chinese audiences. In Liuzhuo, China, we were scheduled to perform with a school group of ethnic minority students. They arrived wearing traditional outfits—brightly colored shirts and pants that were a surprisingly nice match for our cowboy clothing. In a truly bizarre coincidence, without any prior communication with us, these students had also prepared both Jasmine Flower and Country Roads to perform that night. This seemed so fortuitous, that rather than have the kids perform separately before we went on stage, we joined forces and gave the most rousing cross-cultural performance of “Country Roads” that the world has ever known!"

If you like what you’ve seen and heard, be sure to catch the Amigos at the Freight & Salvage this Sunday! Can’t get enough of that Zydeco sound? Lucky for you, Zydeco heavyweights CJ Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band are kicking off SFJAZZ Summer Sessions’ dance party weekend on August 7th at 7:30pm (

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2014-15 Season Now On Sale To Public!

Saxophonist Joshua Redman featured in the new 2014-15 Season!

The SFJAZZ 2014-15 Season is now on sale—featuring Brazilian legends Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento, trumpet superstar Chris Botti, banjo maestro Béla Fleck, saxophonists Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd and Pharaoh Sanders, swinging cabaret band Max Raabe & Palast Orchester and many more!

Check out the full Lineup!

SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Directors

The new Season also introduces a new set of SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Directors—tabla master Zakir Hussain, drum marvel Eric Harland, New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard and bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding—each curating exclusive programming at the SFJAZZ Center! Check out what they're up to at!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Listen: SFJAZZ 2014-15 Season Playlist!

With so much head-bobbing, swinging, boundary-breaking, beautiful music coming through the SFJAZZ Center in the upcoming 2014-15 Season, here's our "highlights" playlist, for your enjoyment—the soundtrack to our biggest Season yet!

Stream recordings from all 2014-15 Season artists at!

Friday, July 11, 2014

High School All-Star Alumni Interview: Billy Buss

July's spotlight falls on trumpeter Billy Buss, a now bi-coastal professional musician and educator. Billy's SFJAZZ High School All-Star tenure spanned from 2002 to 2006, at which which point he headed to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. Since completing his graduate work at the Thelonious Monk Institute, Billy has been performing all over the United States, as well as cultivating his own curriculum for teaching the next generation of jazz performers. Read on to hear about some of the incredible experiences this young giant has already had and to learn about his July performances in the Bay Area.

What did you think of the High School All-Stars program when you began?

"Firstly, let me say that my 4-year involvement with the SFJAZZ organization as a student is on a short list of experiences in my teenage years that really solidified my career path as a performer, composer, and educator. As a freshman in high school, the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars program was an incredible opportunity for me to join like-minded and more advanced, older peers in a musical crusade which took us from the rehearsal rooms of SF State to local venues such as the local Yerba Buena Gardens, the Fillmore, and Yoshi’s all the way to Lincoln Center in NYC. Together, we formed a close-knit community that was fostered by cutting edge professional musicians, clinicians, and administrators alike."

What elements of the program drove you to improve the most?

"Seeing and hearing the abundant musical talent all around me really drove me to improve on every possible level as a musician. Looking back now, it's no wonder that I was inspired by these peers; lead trumpeter Sean Erick now tours internationally with Justin Timberlake, Fantasia, and others, then trombonist Jeff Yen is now a chart-topping pop star in Taiwan, pianist Julian Pollack backs pop, rock, and country superstars, is regularly commissioned to compose classical works for a variety of instrumentations, produces Hip Hop artists throughout NYC, and leads his own trio project worldwide.

In addition, I was greatly inspired by my interaction with the SFJAZZ Collective, specifically master classes, clinics, private lessons, and performances I had with Joshua Redman, Nicholas Payton, and Gil Goldstein. In addition, our rehearsals were often supplemented with visits from legends such as Yusef Lateef, Ravi Coltrane, Jay McShaan, and Terence Blanchard (who I went on to study with privately in Grad School at the Thelonious Monk Institute)."

Tell us about your musical experience in college.

