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Glen Park in a Jazz Groove
By Jeff Kaliss
The nearby neighborhood of Glen Park is, for some Noe Valleyans, merely a somewhat quaint passageway to BART or the 280 freeway. But on Friday evenings, at least, it's worth a closer look...and listen.
Sounds of live jazz, rare nowadays in any part of San Francisco, start up at 5:30 p.m., and are heard till 'round midnight. For those who long for the jazz jams that used to grace Salonicas and Tien Fu on 24th Street in decades past, jazz in Glen Park--at two venues--is a surprising and welcome phenomenon, just minutes away.
Chuck Peterson Does the Bird
As commuters freed from their work week wander into Bird & Beckett Books & Records on Diamond near Chenery, owner Eric Whittington pushes aside the rolling shelves of tomes labeled History and Social & Political Thought to create space for a dozen folding chairs in his tiny shop.
On Friday nights, the acoustic object of his audience's attention--the Chuck Peterson Quintet--troops in right before the 5:30 starting time. (The band usually plays until 7:30 p.m.)
"They've been going steadily every Friday since last October," beams Whittington. "And they're very pleased, because they like the way it sounds in the store. They like the crowd, and they like the fact that people pay attention to them."
Tenor saxophonist and leader Chuck Peterson and fellow tenor Bill Perkins front the group, flanked by bassist Don Prell and drummer Jimmy Ryan. Guitarist Scott Foster sits perched on a bench in front of the store's resident upright piano, which also sees action during jazz jams on the first Sunday of each month (Sept. 7 is the next).
The Peterson Quintet is a class act, often brighter than the weather outside and smartly familiar with pre- and post-bop jazz standards.
As for the crowd, "half of 'em love jazz, and half of 'em love the music but don't know what it's called," says Whittington. "But they're also in here because it's a nice little community gathering."
In greeting his customers, who range in age from toddlers-in-tow to veterans of the swing era, Whittington proves that he's as familiar with his community as he is with his diverse stock of new and used books and bins of long-playing records, many of them showcasing the same sort of jazz heard during in-store performances.
"I've been a jazz fan since high school," Whittington testifies. "I'm from a Navy family, and when I was living in Japan, I got a lot of records out of the base library and went to hear [legendary pianist] Thelonious Monk in Tokyo."
Whittington worked at Ed Hunolt's Berkeley Book Store and at the Green Apple bookstore on Clement Street before opening Bird & Beckett in May of 1999. Among the earliest of his customers was Glen Park resident Mary Goode, who seeded Whittington's swing and bop inventory with the record collection belonging to her late husband John Markham, a jazz professional and a friend of Peterson.
Peterson, a retired big band and pit orchestra musician himself, was among those devoted to playing at the bookstore's occasional jazz jams in its first couple of years, although there was little money to be made.
"He said he could either play golf, or he could subsidize his playing jazz for me," reports Whittington, "and he'd rather play jazz."
When he decided to go weekly with the jazz stage, Whittington also committed to giving the musicians a third of the proceeds of books and records sold during their gigs. The musicians' pay is bolstered by tips collected in a jar on the counter. Whittington makes his jazz nights more comfortable for music fans, and more affordable for him, by selling water, wine, and bottles of soda.
Coltrane the Muse at Red Rock
Liquor is the sole source of income at the Red Rock bar, kitty-corner from the bookstore at 699 Chenery Street (at Diamond), but the suave and friendly service of bartenders Mark Pagsolingan and Betty Coleman is enhanced on Friday nights by the sophisticated sounds of the David Parker Quintet.
The music begins, literally right inside the bar's Chenery Street door, at 9 o'clock, an hour and a half after it concludes at Bird & Beckett. Parker, who plays bass, is positioned just off the northern end of the long, well-polished deco bar top, with trumpeter Mike Pitre, saxman Jerry Logas, keyboardist Albert Yamanoha, and drummer Roy Bailey.
Parker's songbook is somewhat more modern than Peterson's, including progressive jazz compositions by the likes of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. The venue itself is a striking contrast to the funky potpourri of the bookstore, and is a reflection of the taste of owner Ric López and his Modernpast furnishings store, a half block up Chenery.
Every detail of Red Rock, from the soffits above the back bar to the small cocktail tables positioned in front of the long banquette along the western wall, was carefully designed with a "timeless" touch by López, who has also worked as a fashion photographer.
"I think jazz itself is very timeless," offers López, who inherited a love of the music from his father while growing up in the nearby Sunnyside neighborhood, where he now owns his own home and studio.
López found his inspiration for Red Rock in the tiny lounges doubling as jazz hot spots that he encountered during residencies in Paris and Milan. After returning to the U.S. and opening Modernpast three years ago, he discovered the down-at-the-heel New Lodge bar, which occupied the corner of Chenery and Diamond. He was delighted when he got the opportunity to acquire and refurbish the place.
When he first opened Red Rock a year ago, named for the Glen Park hill that rises north towards Diamond Heights, he took some of the New Lodge regulars by surprise. "They walked in, and they were, 'Oh, my God, where am I?'," he recalls with a chuckle. "So they just went home, changed their shirts, and came back."
Current clientele (which by law must be of drinking age) are inspired to dress in style. They've included designer Christiane Parker, who introduced López to her jazz-playing husband and created the opportunity for the musical Friday nights, which began last January.
As at Bird & Beckett, the musicians share in the establishment's proceeds and welcome tips, and are more than grateful for the opportunity to keep their jazz chops fresh; they all have day jobs as public school teachers.
López has taken a more aggressive approach to promoting and expanding his operations than has Whittington. Last month, he issued a press release, inviting the media to come look at and listen to a "Red Rock Friday." He also inaugurated a Wednesdays blues night, hosted by guitarist and singer P.A. Slim (who performs for Sunday brunches at Alcatraces restaurant on 24th Street). This fall, López will open a sushi restaurant, which he'll "design from top to bottom, including the clothes," at the location of a former wine shop, across the street from Modernpast on Chenery.
But the prime directive subscribed to by both Whittington and López is serving the locals.
"Glen Park is a very special place," López points out, "and it has been, through all the chaos when the freeway and BART came in [in the 1960s and '70s]. Big chains haven't come here. It's a village, and in Glen Park Village, you really want to be neighborly.
"With some people working 9 to 9, they want to get off work and come relax somewhere," he continues. "Providing live music makes them feel they can get out and find real things, not just their home entertainment system." h