Little House on the Fringe

Berkeley's Jazz House keeps the noncommercial flame flickering.


East Bay Express, June 2003

For years it was one of South Berkeley's delicious little mysteries, the small beige storefront next to the police station where Martin Luther King runs into Adeline, with the blue light and cryptic "ant" sign over the door. Rather than serving as a clubhouse for renegade myrmecologists, the antique-store-turned-theatre-turned- performance-space known as TUVA played an important role in the region's underground music scene, replacing the late lamented Beanbenders as the East Bay's leading spot for independently produced jazz and new music events. In its latest incarnation, the venue has been rechristened the Jazz House, emerging reenergized with a compelling new mission. Rob Woodworth, a percussionist dedicated to providing young musicians with opportunities to perform in public, took over TUVA four months ago from throat-singer Arjuna when the latter decided to focus on his play about Ishi, Dancing Song of Dead People in Other Worlds.
Woodworth has fixed up the once-ramshackle room, detailing the patterned pressed tin that lines the walls with regal red paint and hanging handsome new curtains. He and a small circle of volunteers have also turned the venue into a vortex of activity, with African drum workshops on Sundays, weekend clinics for young musicians, and regular concerts, building on TUVA's edgy jazz and new music base. As a nonprofit organization focusing on music education for youth, kids get in free to all shows, and in keeping with the venue's family-friendly vibe there's no alcohol served -- a policy that has led to some grumbling.

Nearby yet out there: Rob Woodworth
Chris Duffey

"We're putting more and more structure into it," says Woodworth, who moved to the Bay Area from his home in Kansas City, Missouri, about five years ago. "We've built up the Web site and the e-mail list. We're doing promotions on radio and local newspapers and the phones are ringing off the hook. We do a lot of kids' stuff on the weekends, mostly in the afternoons, but then on evenings and weekdays as often as we can we're having kids open up for the bands we present."

Some recent Jazz House highlights include an all-Monk program by the brilliant Berkeley guitarist John Schott with a group of his students, and a raucous show by Sun Ra trombonist Tyrone Hill and his Arkestra. On Thursday, Erika Luckett and Ellis, two gloriously eclectic singer/songwriters, hold forth on a double bill, and on Friday, guitarist Bill Horvitz' stellar band celebrates the release of its new album The Disappearance (Evander). Featuring ROVA saxophonist Steve Adams and LA-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt, the group blends the melodic development of well-crafted rock with the rhythmic complexity of post-bop jazz. Exploring original material that moves seamlessly between trenchant composed themes and emotionally galvanizing improvisation, it's one of the most consistently rewarding small jazz combos on the scene. For Woodworth, the trio is exactly the kind of band he's hoping will find a regular home at the Jazz House.

"I've had musicians call up on my cell phone and I'm amazed," he says. "I still don't have a clue how they're finding out about it. Word of mouth, obviously, but I'm proactive as well. I'm calling all the time, trying to get local people in here." The Jazz House is at 3192 Adeline Street in Berkeley. Call 415-846-9432 for more information, or log on to