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SF Friends of Chamber Music Hosts Free Performance Series

After a successful first season, the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music returns to the Officers' Club in the city's historic Presidio to make good on the promise to put the "life" back into live music with free performances featuring Bay Area jazz and blues artists such as vocalists Tiffany Austin and Faye Carol, multiple Grammy award-winning trombonist, bandleader and composer Wayne Wallace, saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, and more. The jazz performances complement a 20-concert season that also features classical music.

SFFCM's partnership with the one of Bay Area's more active and vibrant cultural commodities, the Presidio Trust, has placed the young concert series in a position to bust the barriers between audience and artist.

"Unlike orchestras, opera productions, and rock concerts, when there are only a few people playing together and the audience isn't hundreds of feet away, suddenly the music becomes an essential part in the foreground," explains SFFCM Executive Director Dominique Pelletey. "It's an electrifying energy that even brand-new listeners grasp when they're given the chance to get up close and personal with artists who are really committed to engaging with their audience. And that experience is central to what we hope to achieve with our Presidio listening series.

"Jazz has been at the core of SFFCM's work since the very beginning," says Pelletey. "Our first fiscally sponsored artists 16 years ago were the Cypress String Quartet, the Del Sol String Quartet, and fluegelhornist Dmitri Matheny. And the prominence of jazz in our annual concerts has increased over the past few years, which is reflective of my personal connections throughout the Bay Area jazz community and more critically, is central to our commitment to supporting excellent musicianship and inspired creativity in any form that manifests across our incredibly vibrant Bay Area cultural landscape.

"Several years ago," he continues, "Chamber Music America [a non-profit organization that provides small ensemble professionals with access to a variety of professional development, networking, and funding resources] started championing jazz as every bit as legitimate an expression of 'chamber music' as string quartets and piano trios playing Haydn or Brahms. This really isn't a stretch — at least for combos, whether all acoustic or not, as opposed to big bands. But we feel this semantic sleight of hand is far less interesting than focusing on the sorts of values that make aficionados so passionate about both traditional Western classical chamber music and jazz: intimacy, refinement, nuance, spontaneity, communication, and collaboration."

Composer and woodwind multi-instrumentalist Sheldon Brown

The first season of SFFCM's Presidio concert series featured an impressive array of artists including Bay Area jazz stalwarts Darren Johnson, John Santos, Terrence Brewer, Erik Jekabson, Adam Shulman, Prasant Radhakrishnan, and many more. The arts organization produced a total of 65 concerts last year, awarded 24 grants, hosted or produced 10 workshops on the business of music, and offered one-on-one consultations to musicians.

"Kevin Chen, Kyle Bruckmann and I had already selected a lot of great ensembles for SF Music Day 2015. The idea of Music Day," says Pelletey, " is to whet the appetite of audiences for concerts during the season... including our own series at the Presidio. Kevin was the curator of the jazz series for many years at Intersection for the Arts and produced over 230 concerts. Kyle is a performer here in the Bay Area whose work spans a huge range of styles, including receiving the CMA Jazz commissioning award in 2014; he's also our Executive Associate, and a walking encyclopedia of music... especially creative music.

"The original founders were committed to helping musicians in a variety of ways," explains Pelletey about the roots of the organization he now heads. "This included supporting ensembles to develop their business capacities, advising on grants and how to create non-profits, providing fiscal sponsorship and performance opportunities. These are still the hallmarks of what we do through more than one hundred fiscally-sponsored projects. At the beginning we already had two classical groups, the Cypress and Del Sol String Quartets; a presenter, Chamber Music San Francisco; and a jazz musician, Dmitri Matheny. So, really the scope of our work hasn't changed drastically over the years, but we've expanded from three groups in 2005 (when I started) to over 100 now.