"I attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts (class of ‘09) where I studied Professional Music. As far as music schools go, I cannot speak highly enough of Berklee. It's a place where 4000+ students study with the music industry's most prominent voices, learn music theory, classical counterpoint and harmony, music history from Jazz to Hip Hop, and network with each other to form lifelong bonds that bring the music to another level."

What was it that made you place so much of your focus on education and pedagogy?

"For me, teaching really reinforces much of the knowledge that is needed to maintain musicianship. Teaching allows me to get back to basics while simultaneously helping young, aspiring musicians to better themselves. I've been designing elementary through college-level curriculum in improvisation, composition and general musicianship since my stint at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, and I have experience teaching students of all ages (I currently lead a choral/general music program for Pre-K through 8th Grade at a Pilot School in Boston, MA). I have been fortunate enough to have had some amazing educators in my life shape my musical path - it only seems right to pass this on to the next generation."

What are the projects you're most excited about now?

"I'm involved as a sideman in a few great projects that cover the entire spectrum of musical genre. I've been fortunate to have performed alongside some great acts, from Jazz legend Thelonious Monk Jr.'s Sextet, to R&B sensation Alice Tan Ridley's horn section, to Hip Hop supergroup Deltron3030's orchestra (led by musical director and Bay Area native Jeanne Geiger). I'm also honored to work with some amazing up and coming Jazz artists on a regular basis in NYC and throughout the country: Godwin Louis (recent 3rd place award winner at the International Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition), Jesse Fischer (Award-Winning Soul/R&B producer, Pianist, and Bandleader with "Soul Cycle"), and bassist Michael Feinberg's "Humblebrag" project which just released a new album "Live at 800 East.""

 Is your interest piqued? Don't miss your chance to hear Billy perform as he tours the Bay Area this month:

July 19, 8:00pm - Mendocino Music Festival (
July 20, 4:30pm - California Jazz Conservatory Rising Stars Summer Concert Series (

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

JUST ANNOUNCED: 2014-15 Season!

Drumroll please... Introducing: The SFJAZZ 2014-15 Season!!!

Take a look at!

We're also thrilled to introduce a new set of SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Directors. Four of the most forward-thinking musicians in jazz—Zakir Hussain, Eric Harland, Terence Blanchard and Esperanza Spalding—will each curate exclusive programming, premiering new works, featuring unprecedented collaborations, and jumpstarting the boundary-breaking creative mission of the SFJAZZ Center.

SFJAZZ Education: Dorado Schmitt, Gypsy Jazz Jam

And one more thing... SFJAZZ Education also announced it's Fall 2014 Lineup of Koret Discover Jazz SeriesFamily Matinees, Digital Lab Classes, Monday Night Band & the award-winning SFJAZZ High School All-Stars

Friday, June 27, 2014

High School All-Star Alumni Interview: Maya Kronfeld

This month’s alumni interview digs back almost to the twentieth century: a time when the High School All-Stars was a young program, still led by founding director, Dee Spencer. Maya Kronfeld played piano in the All-Stars her senior year of high school before going on to do both undergraduate and graduate studies at Cal Berkeley. For the last five years she has been in close collaboration with jazz vocalist and composer Valerie Troutt, as well as the Valerie Troutt Jazz Soul Quartet, and the duo project Two Shoes Shouting.

Two Shoes Shouting

Who did you look up to as a young artist? Did you have any heroes or mentors?

"My dad was a jazz drummer, starting in Israel, and he taught me how to count time, snap on 2 and 4. I think he considered that a basic life skill. I'm always in conversation with him -- with the drums -- when I play. I didn't develop a special relationship to the piano until I met my teacher Libby McLaren, who taught me to play "Empty Pocket Blues" and hooked me for life, and later Susan Muscarella who taught me Wynton Kelly's solo in "Freddie Freeloader" and encouraged me every week to "swing like a mad dog." It's a huge gift to have teachers like that. They taught me how to play but they also taught me to love playing. A lot of people didn't receive that from their teachers. In addition you can't understate the importance of playing with, being encouraged by, and having your butt utterly kicked by musicians your own age or a little bit older. They become your mentors, too. Ambrose Akinmusire, Michael Aaberg, Geechi Taylor, Justin Brown, Howard Wiley, Sista Kee -- these were all the young lions, now legendary, that I grew up listening to in the Bay Area, and going to jam sessions with. What influenced me even more than any gorgeous or outrageous note they ever played was the seriousness and total commitment to art that they had even as very, very young people. Young people mentor each other. But people can't rely solely on that -- they also need institutions to support young musicians. These days, a young person is lucky if he/she receives musical instruction at school, and think of what we're missing as a result!

