With the decline of rock ‘n’ roll as a dominant cultural force the guitar has lost its iconic power. No longer can a straddled Stratocaster turn a musician into a demi-god worthy of worship via a poster on a teenager’s bedroom wall.
In the world of jazz, however, these are the best of times for guitar fans, and one needn’t look far to find astonishing players on the Bay Area scene. The instrument is present in every style and permutation of jazz, from straight-ahead bebop to the amorphous borderlands where jazz and new music overlap.
The versatile guitarist Terrence Brewer has been a mainstay on the Bay Area scene for nearly two decades while exploring an array of sounds and settings. He settles into Berkeley’s beer garden Jupiter for a weekly residency, playing every Tuesday in September with his sinewy trio, and concludes the month by introducing a very different sound at Oakland’s Piedmont Piano on Sept. 30 with his Acoustic Jazz Quartet.
Featuring fellow guitarist Ken Husbands, bassist Justin Carney and drummer Micah McClain, the quartet is designed for quiet spaces and close listening. For Brewer, “it’s all about expanding the box and broadening my pathways as far as sound is concerned,” he says.
“Coming from ‘Citizen Rhythm,’ an album where I was pushing the fusion/funk boundary and playing a lot with the wah pedal and distortion, it’s great to focus on the acoustic guitar, which I play a lot. The more I can stretch out what people expect for me the better.”
Berkeley’s John Schott has spent much of his career subverting expectations. Steeped in blues and fluidly conversant in jazz’s post-bop continuum, he returns to The Back Room in Berkeley with his Actual Trio on Oct. 6. A working ensemble for the past decade, the group features bassist Dan Seamans and drummer John Hanes playing material from the trio’s critically hailed 2015 eponymous debut on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records and previewing pieces from their forthcoming CD “Bring Yourself Back” (Smash The State).
A role model for younger musicians looking to sustain creativity over the long haul, Schott is “agenius, someone who really did so much to shape the Bay Area scene in the 1990s,” Brewer says. “He’s such a great musician and plays to his own beat. He’s one of these cats I grew up idolizing because of T.J. Kirk with Will Bernard and Charlie Hunter.”
No player on has done more to represent the Bay Area’s fervently creative guitar scene over recent decades than Vallejo-based Mimi Fox, who celebrates the release of “May I Introduce to You” at Freight & Salvage on Sept. 7. A track by track jazz homage to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the album introduces the San Francisco String Trio, a collective ensemble she launched last year with violinist Mads Tolling and bassist Jeff Denson.
In the South Bay, Rick Vandivier has been a steady force as a player and teacher, and he’s never sounded better than on his new album “Under One Roof” (Avatar Productions). A trio session with ace bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Lorca Hart, the album focuses on his melodically inventive original compositions (with a Cole Porter tune and the Beatles “Come Together” as ringers). He performs at Menlo Park’s Madera Lounge at Rosewood Sand Hill on Sept. 23.
Given the instrument’s convivial nature, it’s not surprising that Brewer has played with Vandivier on several guitar showcase gigs with San Jose’s Hristo Vitchev (the triumvirate has another date coming up in October celebrating the music of Pat Metheny Oct. 21 at the San Luis Obispo Jazz Festival, www.slojazzfest.org).
“When you talk to all the South Bay guitarists, they all studied with Rick,” Brewer says. “That says a ton about who he is. Playing finger style on the guitar he uses, he has a very distinctive sound. It’s great with me and Hristo, who can play every note under the sun twice as fast, so you get that contrast. Rick is super lyrical and harmonically sophisticated, and not a notey player.”
Guitar fans can also find a regular serving of tasty fretwork by Pascal Bokar at his San Carlos club Savanna Jazz. And Calvin Keys, the soulful godfather of Bay Area jazz guitarists, is getting ready to launch a new Monday night jam session at Oakland’s Allen Temple Baptist Church (we’ll report back when that’s confirmed).
“Calvin is truly an elder statesman, and one of the most beloved cats,” Brewer says. “I remember the first time I met him at a Boom Boom Room tribute to Grant Green, and he came right up to me and started talking. He knew who I was! He’s the sweetest guy, and is playing as beautifully as ever.”
One reason that guitar players tend to keep company with each other is the nature of the instrument. Easily portable and designed for multiple musical roles, the guitar facilitates interaction between players with none of the “machismo you’ll see with saxophonists,” Brewer says. “The guitar can be so many things, a full accompaniment instrument or lead. We always just want to play and jam together.”
Contact Andrew Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOCUS ON GUITARS
San Francisco String Trio: 8 p.m. Sept. 7, Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley; $20-$24; 510-644-2020, www.thefreight.org
Terrence Brewer: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through September at Jupiter, 2181 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; no cover; www.jupiterbeer.com; with his Acoustic Quartet, 8 p.m. Sept. 30 at Piedmont Piano, 1728 San Pablo Ave., Oakland; $15; 510-547-8188, www.piedmontpiano.com
John Schott’s Actual Trio: 8 p.m. Oct. 6 at The Back Room, 1984 Bonita Ave., Berkeley; $15; 510-654-3808; backroommusic.com