Thursday, September 4, 2008
Last month’s San Jose Jazz Festival featured a dazzling array of international talent, but the act that packed the biggest emotional punch also claims the deepest roots in the region.
Vocalist Gail Dobson opened the event with her Latin Jazz Septet and Three Generations of Jazz, featuring her son, the drummer/vibraphonist Smith Dobson V, and the parents of her late husband (Santa Cruz pianist Smith Dobson), vocalist Norma Dobson Neal and accordionist Smitty Dobson, ageless improvisers with a deep repertoire of standards. She brings the same talent-laden lineup to the Wave Street Studios on Saturday for a simultaneous live web broadcast, concert, DVD and CD recording as part of the studio’s Underground Music Television series.
A mainstay on the Bay Area jazz scene since the 1960s, Dobson is an accomplished singer who has found fulfillment both on and off the bandstand. As an educator she’s inculcated several generations into the fundamentals of jazz.
In the years since the death of her husband in a 2001 car crash, music has provided a lifeline for the family. Rather than seeking comfort from the familiar, she’s continued to develop, seeking out new sounds and collaborators, much like her son and youngest daughter, New York singer/songwriter Sasha Dobson.
“All the Dobsons have evolved while staying true to our roots,” the singer says. “Smith [IV] is with us heart and soul, but our music has stretched into other avenues. Sasha’s style has changed, and Smith [V] is writing and playing so many originals. I keep wishing [Smith IV] could hear it.”
Her music has recently branched off in new directions. While long enamored with Brazilian rhythms, Dobson has delved more deeply into that culture, while also exploring Cuban grooves.
“I got more into percussion, and now I’m studying maracas and guiro,” said Dobson, 66, referring to the Afro-Cuban instrument made from a notched gourd, rubbed with a stick.
“They’ve really helped me get into rhythm. I’ve always loved to sing, but if someday I wasn’t singing I’d love to be a percussionist.”
In addition to her son and in-laws, the band Dobson presents Saturday features bassist Dan Robbins, pianist Patrick Morehead, Masaru Koga on saxophones and flute, drummer Louis Romero and percussionist Steve Robertson. The septet’s book includes jazz tunes by Kenny Barron and Wayne Shorter for which Dobson wrote lyrics to Latin-tinged arrangements of standards. She has continued to evolve as Dobson absorbs new influences.
“What she does is a reflection of what comes her way,” Koga says. “She’s open to all sorts of traditions.”
While she hasn’t released a recording by the septet yet, Dobson has posted some live tracks on her MySpace website (www.myspace.com/gaildobsonband) that capture the band’s energy.
“I’ve always given the musicians a lot of room to solo,” Dobson says. “When I grew up in jazz, that’s what singers did.”
A San Francisco native, Dobson started performing at top North Beach clubs as a young musician when she married veteran jazz pianist George Muribus.
She first met Smith Dobson when she was working at the Candy Store (before it was a skin joint). But he entered the service and was gone for six years. By the time he returned to the Bay Area, both their marriages were breaking up and when he asked her to join his new band, the two set off sparks. She and the rest of the Dobson clan continue to carry the jazz torch forward.
The Gail Dobson Latin Jazz Septet and Three Generations of Jazz perform 8pm Saturday at Wave Street Studios, 774 Wave St., $15, (831) 655-2010, www.wavestreetstudios.com.