What have you been doing musically since the High School All-Stars?

"I worked full-time as a musician before I started my PhD. I work regularly with some amazing vocalists coming out of the Bay Area, like Zoe Ellis and Destani Wolf, and cross-coastally with Natalie John. Recently I've been in close collaboration with vocalist and composer Valerie Troutt. We have a duo project called Two Shoes Shouting, and as the Valerie Troutt Jazz Soul Quartet we have just released an album called "The Sound of Peace." I learn a lot from her about the roots of jazz, the history of struggle and survival encoded in the sounds.

As a keyboard player, and on a more electric front, I've toured with Grammy award-winner Van Hunt. I recently toured with monster drummer (and bay area native) Thomas Pridgen and his band The Memorials. I like touring with them because wherever we go we meet people who are drum fanatics, and as I said I am a drum-centric person due to my father. They all laugh at me because we are playing in thrashingly loud environments, and I always have books with me I need to study. But of course there's nothing alien about that because all musicians are (secretly or not-so-secretly) the most philosophical of cats.

I get to play every Sunday at Independent Holiness Church with another legendary drummer, Tommie Bradford, and I've also been involved recently in some gospel recording projects like Dale Anthony's Faith Out Loud. Playing in church took apart my whole approach to piano and put it back together again; but on the other hand there never was any American music without gospel music. So in a way it's what I have been trying to play it all along. Lots of lessons to be learned from this music..."

What else have you been doing lately? Can you tell us about your day job, hobbies?

"I'm working on a PhD in Comparative Literature, at UC Berkeley. That's a new official commitment for me, but I've always been serious about studying. My mom is an amazing and beloved professor of literature and the joy she gets from teaching poetry made me want to join the family business. Unfortunately, studying philosophy and literature doesn't make you a better pianist, but on the other hand being a musician sure can help improve the theoretical questions about art that you want to develop. This summer I'm headed to the University of Dublin in Ireland to give a conference talk about jazz and the philosopher Theodore Adorno’s ideas on musical rhythm. That's one area where my interests do converge, but I also like it when they don't. Fiction, philosophy and music all work differently and follow different kinds of rules, but I'm interested in all three; the important thing is the kind of learning each one promotes.

I'm starting to learn a lot from teaching, in different areas-- I teach music at summer camps like Cazadero and Jam Camp West, to private piano students, and at UC Berkeley I'm starting to teach writing courses for freshman as part of my own training for the PhD. It's not unlike teaching piano: you are teaching them, hopefully, how to practice, but then the teaching itself requires its own kind of practicing and you need mentors for that. I subscribe to the "shedding" model of academia!"

Maya at the keys

Does your All-Stars experience inform your life now in any ways?

"I'm so lucky that I got to be in the SFJAZZ All-Star band. It was my senior year of high school, and I couldn't believe I got to play with the kind of peers I wanted to listen to, let alone play with. The feeling of the band was one of incredible pride in one another. It was a precious opportunity, to experience in this day and age the feeling of being in an actual "band" -- a committed group that remains more or less constant. I sometimes even miss it today when, as a professional musician, you often move from project to project (this probably has a 21st century economic explanation). The feeling of being a great big cohesive unit was extraordinary. Under the direction of Dr. Dee Spencer, you would learn how to take dead seriously a new form of feedback: the feedback wasn't about your individual performance; it was about how what you just played affected the group sound. That's an important kind of criticism for a young person to learn how to hear. Bass, piano, drums: it's the first time I really developed a full-blooded concept of what it means to be part of the rhythm section -- a responsibility to take pride in!

