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Jazz Guitar In The Bay Area



With a little help from his friends, JGT’s Joe Barth takes a good look at jazz guitar in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

San Francisco, Tony Bennett sang of leaving his heart there.  People still get goosebumps as they view the majesty of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Folks don’t mind the wait to ride the cable cars that “climb halfway to the stars.”  Standing at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets, friends reminisce on how much more fun it was to be in their twenties in the Seventies, than in their seventies in the Twenty’s. Add to this that San Francisco has always had great music, including jazz guitar.

In the early years of the twentieth century clubs in San Francisco were the place to see great traditional jazz or Dixieland music. But in the late 1940s clubs began to feature bebop artists in performances.  By the mid-1950s there was a large number of jazz clubs in the Tenderloin and North Beach neighborhoods.  Someone from that era noted, “You might have four clubs in a block, one on each side of the street.”  Across the bay, there was “Harlem of the West” on Oakland’s Seventh Street, a once bustling jazz and blues scene.

Many wonderful musicians have come from the Bay Area including pianists, Dave Brubeck, Benny Green, Taylor Eigsti, and Vince Guaraldi, bassists Michael Formanek, Dennis Chambers, and Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jeff Ballard. Of course, the great alto saxophonist and composer of jazz’s biggest hit “Take Five,” Paul Desmond is a San Franciscan. The great tenor man who embodied the cool sounds of West Coast Jazz, Bill Perkins, comes from here as well. In the later years of his life, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson built a house just below San Francisco in Montara.

Love Warriors by Tuck & Patti (1989-05-12)

Tuck Andress was born in Tulsa, OK, and started with guitar at age fourteen.  In 1970 he attended Stanford University for a semester but left for Los Angeles finding work as a session guitarist only to go back to Stanford and graduating in 1974.  In 1978 Patti Cathcart auditioned for a band that Tuck was playing in and they immediately hit it off musically and personally becoming the Tuck and Patti that we know and love.

Will Bernard was born and raised in Berkeley, lived in the New York area, and divides his time between both coasts.  He regularly performs with Damn Skippy, Fast Atmosphere as well as his own trio.  San Francisco-based Ned Boynton is an educator and player that injects himself into the fabric that shapes his musical community. Ned is equally skilled in playing Hot-Club Swing Jazz.  Terrance Brewer is one of the Bay Area’s most sought-after guitarists.  He has released eleven albums and his most recent project is a homage to those great Ella Fitzgerald/Joe Pass duet albums with singer Pamela Rose.

Andre Bush was born in Fresno, CA but was drawn to the Bay Area in the 1990s and was part of its fertile scene.  Sadly, he died much too early in life at age 45.  

Jim Campilongo – Dream Dictionary

Jim Campilongo explores jazz, blues, rock, country, and other styles.  Influenced greatly by the great Roy Buchanan and George Van Eps, he has a unique right-hand technique where holds a mandolin pick between his thumb and forefinger while plucking with his middle and fourth finger. In 2004 he moved to New York City.

Bill Connors was born in Los Angeles but moved to San Francisco in 1972 and focused on jazz.  In 1973 Chick Corea heard him play and invited him to join his Return to Forever group appearing on the album Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy.  He quit the group in 1974 because he felt it was getting to rock.  Later on, Connors focused on performing classical guitar.  Craig Chaquico was born in Sacramento, CA but lives in the Bay Area.  Of course, he is best known for his work with the Jefferson Starship but plays smooth jazz and Latin music from time to time.

Eddie Duran (1925-2019) has been a treasured musician around the Bay Area since the 1950s. He played with Charlie Parker, Red Norvo, George Shearing, and of course pianist Vince Guaraldi.  Eddie later played with Benny Goodman’s band, including the famed 1976 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.  Born (1948) in San Francisco, Eddie Erickson, grew up in nearby Santa Clara playing both banjo and guitar.  He recorded and played on TV as well on the Riverboat at Disneyland. He is also a skilled singer and comedian.  

Robben Ford

Born in Woodlake, CA, and raised north of San Francisco in Ukiah, Robben Ford started on the saxophone and switched to the guitar a few years later.  Discovered by saxophonist Tom Scott, Ford worked with the L.A. Express and toured with Joni Mitchell for a couple of years.  In 1978 he and pianist Russell Ferrante formed the successful Yellowjackets group.  In 1986 he toured for six months with Miles Davis’ band.  Continuing an active performance schedule Ford lives in Paris now.

