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The Real McCoy: SFJazz Gala

Once again, the groove reigned supreme at the Four Seasons Hotel where the SFJazz Gala celebrated its 10th anniversary Spring Festival Season by honoring masterful musician McCoy Tyner.

“McCoy is a musical visionary. He opened new doors for the rest of us to pass through” declared songbird Mary Stallings, between her set. “His music is powerful, majestic, full of truth and beauty and, above all, humanity. McCoy Tyner is my hero.”

Every year this swingin’ soiree just gets better and better and currently reigns as one of the galas of the Spring season. And not because each table was graced by a bottle of 20-year old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and the red-hot ballroom was exquisitely tricked-out like an old-school style club by Stanlee Gatti. No siree.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of super supporters such as this year’s honorary co-chairs Nicola Miner and Robert Mailer Anderson; as well as the leadership of festival founder-director Randall Kline, SFJazz has earned the right to toot its horn. Loudly.


Metallica's Lars Ulrich and SFJazz Gala Honorary co-chair Robert Mailer Anderson

Joining this jam? A colorful mix of musicians, artists, athletes, authors, community leaders and almost the entire cast of Pig Hunt, the indie action film written by Anderson and directed by Jim Issac that just premiered last night in Hollywood.

But most important? The gala raised some big-daddy bucks for SFJazz’s year-music presentation and education programs.

“Though it’s really difficult to teach jazz,” said Stanford Jazz Workshop Artistic Director Jim Nadel, slightly conflicted. “Because jazz, truly, is the music of self-expression.”

Expertly kicking off the gala’s groove? The student musicians of the SFJazz All-Star High School Ensemble, who deftly swung their own against the SFJazz Collective cool cats (as well as special guest stars Stallings, sax-man Ravi Coltrane, bassist John Patitucci and Joe Louis Walker) who later commandeered the stage.

But the night belonged to Tyner and his longtime pal, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.

Describing the soulful sound that emanates from Tyner’s playing, Hutcherson recalled a long-ago gig at the Off Broadway in San Francisco where he went to hear McCoy play who was, then, a member of the “classic” John Coltrane Quartet. There were only about 15 people in the club. But McCoy didn’t notice because he was passionately playing the keys on that piano -- for himself, for the audience.

“As I watched McCoy, I could see the tears just streaming down his face. In fact, all the musicians had tears in their eyes. When the piece ended, nobody clapped. They were silent,” said Hutcherson. “There was no reason to applaud. Because everyone in that room realized they’d had the deepest spiritual experience of their lives.”

“See, for us musicians,” continued Hutcherson, “The bandstand is our pulpit. And when we play our music, we’re praying.”

After that tribute and a movingly musical two-man gig by McCoy and Hutcherson, the entire ballroom of the Four Seasons was silent, too.

Primus bass player Les Claypool, a guest of the Miner-Andersons, turned to his hosts and enthused: “You hear that? That is life!”

Anderson agreed: “When it mattered most, Bobby was channeling that electric third rail of authenticity. Even for an atheist who is married to an agnostic, Nicola leaned over to me whispered, “That’s church!”

P.S. Join the jam: the SFJazz Festival runs through July 18.


SFJazz Gala Honorary co-chair Nicola Miner and director Jim Isaac


Members of the SFJazz All-Star High School Ensemble


Sports legends Ronnie Lott and Vida Blue


SFJazz Board Chairwoman Srinija Srinivasan


McCoy at keyboard


Susan Chokachi, Wilkes Bashford and Vanessa Getty


Musician Les Claypool and actor Bryonn Bain


Markos Kounalakis, author Jane Ganahl and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis


SFJazz Board member James Manyika and his wife, Sarah Manyika with Ato Quayson and Marti Paschal


Singer-songwriter Eoin Harrington and event designer Stanlee Gatti


Jimmy Glover, Robert Mailer Anderson and SFJazz Founder-Director Randall Kline


Publisher Nion McEvoy and author Amy Tan


Karen and Ronnie Lott, Mimi Haas and her son, Daniel Lurie


Stanford Jazz Workshop Artistic Director Jim Nadel and his wife, Elizabeth Finlayson


Ravi Coltrane, SFJazz Collective members Miguel Zenon and Eric Harland, and bassist John Patitucci


Actress Connie Nielsen and her partner, Lars Ulrich


Author Tobias Wolff and his wife, Catherine Wolff


Owsley and Victoire Brown


Noir Film Fest Director Eddie Muller and his wife, Kathleen Milne


Serena Perkins and Becca Prowda


The SFJazz Collective