Read Jazz in the Neighborhood presents emerging artists in SF, by Jesse Hamlin, published in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 2018.
Mario Guarneri’s father had a no-tipping policy at his union barbershop in Berkeley’s Elmwood district, where a fair wage was paid. Guarneri takes the same proud stance at Jazz in the Neighborhood, the nonprofit he started five years ago, banning the tip jar at its concerts and at other shows it subsidizes through its promising new Guaranteed Fair Wage Fund.
“It’s demeaning,” says Guarneri, the esteemed Bay Area trumpeter who sat in with Louis Armstrong onstage at Cal at age 13, played for 14 years with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and knows all about the tip jar from years of playing jazz gigs in the Bay Area.
He worked with great musicians who were barely compensated, often not knowing how much they’d earn until the night was over, when they’d get a percentage of the door or just split the tips. For six or seven years, Guarneri performed with top Bay Area players Sunday nights at the now-defunct Book Beat in Fairfax, where he lives, and paid them from his own pocket.
“I thought it was time to give a little back, not that I’m a millionaire,” says the affable trumpeter and composer, who played the trumpet solos on the soundtracks to “Godfather III” and “Lonesome Dove,” among other studio work, and has taught for 25 years at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Since its inception, Jazz in the Neighborhood, which receives grants from funders like San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, has presented hundreds of musicians at venues around the Bay Area, paying them a guaranteed rate of $150 a gig, plus 10 percent more for the bandleader. Its Guaranteed Wage Fund pays other presenters and venues, like Bird & Beckett bookstore, up to 40 percent of that compensation for certain shows. The concerts are either free or modestly priced.
“We’re keeping jazz alive out in the neighborhoods, making it accessible to people,” says Guarneri, 75, who’s presenting clarinetist Ben Goldberg’s prime quintet, Ben Goldberg School, at the San Francisco Community Music Center on Friday, Jan. 19.
Joining in will be vibraphonist Dan Neville, one of the musicians in the nonprofit’s Emerging Artists program, which invites promising young players to share in the old jazz tradition of learning on the bandstand. Vocalist Shana Dinha is the emerging artist booked for Feb. 9 at Copperfield’s in San Rafael with Guarneri’s quartet featuring guitarist Randy Vincent, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Akira Tana.
Then there’s the New Chamber Jazz Quintets show the nonprofit has planned for Feb. 16 at Community Music Center, showcasing three young composers and bandleaders who came out of the Emerging Artists program: flutist/pianist Erika Oba, guitarist and singer Ian Faquini and drummer/vibraphonist Dillon Vado.
“If they have enough places to make a living here, people won’t have to go to New York or some other place,” Guarneri says.
Jesse Hamlin is a Bay Area journalist and former San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.