Flux is the only constant in life, and, in San Francisco, for better or worse, change sweeps aside familiar settings with merciless efficiency. There are few better antidotes for vertiginous disruption than a pulse-quickening riff, a seductive melody or a buzz-inducing groove. Above and beyond the essential role musicians play in making civilization civilized, they stand athwart capitalism’s churning creative destruction, providing an oasis of sonic succor. Each night, all around the city, musicians gather for weekly residencies in clubs, bars, restaurants and lounges, establishing a beachhead in the eternal struggle against alienation and entropy. However, regular gigs don’t tend to get much attention. The glitzy one-offs, the concerts featuring a touring act plugged into the ravenous corporate music biz, grab the limelight.
Adam Theis’ genius for community building is right there in the Jazz Mafia moniker he chose for his polymorphous musical collective.
It’s a brilliant bit of marketing, lending a dash of bad-boy attitude to a style often perceived as academically cloistered. But what makes the name work is the ironic intention.
As an organization governed by a radically embracing ethos, the Jazz Mafia is the antithesis of a criminal enterprise. A trombonist, bassist, arranger, composer and inveterate band-builder, Theis seeks to welcome all comers stylistically and demographically, while the band makes the most of whatever it has to offer. It’s a conspiracy of generosity.
Trombonist, people connector, entrepreneur and scene inventor: Adam Theis is all those things. A one-man Bay Area music industry for 20 years, he is founder of the loose-knit collective known as the Jazz Mafia – dozens of musicians participating in the umpteen bands that have sprouted from Theis’s renegade brain. Lately, he’s been jumping on his skateboard while practicing his trombone, improvising off the rhythms of the board’s wheels as he rolls up and down a ramp in downtown Oakland: “Something will be developing out of that,” he says. “Maybe a band, maybe a song.”
It was as easy to become dizzy watching Adam Theis perform as part of The Soiled Dove extravaganza in Uptown Oakland last month as it was witnessing the production’s aerialists and acrobats do their magical thing. In his role with the throwback alternative circus that is hosted by the Vau de Vivre Society, the multi-instrumentalist led two separate bands — one for the dinner show and another for the production itself — while acting, switching between trombone and bass guitar, and even riding a skateboard momentarily.
The original music Adam Theis and his grooving Jazz Mafia associates created for the Soiled Dove, the ribald circus that’s been playing to sold-out crowds under the big top in downtown Oakland, will take on subtler shadings when it’s performed in the small-scale setting of SFJazz’s Joe Henderson Lab.
“We’ve been playing these tunes for two months and the band is just on fire,” says Theis, the trombone-and-bass-playing composer and arranger who co-founded and directs the Jazz Mafia crew.
Adam Theis is one of those Bay Area music scene figures whose cup runneth over with so much talent, you've likely heard him without realizing it. He's the founder of the locally beloved collective Jazz Mafia; has co-written songs with Blackalicious, Zion-I and Lyrics Born; and performed as a sideman with KRS One, Booker T. Jones and J Boogie's Dubtronic Science. One time, in 2009, Stevie Wonder crashed one of his shows at an intimate club in the Mission district and performed two songs with his band. He's that good.
Witness aerial and pole dancers, hula hoop and trapeze performers, shimmy and twirl to the flowing sound arrangements of some of the most talented Bay Area musicians and Djs.
Sunday Skool is a new monthly series launching this Sunday that will bring notable artists in the local music, dance and entertainment industries to a single place—The Great Northern. Created by Jazz Mafia, the music collective led by Adam Theis, and Vau de Vire Society, the event promises to be an immersive experience fusing hip-hop, rap, indie and electro music with a burlesque extravaganza.
Jazz Mafia, led by Adam Theis, performed Miles Davis' Birth Of the Cool at The SFJAZZ Center on Friday night. The sold-out crowd was treated to an hour of this "musical experiment" masterpiece that was made in the '40s and '50s by jazz greats like Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, and John Lewis.Read More
Acrobatics, corsetry and mustaches, oh my! San Francisco's newest dinner theater is busting out the big acts for patrons who like a good spectacle.
The Soiled Dove, presented by the Vau de Vire Society of The Edwardian Ball and New Bohemia NYE, bills itself as "an immersive, circus-infused dinner theater set in San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast red light district." And immersive it is with gravity-defying acts that take place among and above the audience accompanied by stage performances and live music from Jazz Mafia and Realistic Orchestra.
Patrons can also expect a four-course dinner, prepared by Work of Art catering, with dishes like short ribs with asparagus, corn and mashed potatoes. (Vegan options are available upon request.)
The dinner show is on its second run in San Francisco after multiple sold-out performances in December; it runs through April 4. Get a sneak preview in the photos above.
Adam Theis is the Jazz Mafia guy, always a little bit different. Watch him on YouTube wailing on his trombone — while wake surfing on Lake Sonoma. Or directing his band Supertaster, while backing Stevie Wonder in a packed San Francisco lounge. And then marshaling his troops onstage at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre: 55 rappers, singers and instrumentalists, performing one of his hip-hop symphonies.
What an incredible free outdoor show this was! What’s not to like about so many talented local musicians coming together on such a beautiful day at such a fantastic venue? This is why I live in San Francisco, good times all around!
The last time Roy Ayers was in town, he stood on a smallish stage alongside his band of brothers in musical arms, filling the room with the energy and sound of double the troops that were camped out underneath the lights. At Central Park SummerStage, these imaginary figures were realized as actual people, about 30 or so comprising San Francisco’s Jazz Mafia Symphony, which had been commissioned to augment Ayers’ classics in celebration of his 70th birthday last year. From the position at back left on the ground’s green astro turf, the Brooklyn native was a tiny blip amongst the mass of people—full percussion, brass, string and vocal sections—but as always, he raged away, this time with a pair of red-headed vibraphone mallets.Read More
If a philharmonic orchestra married a big band and kept its street rap mistress in the attic, you’d have something approaching the Jazz Mafia sound. And one hell of a dysfunctional family dynamic. Playing Stern Grove this weekend, Jazz Mafia's electric blend of funk, soul, and brass will continue to defy genre with all its funky brass heart.
Best known for its hip-hop symphony Brass, Bows, and Beats, the Mission-based music collective is premiering a new piece, Emperor Norton Symphony No. 2. An eccentrically excellent fusion of sound in honor of the eccentrically excellent San Franciscan who claimed imperial sovereignty in 1859 and lived out the rest of his life being humored by local bartenders who accepted his currency, drawn with what we assume was the 19th century's answer to the crayon. Jazz Mafia will perform with guest star Chali 2na (who’s also shared the stage with Ozomatli and Jurassic 5).
Call Adam Theis crazy. Tell him he’s a wild-eyed dreamer, a mad man heading for a Greek-scale financial meltdown. The trombonist has heard it all before, but as the composer and driving force behind the Jazz Mafia’s epic “Brass, Bows and Beats’’ Theis is laughing last.Read More
You know the rest: Stevie Wonder got up and sang two songs with the Jazz Mafia at a tiny little club in the Mission District. I mean, after Stevie Wonder sits in with your band, what else is there? Does Theis ever need to play another show in his life? “It kinda feels like that, actually,” he jokes.Read More