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Talented SF Musicians At Madrone Sunday Sessions

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A yule log burns endlessly on a large projector screen. Beneath it, a couple talks alone in a circular white booth that could fit five or six more people. The bartender is alone, perhaps a bit understaffed for how busy the night is, but he’s calm. The beer selection is good, and the drinks come fast enough. A deer head with golden machine guns for antlers hangs on the wall. Next to the window, a photo study of gloves — every type of glove — lines the wall.

Perched on a bar stool, a guitarist plucks out a soft bebop lick with his eyes closed and his chin craned towards the sky. Fingers flow over the keys of a Hammond B3, sending whirling chords across the dark room while his left hand walks a mean, driving bass line. He holds down the low end like Andre the Giant would pin a nameless schlub. From a sparkling red, white and blue drum kit, booms and pops punctuate the groove.

The tables are full buzzing. Collars and fedoras lean close to dresses, clinking glasses. If there’s a hipper place to be on tonight, it doesn’t have jazz this sweet.

While lines are known to curl around the corner for Madrone’s Motown Mondays, organist Wil Blades’ Sunday Sessions offer a less crowded room and a more relaxed vibe. Well, relaxed unless you’re a jazz musician or aficionado. Then the organ-lead ensemble will keep you riveted and swinging.

After a short break, the trio is joined by a trumpet, two trombones, and vibraphonist Dan Neville. Jeffrey Burr starts off a tender tune on his guitar. He drops warm notes between chords that blend in with the organ and lock up with the relaxed drive of Hamir Atwal’s high-hat and snare. In traditional jazz fashion, after each melodic instrument takes a solo, the group trades short solos with the drums.

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And this is when the room starts to get tense. The eyes of musicians and patrons alike are closed, complemented by furrowed brows. Heads bob and listeners point, yelling, “Yeah!” The crowd stares as Neville rips a vibraphone solo (pictured at left). After about twenty minutes of inspired playing, the song ends. Another guitarist steps up and Burr packs it in, saying, “I’ve had enough fun for one night.”

“What was that song you just played” ‘Night and Day?’”

“Oh, no, it was a tune called ‘I Love You.’ But it’s a similar song,” says Burr.

As Burr carries his guitar across Fell Street, a stunning woman in a black dress of criss-crossing straps smokes a cigarette with a cockatoo perched on her arm. Back inside, Blades is grinding away, boggling minds with his mastery of the Hammond, rolling out chirping melodies above bubbling bass lines.

Sunday Sessions go down at 9pm every week at Madrone. Admission is free; ages 21+.

madrone outside

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Sam Devine

Sam Devine

Sam Devine is drawn to art, bikes, song and drink like the proverbial moth to the moth-heroin. He plays music, tends bar, and makes silly animations. In addition to writing for he's appeared in several publications, including MotoSpirit, SF Bay Guardian, Motorcyclist magazine, SF Weekly, and The Kiteboarder. Check him out at