Two SF Natives Doing Big Things with a Small Record Shop
Photos and Interview by Derek Tobias at IG: Simmonstobias
To hear the audio version of this interview with Danny, Sara & Derek visit AusformMag.com, where you will find numerous interviews with some of the wonderful personalities that make the Bay Area such a unique and magical place.
You might know Danny from his many gigs around SF where he plays Sax in any number of Jazz venues (especially Balboa Theater which you can see this Sunday from 12-3pm). Or you might know Danny from his recent story in SFGate and (subsequent petition to get Breed to change music ordinances) where he and some of his musician friends were hassled in the park for playing music without a permit. But what you should know Danny from is his amazing record shop in the upper Richmond where he deals in classic Jazz, Soul, Rock and Funk vinyl along with supporting local artists/photographers and musicians (pre-COVID). We had the pleasure of talking with Danny (and his mom Sara) about how he got started in music, what inspired NoiseSF, and how the city he (and his mom) grew up in has changed over the years.
Ausform: Let’s go ahead and start off with, talking a little bit about where you grew up and how you were raised.
Danny: I grew up here in San Francisco, and my mom played some classical piano. And got us started pretty young. My mom’s dad was from New Orleans, so music was always a big part of his household. He always had on some Professor Longhair, some Fats Domino, or something like that. And then her mom would get tickets to the symphony, so I got to go with her when her friends couldn’t go once in a while. So music caught my ear right away.
Ausform: What were some of the standout musical influences in your mind?
Danny: One of the first live shows I got to see, my parents took me to the County fair and Tower of Power was playing. I was probably like three or four, but I remember when they started playing I ran right up to the front. Music always captured me whenever I got to hear it. So once I got the chance to play an instrument, I took it pretty seriously
Ausform: In terms of your musical ability, which instruments started you off and how did you go about learning?
Danny: I got started on piano. I guess pretty young, maybe five or six or so, and, picked then I up violin and clarinet in the fourth grade, saxophone in 10th grade and bass in high school sometime. So, that was the evolution. Now I pretty much just play sax professionally. Up until the Shelter in Place I was working pretty much every night.
Sara: As his mother, Daniel grew up with a lot of jazz. and there was a lot of music around him all the time. by the time he was in fourth grade, instrumental music in San Francisco was not only mandatory, but it was one of the wonderful things about public school.
It was free and public school and the school was just a block from here. So. When Daniel was in fourth grade, the music teacher, Robert Daniels discovered that as he was giving instruments to Daniel to try pretty much any instrument, he gave him whether it was violin or clarinet, pretty much anything he could play.
And it was at that time that Mr. Daniels really encouraged us to try to find some private instruction for him. Cause I’m only a pianist, that’s my gig. So we found the community music center. Many people had recommended it, which is just five blocks away on, on 30th Avenue. And Daniel started instruction there. He’d started with violin and clarinet.
And from the time he was in middle school on, he was always in, band and jazz band and clarinet, and then sax. And then also in orchestra with violin which he played very proficiently also. He leaned always more towards jazz though, I would say that classical music wasn’t always his forte, but he was good at it.
Ausform: How did the record shop for Noise come up? Had you always wanted to own a record shop or what were your goals for that?
Danny: Well, it’s funny. I had been kind of collecting a little bit and selling online, already. And a fellow musician I play with sometimes he opened up a shop. His wife had a vintage clothing store and she acquired another location in the neighborhood and told him, “Hey, you should turn this into a music shop.” When he opened up, he mostly had a lot of like country, folk and rock. And I told him, Hey, I got lots of jazz and soul and other stuff like that. So we ended up partnering on that for a couple of years. And then they had a baby and moved off to Kentucky and we took over the lease, five years ago now. it wasn’t necessarily as planned as it could have been, but, yeah, it all grew pretty, pretty quickly. And it’s constantly evolving too.
Ausform: How important is the live music scene to your business?
Danny: When we started, it was pretty integral. We hosted a jazz jam session every Sunday and some of the city’s top players and a lot of rock bands would come through and do a couple of sets. It’s kind of grown to the point where there isn’t a whole lot of space for the music now. Because of the shelter in place now, the area that was the stage area, I bought a few collections recently and that space is filled with boxes right now. The whole business model has changed a bit since being such a high contact environment where we’ve got 10,000 records on the floor that people come in and browse through and touch. So that whole model is going to have to change.
Sara: I don’t know if you’ve been to the shop, but the shop is a venue for live music. It’s also an art gallery. We support over a dozen local artists and photographers. And also he tries to keep the prices below everybody. He has always had a great interest in local music and musicians. And we try to really support them on every level
Ausform: How do you feel San Francisco influenced Daniel musically?
Sara: So, my background is with rock and roll in San Francisco. I’m 62 years old. I was at Monterey Pop. I was also at the very first Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958. There’s a photograph in the Chronicle with a woman with a baby in a stroller August, 1958. And that’s me. My ex in-laws helped Bill Graham to start a lot of the early things to do with the Fillmore and Winter Land and Avalon.
I’m tied into rock and roll going way, way back. My father was also the founder of the African American Historical Society. He’s 95 years old and he moved back to New Orleans a couple of years ago.
So we were very dedicated and involved with the music and arts scene, on many different levels.
Ausform: So it was pretty much a foregone conclusion for Daniel to be musical and creative. Obviously you’ve been in San Francisco a long time. How has the neighborhood changed even in the last 10 years?