"SFMusic Day, when it started in 2007," adds Pelletey, "began small as an afternoon of chamber music, but by the second season featured jazz artists prominently alongside a roster of classical and contemporary groups." In 2015, there were nine jazz ensembles among the classical ensembles, among them Dr. Anthony Brown's Grammy award-nominated Asian American Orchestra, Larry Vuckovich's Crosswinds: Global Jazz Journey, John Calloway and Flute Odyssey, Brenda Wong Aoki & Mark Izu with Shoko Hikage, and the Sun Ra/Alice Coltrane-inspired Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids.

Pelletey: A Background in the Visual Arts, Prog Rock, Blues and Jazz

"I come from a visual art background," says Pelletey by way of explaining his own circuitous route to SFFCM. "My first LPs were Pink Floyd, Dizzy Gillespie and Otis Redding — three records I bought from a neighbor. After a stint at trying my hand at sound engineering in Grenoble, France, I moved to Amsterdam and started to listen to 'classical jazz' and the music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Stan Getz, and Clifford Brown. Eventually I graduated from Art School (the Rietveld Academy) in photography, film and graphic design. Yet music remained a big part of my life, with friends constantly introducing me to every sort of music: punk, rock, blues, creative music, jazz...

The Wayne Wallace Quintet

"It was at a three month art residency at the Banff Centre in Canada that I became fascinated by contemporary music, and where I met my wife, a cellist (as well as the music of John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi, Galina Ustvolskaya, and many other as the musicians had lunch concerts practically every day). Several years later we moved to the Bay Area, and I got a job as graphic designer and marketing manager at the Community Music Center; before moving to the States, I had never thought of taking a day job... artists get funded in Europe!

"Five years later, Tom Stone (violinist in the Cypress Quartet) took me by surprise when he phoned to discuss the possibility of me taking a three-month interim position as managing director of the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music. I had been working for the Del Sol String Quartet, and I think Tom — who was, and still is, on the Board of SFFCM — saw that I had the capacity to have a vision for a group, as well as very practical, day-to-day management skills (back in Europe, I had been invited to sit on several art commissions advising the Dutch government on art grants and arts policy)."

The rest, as they say, is history. And we're the better for it.

The Officers' Club, where the free Friday evening jazz and classical performances take place, is one of only two surviving structures from the Spanish Colonial era in San Francisco. Parts of the building date back to the 1790's. The club underwent a major four-year, $30 million renovation, and reopened to great acclaim in October 2014. Since its opening weekend, the main public space, the historic Moraga Hall, has hosted more than 150 events — live performances, lectures and panels, film screenings, social dances, and more — all produced by the Presidio Trust's Heritage Programs Department and offered free of charge to the general public.

Here's the schedule for jazz portion of the free 2016 Presidio Sessions concert series:

  • Friday, January 15: The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol and her Quartet
  • Friday, January 29: Tiffany Austin's Blues de Voyage
  • Friday, February 26: Hafez Modirzadeh Love & Respect Quartet
  • Friday, March 25: The Wayne Wallace Quintet
  • Friday, April 22: Tiffany Austin
  • Friday, May 6: The Sheldon Brown Group
  • Friday, May 20: The Turtle Island Quartet

The intimate Moraga Room at the Presidio Officers' Club

The Presidio Officers' Club is located at 50 Moraga Avenue in San Francisco's historic Presidio park and former military base at the northern tip of San Francisco. Concerts begin at 6 pm, and frequently draws capacity audiences. Advance reservations are free (as are the concerts themselves), and highly recommended.

Parking is free in front of the Officers' Club after 6 pm. There is also food and beverage service available at Arguello, the club's "destination" restaurant and bar (featuring California-inspired Mexican cuisine) immediately adjacent to the Moraga Room.

To learn more about the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, or other programs and projects presented by the SFFCM, please visit the SFFCM website.

Photos: Marcus Phillips (Adam Shulman Sextet, top); Mark Kallenberger (Sheldon Brown); Presidio Trust (Moraga Room, Le Jazz Hot)
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