Odd or Unusual Venues, Part 2

Among the odd venues in which I played, the following are some additional ones.

The home of Francis Ford Coppola; the band played on the porch. (submitted by Bert Thompson)

Private homes are occasionally the site of a gig. One memorable one I played at with the Jelly Roll Jazz Band was the home of Francis Ford Coppola, maker of The Godfather movies and others. It is a large Italianate villa situated in the Napa wine country in Rutherford, a small community outside of St. Helena. The mansion is on a lane a good bit back from the main road, sitting amidst one of Coppola’s vineyards. It is surrounded by a porch, on which we set up to play for the guests who were treated to a barbecue. The guests that Easter Sunday were mainly Coppola’s employees who worked on his movie projects and in his wineries. We did, however, see some of the actors from his films, such as Talia Shire and a few others (but no Brando or Pacino). One other celebrity I remember was George Lucas, who attended with his family. Coppola was very gracious to us in the band and to his guests.

Hot Jazz Jubile

Another unusual gig at a home was one Professor Plum’s Jazz played for a long-time fan of the band. He and his wife attended just about every performance, including traveling to many festivals to dance there as well. Then we received the sad word of his terminal illness diagnosis. His wife said he had mentioned a number of times how much he wanted to hear us for one last time, so we arranged to go play for him and, since he was confined to bed, we assembled in his bedroom. Along with our wives we went prior to our residency gig one week so we would all be in uniform, and we played all of his requests for about an hour. I doubt there was a dry eye in that room.

Next is a unique venue. Built in the 1960s, the Circle Star Theatre, located in San Carlos, California, began life as a theater-in-the-round. It differed from most others of that ilk by having a revolving stage, the idea being that no one in the arena seating would have a “fixed” view but everyone would have a chance to see the front, sides, and back of those on stage. Sometime in the 1980s a pair of enterprising traditional jazz promoters from the Rotary Club decided to stage the San Mateo Traditional Jazz Festival there featuring several bands, one of them being Professor Plum’s Jazz* of which I was a member. I found it rather strange to sit there slowly turning when the band was up. There was no dizzying effect, however, since the stage only made a few total revolutions each hour. The event did not sell out, and no other such traditional jazz concert was attempted there by any other impresario, so the occasion was a “one off” and a rare chance to experience such a stage. The theater, in a state of decline, finally was demolished in the late 1990s and the site redeveloped.

Circle Star Theatre

A final unusual venue was one I played in New Orleans during the French Quarter Festival. I had gotten a call to play with two bands from Canada, and while most of the venues were nothing out of the ordinary, mainly bars and a couple of outdoor stages, one stood out: Bourbon Street down which we were to take part in the opening parade and met at Iberville and Bourbon Streets. It was quite a thrill to march from there down Bourbon Street to St. Ann, then turn down St. Ann to St. Louis Cathedral, where the parade ended. And yes, we did play Bourbon Street Parade, but only once!

UpBeat Records

New Orleans is probably the one locale at which every traditional jazz musician wants to play. I was fortunate to be able to remove it from my bucket list. I also lucked out in the many other unusual venues where I was lucky enough to find myself playing some righteous music.

*Another Professor Plum’s Jazz band member, tubaist Michael Swanson, kindly supplied a couple of details that eluded my memory of this event.

Born in Dundee, Scotland, Bert Thompson came to the U.S. in 1956. After a two-year stint playing drums with the 101 st Airborne Division Band and making a number of parachute drops, he returned to civilian life in San Francisco, matriculating at San Francisco State University where he earned a B.A. and an M.A. He went on to matriculate at University of Oregon, where he earned a D.A. and a Ph.D., all of his degrees in English. Now retired, he is a professor emeritus of English at City College of San Francisco. He is also a retired traditional jazz drummer, having played with a number of San Francisco Bay Area bands, including And That’s Jazz, Professor Plum’s Jazz, the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, Mission Gold Jazz Band, and the Zenith New Orleans Parade band; he also played with some further afield, including Gremoli (Long Beach, CA) and the Phoenix Jazzers (Vancouver, B.C.) Today he reviews traditional jazz CDs and writes occasional articles for several publications.

Or look at our Subscription Options.