Sara: I was born in 1958 and I pretty much grew up in what we call Noe Valley. So, I lived at 381 Duncan street in the sixties. I went to public school myself, Kate Kennedy at 30th and Noe. And then from there I went to Presidio Hill.
I think San Francisco back then was a very deep mixing of cultures and ethnicities. I don’t see that very much anymore. I think what we’ve done is we’ve driven out artists and people who economically don’t meet the standards that the tech industry and those six figure jobs have brought in. My son and my daughter, studied at community music center.
And certainly our neighborhood luckily, knock on wood), we’ve been in the same rent controlled flat for 32 years. We’ll stay here as long as we can. And what we’ve seen is a lot of the families that have lived in the neighborhood in the last 10 to 15 years have moved out. I don’t want to say that they have been priced out.
But certainly the prices in the city are insane. And, and the nice thing for me, cause I, I was at noise for four years, 24 seven every single day. So I was lucky enough to meet the people that came and shopped. And it has changed over those four years. We’ve lost a lot of people who have moved to Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania. My first house in 1978, I rented a two-bedroom house, on Blake and Geary for $350.
When I talk to young people now they’re living four and five in a two bedroom apartment in flat with landlords who are jacking them for four grand a month. To me it’s criminal. So my feeling is the city has lost its flavor.
Everybody wants to come here. You know, when we had the anniversary for the summer of love a few years ago, everybody wants to be here, they identify with so much of the rhetoric and stuff because they see what transformed this city.
Especially during the sixties and the antiwar movement. Some of my early memories of marching a million people strong before I was 10 years old from Civic Center to the Polo Fields. And then there were free concerts, and every band you could name that was around at that time was at that concert. And musicians played on the street, and musicians were allowed to rent and live in a way that made it conducive to being creative.
Ausform: How have you been keeping busy and keeping sane during the shelter in place?
Danny: Yeah, I’m pretty much just hustling and, and doing everything I can to keep the shop rolling. A couple of years ago, I started doing the video flips on Instagram so regular customers and new folks can see what the new arrivals are and stuff like that. So folks have been good about keeping an eye on Instagram. We’ve got over 22,000 followers, I think.
Ausform: Can you talk to us a little bit about your partnership with the Balboa Theater?
Danny: Adam the owner at Balboa has been great about collaborating. And we’ve had a series now for three years, a monthly series where we honor mostly jazz musicians, honoring them on their birthday. We’ll do about an hour 15 of live music of the musician’s, music with the band. The first was Thelonius Monk and we did Fela Kuti, and, Sun Ra and, Coltrane. Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Nina Simone. So, that’s been a great series and a great crowd. We’ve talked about, getting that going again too once he’s able to open again. We used to play in the lobby, but do the spacial constraints we’ll probably end up moving the piano to the theater. He did mention that was something that’s been on his mind and once they do open, he’d like to get that series going again.
Ausform: So obviously there was a lot of music going on house and in your families, living, in New Orleans, there had to be a lot of jazz and music in general. What are some of, your most memorable stories, or musical moments?
Danny: One highlight was when I got called to play with the Black Glide Church Ensemble. And it was for a special event and I found out when I got there, it was for Robin Williams funeral. And, so I went downstairs and at that point found out that, Stevie Wonder would be joining us. So yeah, getting to play with the Stevie Wonder is definitely a highlight.
Ausform: We’ll go ahead and wrap things up a few quick questions, burgers or tacos,
Danny: Probably tacos, mm. I usually make it at home. As far burger places though. A drummer friend of mine opened up Ocean Alehouse out by city college. So whenever I’m in the mood for a burger or some wings and the beer, I do pay him a visit. He was actually one of the first people I had a band with. We had a band together when we were like 12.
Ausform: Jazz music or Soul music,
Danny: Jazz I guess. I’ve definitely listened to probably equal if not more amount of Jazz.
Ausform: Give us two of your top artists from jazz and two top artists from soul.
Danny: Coltrain, for number 1 and it’s a hard one to pick a number 2. Maybe Dolphy or Ellington. And, for Soul probably Curtis Mayfiled and James Brown for sure. There’s so many cats. It’s always hard to answer that.
Ausform: Three favorite concert venues
Danny: I always like Club Deluxe, which is kind of an intimate jazz club vibe. For jazz, I do like the vibe they have there. And the calendar is pretty consistent. The Chapel is always fun, and The Independent is a fun place to play shows at too. Those guys are solid.
Ausform: And then three places you want to go first thing, once everything opens up?
Danny: I’ll probably end up at Tupelo and check out their Monday night jam session and the same for the Deluxe they have a jam session there on Monday nights. But not anytime soon, I’m in no rush for things to so-called get back to normal. I’ve got to definitely worry about my mom’s safety. The safety of our customers, cause we are still, I’m still doing online orders. So definitely playing it safe and, and not in a rush to get back to all that
Ausform: How do you foresee the future of live music and event spaces in general?
Danny: It’s curious. I guess we’ll see how it all pans out. As far as the clubs, most of them are pretty small venues and it’s going to be a challenge for a lot of those places. Mr. Tipples, Black Cat. Local Edition. All these places that have bands on the regular, that may or may not be able to reopen and afford to pay entertainers because of the capacity. I think even like Davies Symphony Hall, and SF Jazz, and bigger venues like that are looking at opening maybe in the winter probably next year and at half capacity even.
It’ll be a challenge for the smaller clubs. And especially if you are a sax player, trumpet player, or any kind of wind instrument where they’re not able to wear that mask and play or whatever. That’s another layer of challenges too. So I’ve been working on my keyboard jobs.