The Essentially Ellington Competition in New York was one of my great highlights. During the Q&A I got to ask Wynton Marsalis what I felt was a mischievous and leading question: why did he put so much emphasis on "the tradition" in jazz? Was there nothing new to learn? His answer took a while to sink in. So did the Ellington composition we were learning to play: "Such Sweet Thunder," a devastating, molasses kind of swing that won't be rushed. I also met a brilliant pianist at the competition (from a rival band!) who became one of my best friends. And I feel especially bonded to my fellow rhythm section players from the All-Star band -- it doesn't matter that we are rarely in the same city at the same time -- when we happen to see one another at someone's gig, there is a very rooted connection which is like family, because of all those hours of trying to hold the time together!"

You can see and hear more of Maya’s recent involvement with Valerie Troutt at

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Highlights: 32nd Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival

Check out the photo-retrospective of the 2014 San Francisco Jazz Festival: 44 shows in 12 days on multiple stages!

Opening Night: Juan de Marcos + Afro-Cuban All Stars ©Rick Swig

Opening Night: Jeff Ballard Trio ft. Lionel Loueke & Miguel Zenón ©Ross Eustis

Jeff Ballard ©Rick Swig

Diana Gameros in Joe Henderson Lab ©Ronald Davis

Dianne Reeves ©Ronald Davis

Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood: Little Walter Rides Again ©Scott Chernis

Ester Rada ©Tim Charles

Ester Rada + Octet ©Ross Eustis

José James: While You Were Sleeping ©Rick Swig

José James ©Rick Swig

Seun Kuti + Egypt 80: Afrobeat Legacy ©Rick Swig

Chester Thompson: Hammond B3 Organ ©Rick Swig

Closing Night: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble ©Scott Chernis

Closing Night: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble ©Scott Chernis

Joe Henderson Lab, by day ©Ross Eustis

For more photos, check out the full album on SFJAZZ's Facebook page! Next up at the SFJAZZ Center: Bill Cosby and 2014 Summer Sessions featuring Chucho Valdés, Benny Green, Omar Sosa, Jacqui Naylor, Claudia Villela & many more!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Monday Night Band Interview: Trombone Perspectives

In honor of SFJAZZ’s upcoming Monday Night Band auditions (July 22nd and 23rd), you have the chance to get to know your friendly neighborhood trombone players! Ari Miller played trombone in the SFJAZZ Monday Night Band for the first time this spring. By day, he is in product design for Apple – by night, an artist carving out that creative outlet. Recent Cal grad, Matt Fay, has also lent his trombone skills to the band. He is picking up the trombone again after several years, brushing up in his downtime from the San Francisco-based electric powertrain start-up where he works.

Matt & Ari performing at the Monday Night Band's May showcase ©Bill Evans
When did you start playing trombone?

Ari: I first picked up a trombone in fourth grade, when I had the great opportunity to take one year of music lessons at school. My selection criteria at the time were based on which instrument could make the coolest sound. Fifteen years later and I have no regrets.

Matt: I started trombone in the 4th grade. My mom and brother both played trumpet, and I wanted to try something different, but not too far from the family, so I ended up at trombone. Also, what ten year old doesn't love making a wha-wha sound?

How did you hear about Monday Night Band?

Ari: I have been enthusiastically following SFJAZZ since moving to the area in 2011, but I didn't know anything about the Monday Night Band until I opened up the spring 2014 brochure just a couple days before auditions. Had it been any later, I probably would not have tried out!

Matt: I actually heard about Monday Night Band simply through the internet, looking around for a community big band in the city. Thanks Google! 

©Aaron Shuo Yang
What was your favorite thing about the ensemble?

Ari: I was really impressed with the unique background each musician brought to the band. It is a great opportunity to play and connect with people you might never meet in another context.

Matt: My absolute favorite thing about the ensemble, by far, was getting the opportunity to be surrounded by such talented musicians on a weekly basis, from Adam, our director, all the way down the line.

Do you have any other artistic "leisure activities" around the Bay that you enjoy?

Ari: I try to play and listen to live music whenever I have free time, and am always looking for more opportunities to perform. I'd like to get more involved in composing, too.

Matt: Lately, I've been trying out photography, since San Francisco has so many iconic visuals, but nothing too serious. I'm excited to be playing again, and still looking for more opportunities.

If any of these sentiments ring a bell to you, take a spin around the Monday Night Band website and audition with us in July! Sign up to reserve your spot.