Born (in 1956) in Massachusetts, Bruce Forman moved with his family to San Francisco in 1971 Bruce became active in the San Francisco jazz scene after high school eventually landing a record contract with Concord Records. A skilled protonate of bebop styling, Bruce’s interests vary with swing (Cowbop), humor (The Red Guitar), and film music (Million Dollar Baby).  Friends with Barney and Phyllis Kessel, Bruce is now the steward of Barney’s famed 1946/47 Gibson ES-350 guitar, channeling Barney Kessel’s Poll-Winners trios with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. In addition to his performances, Bruce teaches at USC.

Mimi Fox

Mimi Fox was born in New York and moved to the Bay Area in the later 1970s and started studying with Bruce Forman.  She also studied with Joe Pass.  An active performer one of her most recent projects is an organ trio album honoring the 100th anniversary of Wes Montgomery’s birth.  Mimi teaches at the Jazz School in Berkeley, CA the California Jazz Conservatory.  

Grant Geissman was born in Berkeley and grew up in San Jose, CA but later moved to the Los Angeles area to go to college.  In addition to playing in his college ensembles, he also played regularly with Gerald Wilson’s and Louis Bellison’s big bands as well as Tony Rizzi’s guitar bands.  In 1976 Grant began playing with Chuck Mangione including the 1977 album Feels So Good which sold two million copies.  He was also active in the L.A. studio scene and can be heard on numerous TV themes.  In addition to his guitar talents Grant has written books about Mad magazine and EC Comics.

Born in Arkansas, Dan Hicks‘ family moved to Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, while Dan was still a child.  Taking up the guitar at age eighteen he was drawn to folk music at first.  In the mid-’60s he played drums in a San Francisco psychedelic rock band.  In 1967 he switched to rhythm guitar and front-man in the band only to leave it in 1968.  In 1967 he formed Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.  Hicks reformed the band in 1971 recording three albums including their classic Strike a Match.

Charlie Hunter Trio – Bing, bing, bing!

Born in Rhode Island, Charlie Hunter‘s mother took them to California eventually settling in Berkeley, CA where Charlie attended high school. At age eighteen he moved to Paris and eked out an existence playing on the streets only to later return to San Francisco.  By the mid-1990s, he was recording for the Blue Note label.  Hunter plays a modified 7-string guitar whose neck is mounted on an 8-string body.

Making his home in Sedona, a couple of hours north of Phoenix, AZ, Stanley Jordan was born in Chicago and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jordan’s notoriety is his mastery of two hands “touch technique” which sometimes can sound like two guitars are being played.  He remains active as a performing artist and sometimes would rather focus on studying music therapy at Arizona State University. Stanley has recorded albums for both Blue Note and Arista Record labels.

Henry Kaiser was born in Oakland, CA in 1952. He is considered a “second Generation” of American free improvisers.  These are musicians who compose and perform with no adherence to the rules of harmony or form.  In 1991, Kaiser and David Lindley (of Jackson Browne fame) traveled to Madagascar to record the country’s folk music and were profoundly influenced by it.  In 1994 they traveled to Norway and were affected by its folk music.  As a studio musician, he has appeared on over 300 albums and dozens of films and TV shows.  He is also a skilled underwater cameraman.  Born in Omaha, NE, Calvin Keys moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1975.  He is extremely active in the Bay Area’s jazz scene.

Julian Lage

A child prodigy, Julian Lage was born on Christmas Day in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, in 1987.  By age twelve, he was performing at the Grammy Awards.  Julian has numerous albums out and has recorded and performed with some of jazz’s greatest artists.  In 2004 he began traveling with the Gary Burton Group.  He now lives in New York City.  

Born in Encino, CA, Adam Levy, came from a musical family.  He studied with Jimmy Wyble and Ted Greene.  In 1990 he moved to San Francisco and worked as a studio musician.  He later moved to New York City and befriended singer Norah Jones and played on her best-selling albums and world tours.  Returning to Los Angeles, he is now the Chair of the Guitar Department at Los Angeles College of Music.

Paul Mehling was born in Denver but by his high school years, his family lived in Pleasanton and Santa Cruz, CA.  As a high school student, he became enamored with the music of the Bay Area’s Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks which he saw perform many times.  In 1981 while bicycling across Europe he saw the Belgium group Waso performing gypsy-jazz and it deeply moved him.   Two years later he was living in Paris performing gypsy-jazz at the entrances of Metro stations. Returning to the Bay Area, Mehling was hired as guitarist for Dan Hicks’ band from 1985 to 1990 and later formed the Hot Club of San Francisco.

Jim Nichols is comfortable performing from modern jazz, blues, and Americana to Chet Atkins style.  He was influenced by Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, and Howard Roberts.  He and his wife Morning Nichols remain active as a duet performing around the Bay Area.   Mason Razavi has been around the Bay Area for years.  Mason got his undergraduate degree from Berklee College in Boston and an M.A. in music from San Jose State University.

