SF State Cats Past, Present and Future
John Handy was not the first important jazz musician to study at SF State. The memorable jazz riffs that accompany Charlie Brown and his crew on 15 Peanuts television specials were scored by pianist Vince Guaraldi (attended '48 - '49). Guaraldi burst onto the scene with a 1953 recording with drummer/vibraphonist Cal Tjader (B.A., '50) and his band. Together they performed Latin music years before the bossa nova music revolution. After graduation, Tjader signed on as the drummer for Dave Brubeck's trio. Before Tjader died in 1982, he capped off his incredible career with a Grammy.
Many critically acclaimed musicians have followed, including pianist Larry Vuckovich (B.A., '75), vocalists Wesla Whitfield (B.A., '72) and Jacqui Naylor (B.S., '91), keyboardist/vocalist/Grammy-nominated producer George Duke (M.A., '75) and multi-instrumentalist/SF State lecturer John Calloway (M.A., '03), to name just a few.
At SF State, students polish their skills while training with faculty who are accomplished and well-connected musicians. In 1978 veteran sax player Hal Stein, then a lecturer at SF State, asked one of his students, Kitty Margolis (attended '77 - '78), to take over his long-standing Saturday night gig at Peta's, a North Beach institution. The regular engagement launched Margolis' career as a leading jazz vocalist. Roger Cox (B.A., '04) remains grateful for the training he received at SF State during Artist-in-Residence Branford Marsalis' tenure. "As far as I'm concerned, Branford is the best tenor sax player alive today," says Cox, now the sax player for the band Bucho.
In recent years the University's jazz program has grown to include a strong emphasis on musical traditions that span the globe. As a student at SF State, bassist John-Carlos Perea (B.A., '00) became a vital collaborator with tenor saxophonist Francis Wong, a former professor who forged a deep and beautiful synthesis of jazz and traditional Chinese music. Perea now tours with the seminal world jazz band Paul Winter Consort.
One of the newest graduates of the program, Santourist Faraz Minooei (B.A., '07), performs regularly throughout California and runs the School of Persian Music in the Bay Area. "My greatest motivation for studying at SF State was the opportunity of learning from and working with [Associate Professor] Hafez Modirzadeh," he says. "The program at SF state not only helped me continue and grow in my own field of interest, but gave me a rich understanding of the music of other cultures."
The University continues to seek out innovative ways to help musicians realize their full potential. In November, the International Center for the Arts at SF State announced its new Generations program which aims to take the members of one promising young jazz combo to the next level of their careers.
Postgraduate ensembles of up to five musicians are invited to enter the competition for a yearlong residency as Generations fellows. The winning group will receive training from a distinguished jazz ensemble led by internationally acclaimed saxophonist and SF State lecturer Andrew Speight. The Generations Mentor Ensemble includes saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, percussionist Jimmy Cobb, bassist Ray Drummond and pianist Ronnie Matthews. Together, the artist-mentors span three of the most creative, vibrant and influential generations of contemporary jazz.
For more information: http://ica.sfsu.edu
Photos by Gino de Grandis (top and middle) and Peter Maiden (bottom)
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