The Jazz House, in Search of a Home, Hosts Wiley Trio

By Ken Bullock (01-25-05)

The Howard Wiley Trio will perform a tribute to jazz inspiration John Coltrane this Friday at 9 p.m., presented by The Jazz House at 21 Grand Art Gallery, 449 B 23rd St., Oakland.

While Wiley’s combo pours out the “full gamut” of sounds from the great tenorman’s legendary career, Swiss-born painter Timothy Streuli will be creating artwork on the spot. The Jazz House—homeless though not silent since Halloween, when its location on Adeline was sold—continues to produce shows for both young and veteran players, waiting for the funding to acquire a new venue.

Reedsman Howard Wiley, a Berkeley High graduate, is known around the Bay Area as an accomplished sideman, playing with Lavay Smith, Faye Carroll, The Big Belly Blues Band and others.

“He can play straight ahead on a standard tune, then go way out,” says Rob Woodworth of Jazz House, “He’s recorded everything from Ragtime and New Orleans dirges on up to outside jazz on the same CD. He used to come into our Tuesday night jam sessions, likes to work with kids. As a sideman, he works four, five times a week; I called him up for this gig because I think he deserves more recognition as a leader.”

Just out of the studio after recording his first CD, Wiley will be accompanied by Darrel Green and David Ewell, drums and bass.

True to The Jazz House mission, Woodworth says there’ll be an opening act of young players preceding Wiley’s group on the stand—or in the round: the audience will be seated around the players and painter. Streuli’s “vibrant” art can be seen at

This is the second show produced by The Jazz House since losing its venue; trumpeter and Berkeley native Steve Bernstein premiered his Diaspora Hollywood Band at the Berkeley Fellowship Hall in December.

The Jazz House was founded by Rob Woodworth in late summer, 2002, as a “place to play in the real world” for young jazz musicians—and for professionals, too.

“The kids open, sometimes sit in with big names; they learn about the music biz, touring, how pros set up,” he says. “Most jazz venues are around bars, restaurants ... I think we’re unique in that the kids aren’t playing in a bar or in a school—they need to get out, not just go home and practice a chart, get down a handful of standards, concentrate so hard on playing the exact note. There’s not a lot of feeling in that; they need to be more free, open, play what they feel. We get them involved in a lot of improv.”

Woodworth, who moved to the Bay Area about eight years ago, is a native of Kansas City, Mo. (“Some jazz history there; I grew up with it.”) and a lifelong drummer, though, “I don’t play so much anymore,” he says. He is the entire staff of The Jazz House organization, assisted at performances by volunteers.

The idea for The Jazz House came to Woodworth a few years back while he was working for an arts-for-youth nonprofit. “I wanted a place where the kids weren’t just getting a book education and maybe an annual recital for a few parents—though even that’s being gutted everywhere for lack of money. And we’ve never charged admission for kids; they’re in free. I realized, too, that nine out of 10 musicians’ bios in Downbeat talk about how, as kids, they were inspired by sneaking up to a club to hear the music through the windows. Why sneak? Some young kids play better than adults at jam sessions. They’re coming up; when people hear them, they realize they’re not ‘just a kids’ group.’”

The Jazz House was open for two years at 3192 Adeline. “From the outside, it looks like a barn or an old shed; inside, it’s a big open room, with a pitched floor—I heard it was a silent movie theater, then a general store. We put in folding chairs, a wood stage. There was no sign outside, just an old cobalt light hanging on the front of the building that looked like it had been there forever. We’d put it on when there was music going on. ‘Look for the blue light!’ We got known for looking unknown.”

At first, The Jazz House had a few shows a week, then “it exploded, got away from me,” Woodworth says. Some weeks there’d be seven events, with a jam every Tuesday hosted by Dayna Stephens. It attracted local players with regional or national repute—Scott Amandola, guitarist John Schott, the Rova Saxophone Quartet—and international names: Sam Rivers, great saxophonist and father of the New York loft jazz scene; American-Fillipina drummer Suzy Ibarra; and experimental bass player William Parker.

Then the building sold, and there are rumors it’ll be torn down to make way for a parking lot.

“People call me all the time, reporting on old buildings they think would be great for us,” says Woodworth. “But anytime there’s an audience of more than 50 people, you have to really be up to code. To satisfy that, what we need is to find funding to find a place. If I wanted a coffee shop, I could open tomorrow. We’re a 501C3 nonprofit; what we need’s an angel. And grant writers, development people, and some staffing! So far, it’s been a one-man show--and I’ve got a day job.

“I want it to remain alcohol and smoke-free, but serve a little food—before, we’d just throw some cookies on the table and put on a pot of coffee. We had about 1,300 square feet before; with a little more, we could offer teaching and rehearsal space at low cost. But mostly we need a place that’s 100 percent legit. There’re too many underground music places. You can’t create a solid program, especially for kids, when the fire marshall can close you down any moment. It was bad enough when we had to close down on Adeline. The kids get up for a show; how can I tell them, ‘We’re not here anymore, I don’t know where you can play.’"