Blowing His Own Horn


Jazz trumpeter-vocalist Nate Birkey has been on the Santa Barbara scene for long enough now to be a fixture, and one with more than one persona. He was the man with the horn in the popular party band Spencer the Gardener, but he's been working on his own musical voice for several years now, first with the band he called the Avant Gardeners and then under his own name.

In the last year, Birkey's jazz quintet, which appears in the "Music Under the Stars" concert series Saturday at the Olivas Adobe in Ventura, has been making waves in the extended neighborhood.

The band, which keeps up its musical muscle tone in Santa Barbara-area clubs like the underground haunt the Cove, the Mercury Lounge in Goleta, and the soon-to-be-defunct NYM, has also played several gigs at the prestigious Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood. The Los Angeles leaning continues, and the group is playing in the Central Avenue Jazz Festival in Los Angeles at noon Aug. 1.


Birkey has a cool instrumental touch, to be sure, and he's grown accustomed to being compared to Chet Baker, another jazz trumpeter with an understated vocal style and a moody charisma. Last year, the Nate Birkey Quintet released its debut CD, "Indelibly You," a blend of instrumental and vocal tracks (including guitar cameos by your humble scribe), and the band, in shifting incarnations, has been evolving and getting around. Birkey has taken a slow, sure upward path rather than becoming an overnight sensation.

The band this Saturday will include Birkey's regular bandmates, right-hand saxophonist foil Justin Claveria, pianist Jamieson Trotter and bassist Jim Connolly.

In the drum chair, John Lacroix will be filling in for regular drummer Cougar Estrada of the Estrada Brothers and the Latin Playboys, who is also a Spencer the Gardener alumnus.

Expect to hear empathetic jazz interplay via cool-toned vocal treatments of standards and originals and an attitude that celebrates taste.


Nate Birkey Quintet, in the "Music Under the Stars" series, at Olivas Adobe at 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under and seniors, and an additional $5 for a reserved table that seats four; 658-4726.


Academic Update: Santa Barbara's Music Academy of the West, which music lovers around these parts know as the best thing happening during the summer months, is coming up on a big week.

This Saturday marks the ever-anticipated visit of celebrated English conductor Jeffrey Tate, returning for the eighth time to lead the impressive young Festival Orchestra. Rest assured, these orchestra members are young but mighty.

A French connection prevails during the evening, with music of Chabrier, Ravel, Debussy, Saint-Saens and Roussel.

Then, next week, the weekly "Tuesdays at Eight" chamber music series, featuring academy faculty members in performance, gets ambitious. Its highlight will be Stravinsky's sanguine classic "The Soldier's Tale." Also on the program is a bit of "Tafelmusik" by Telemann, for Baroque's sake.

From the new-music angle comes Tom Johnson's cheekily titled "Failing: A Very Difficult Piece for Solo String Bass," with bassist Nico Abondolo navigating the challenging instrumental waters. Johnson, a conceptual composer with a personalized style of minimalism in his writing, was, for many years, a critic for the Village Voice. Among his works are the "Four Note Opera" and "Rational Melodies," titles that suggest the composer's sly wit.

These concerts, among the best of the academy's season, promise to recharge sun-bleached, classical music-hungry listeners. They're well worth a drive up the coast.


Music Academy of the West: Jeffrey Tate conducting the Festival Orchestra, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lobero Theatre, 33 Canon Perdido in Santa Barbara. Tickets are $23; 963-0761. "Tuesdays at Eight" chamber music concert at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Lobero Theatre. Tickets are $25; 963-0761.

* Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at

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