Santana – Debut album from 1969

Carlos Santana grew up in Mexico, then his family moved to San Francisco.  Of course, Santana’s fame is in rock and popular music with Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” as his biggest hit.  In addition to his rock influences, he was also influenced by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, as well as Gabor Szabo’s mid-1960s jazz playing.  In 1972 Santana became interested in John McLaughlin and his Mahavshnu Orchestra and the Eastern philosophy behind it.  This led to Santana and McLaughlin recording the album Love, Devotion, Surrender in 1973.  In 1974 Santana teamed up with John Coltrane’s widow Alice Coltrane in an album of jazz and East-Indian music with Miles Davis’s former sidemen Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland as their rhythm section.  In 1980 Santana recorded an album with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams.  Santana occasionally continued to record and perform with jazz musicians.

John Schott grew up in the Seattle area and moved to the Bay Area in 1988.  He can be seen playing in various locations around the Bay Area. At the Cornish Institute in Seattle, he studied with the great bassist Gary Peacock.   Jimmy Stewart was born in San Francisco, started with the piano at four, and switched to guitar at age eight.  He played with Earl Hines at age sixteen. After graduating from Berklee College in Boston he moved to Los Angeles where he was a studio musician, composer, and arranger.  Randy Vincent began his career in Florida and moved to the Bay Area in 1980 where he remains active as a performer and teacher.  

Born in Ohio, Rick Vandiver, studied with Pat Metheny and Mick Goodrick while attending Berklee College in Boston.  Rick has been performing and recording around the Bay Area for over thirty-five years.  Rick has performed at The North Sea, Berlin, Monterey, and San Francisco Jazz Festivals as well many other famed venues.

Born in Paris, and raised in Mali, West Africa, Pascal Bokar Thiam graduated from Berklee College in Boston and has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Donald Byrd, Roy Haynes, and others. Originally from Bulgaria, Hristo Vitchev is now based in the Bay Area where he teaches and is busy as a performer.  Jim Witzel grew up in San Rafael and studied at San Francisco State University and after a time in the Los Angeles area, has been an active performer in the Bay Area for years.

Notable Performance Venues

SFJAZZ has been presenting world-class jazz as well as raising the next generation of musicians in the Bay Area for over forty years.

Yoshi’s in Oakland is a truly world-class venue with the best of jazz and pop artists performing there.

The Sound Room on Broadway in Oakland offers world-class jazz artists in a performance setting that is comfortable.

The Black Hawk on Hyde Street which was open from 1949 to 1963 had the very best jazz artists of that era performing there. There were a number of classic jazz albums recorded there by artists such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Cal Tjader, and others.

Tsubo’s in Berkeley which is where Wes Montgomery recorded his live album Full House on June 25, 1962, sadly closed just a few months later and became the Jabberwock offering the folk music of the day only to permanently close in 1967 and be demolished in 1969. 

Another was the Keystone Korner in the North Beach neighborhood, open from 1970 to 1983, where many performed and recorded classic albums.

The Club Deluxe on Haight Street has jazz seven days a week.  

Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio on Fell Street in San Francisco offers great jazz from local musicians.

The Royale in Lower Nob Hill is a great place to chill and listen to music.

Harry’s on Fillmore has occasional music between their trivia nights

Amnesia Beer & Music Hall now in Daly City is a great place for jazz, bluegrass, and indie rock.

The Black Cat in the Tenderloin District is where to hear great local jazz artists.

JJ’s Blues on Stevens Creek Blvd offers great jazz down in San Jose.

For more of a New Orleans experience in San Jose check out Poor House Bistro.

Boom, Boom, Boom in San Francisco offers occasional jazz along with funk and disco music.

The Fillmore Jazz Festival provides great jazz every July in the heart of San Francisco.

Both the Fantasy and Concord Record companies began in the Bay Area and promoted many jazz artists.

University Jazz Programs 

James Witzel leads an excellent jazz guitar program at San Francisco State University as well as a great program down at Santa Clara University.  The jazz guitar program at the University of San Francisco is led by Pascal Bokar Thiam and Christopher “Kit” Ruscoe.

Stanford University has a fine jazz guitar program which is led by Rick Vandivier. Rick also leads an excellent program at San Jose State University.  Jeff Massanari, Hong-June Park, and Michael Goldberg offer instruction in jazz guitar at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley.

Kai Lyons-Kuster leads the jazz guitar program at Cal State East Bay in Hayward.  Randy Vincent is head of the jazz guitar program at Sonoma State University up in Rohnert Park.

This article was written with research assistance from Mimi Fox, and Rick Vandivier.

Dr. Barth is the author of Voices in Jazz Guitar: Great Performers Tell about Their Approach to Playing (Mel Bay) available at and elsewhere

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