Will BernardWhat: Funky Soul Jazz
Where: Spoonbar, 219 Healdsburg Avenue
Time: 7:30-10:30PM | No Cover

In the early ‘90s, when the San Francisco Band T.J. Kirk (originally called James T. Kirk until the copyright people got to them) was insinuating the rhythms of James Brown into songs by Thelonious Monk and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the influence of funk on jazz was becoming obvious.

One of the guitarists in that band was Will Bernard, raised in the famous Berkeley High School jazz program and a keen student of guitar history. His playing takes cues from everywhere – Hendrix to Grant Green – but funkiness is his golden rule, whether it be the old-style funk of the classic ‘60s organ combos, or the modern “on-the-one” funk of James Brown.

Though Bernard has moved to New York, as so many Northern California jazz players do, he’s left behind a hugely funky scene that’s partially his legacy. For the Will Bernard Quartet‘s show at Spoonbar in Healdsburg, he’s tapping the talents of three Bay Area players well-marinated in the funk.

Wil Blades, a master of the Hammond B-3 organ, is a self-taught prodigy who moved from Chicago to San Francisco 10 years ago to study music at the New College of California. He quickly gravitated to the house B-3 at John Lee Hooker’s club The Boom Boom Room, and he met Hammond B-3 legend Lonnie Smith, who took him under his wing. Blades  is without doubt the B-3 exemplar of his generation. 

Joe Cohen is a silky tenor sax player who brings the melodicism of players like Stan Getz and Lester Young to any situation called for, funky or otherwise.  That makes for excitement. He’s one of the founding members of the Jazz Mafia, whose leader, trombonist Adam Theis, whipped Spoonbar into a frenzy at last year’s Healdsburg Jazz Festival.

Finally, drummer Brandon Etzler is a San Francisco native who sounds as if he might have been swapped at the nursery for a baby from New Orleans. His playing has got that extra thing, that instinctive way with syncopation that can only come from lots of exposure to swamps and marching bands.  How he got that is a mystery, but when New Orleans jazz stars Nicholas Payton and Donald Harrison played a run at the Boom Boom Room last year they called Etzler. Come to think of it, they called Blades and Cohen, too. So you know that Bernard has to be onto something with his quartet.