Calvin Keys at Anna's Jazz Island

We went to Anna's Jazz Island in Berkeley, California, to catch Calvin Keys on September 21. Anna's is also the venue that graciously hosted the tribute to Haybert K. Houston, our publisher, in August. It is one of those places where the emphasis is on the music. It has a bar and offers some snacks like chips and salsa. If you are hungry, you can have TV dinners right from the freezer via the microwave.

Calvin Keys, one of the Bay Area's finest guitarist, was there that night with Dave Roekeach on drums, Mark Hashima Williams on bass, and Kirk Jones on tuba. Calvin's experience and technique is obvious. His guitar can sing and swing; melodic lines intertwine intricately between his fingers. It can be mellow, and also exiting. A strong strum on a chord changed the mood of a piece from gentle to agitating, from meditative to excited.

 Calvin Keys, Mark Hashima Williams and Dave Roekeach


Kirk Jones (photo at left) is a member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band of New Orleans. He was escaping from New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. His tuba brought in an unusual timbre to the mix. He has superb control of the instrument, so it blended well with the others.

Williams's bass lines were smooth and melodic. Even though Roekeach still managed to put in some rock beats to one of the pieces we heard, he had improved a lot since we last heard him. He was able to feel Calvin's body language and moods to make his drumming fit the loudness and softness, as well as rhythmic patterns of the pieces.

The group offered us tunes like "I Remember April," "Secret Love," "Song for My Father," and "So What?" It was a good outing, and we were happy to see folks filling the room on a Wednesday night.

 Denise Perrier and Andrei Kondakov at Jazz at Pearl's

 Another opportunity arose for us to go and support another one of our internationally known resident musicians on October 21, 2005. This time it was at Jazz at Pearl's in San Francisco, and the artist was Denise Perrier.

If our readers have read the web page for Denise Perrier on this site, they might know that Denise has been invited to sing in Russia every year for the past five or six years. And this time she was able to have her Russian pianist, Andrei Kondakov, come to the San Francisco Bay Area to perform with her. Andrei has performed with Denise on one of her CDs, and we had this one opportunity to hear him live. We were also happy to see John Wiitala on bass and Kent Bryson on drums.

They did not disappoint. Andrei is a fantastic pianist, apparently with classical discipline, but he played like any old cat in a Jazz joint. He did the straight-ahead Jazz, the blues, and the Latin. Denise brought him through Jobim, Bessie Smith, the Beatles, Quincy Jones, and other standards.

Andrei did a few original solo pieces that lean more to the classical side, but he swung just as hard when the bass and drums supported him. It tickles me no end to see, yet again, how Jazz musicians can get together and play so seamlessly, even though they haven't seen each other before. Classical musicians would go crazy with rehearsal after rehearsal.

We got to Pearl's a bit late, but that was all right. When we first sat down, they had a little problem with the sound. Denise's voice was muddled, and there was a hum in the system. By the last set, all was perfect. We could clearly hear her projecting above the instruments, which gave her the control she needed. She worked the audience and encouraged it to join in on repeated phrases like, "flam, jam, Alikazam," and "Bye, Bye, Blackbird." She even danced a little with one of the young men in the audience.

 Denise Perrier at the Ground Breaking Celebration for the Fillmore Heritage Center, San Francisco, October 11, 2005

Denise was among those lauded as a "Heritage Pioneer Award Recipient" for her creative contributions and involvement in the goal of re-establishing the presence of Jazz in the Fillmore Community

Her sultry, alto voice is sensual and expressive in ballads. She can be playful, and fast, but never falter in her accuracy of tones or articulation of words. Andrei Kondakov gave her perfect support, with lots to say for himself. His duplicated chords alternate between hands, or the fast repeated notes, or the sound he produced by dulling a note by its string inside the piano demonstrated his style.

We have always enjoy John Wiitala's bass, which is sensitive and responsive. He would glance over to Andrei for any subtle directions. His bass lines are melodious as well as supportive and provide solid and beautiful foundations for the others to work on. Bryson's drumming fitted perfectly tonight, giving Denise all the attention she deserved for a wonderful performance.

By Stella Cheung Houston

Photos by Haybert K. Houston

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