Uccello doesn’t just offer cocktails and food: It lets students manage their own performance series at every level.
By Alex Heigl
Come for the food, stay for the music.
While Uccello Lounge—located on the ground floor of The Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center, SFCM’s award-winning “vertical campus”—has been racking up praise for its menu, by James Beard Award–winning chef of Coco500, Loretta Keller, it offers students something beyond food and drink.
SFCM Community Engagement Manager Kevin Rogers explained that beverage director Clay Reynolds has set up a system where “one student basically owns the night. We want them to practice setting up a combo that would play at a restaurant or something like that and then be able to reach out to venues and say, ‘I have this experience, these are my rates, I’ll be handling all the logistics. It gives them band leader experience.”
Since the program’s debut this spring, the evenings have been a mix of Roots, Jazz and American Music (RJAM) students and chamber music performers, Rogers hopes that programming can expand to students from the Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) department and other cross-departmental collaborations.
For SFCM alum, jazz guitarist Spencer Hoefort’s trio performances with fellow RJAM students Julian Esparza (bass) and John Cavalier (drums), he hopes to emulate a classic jazz jam session atmosphere, in which the floor is opened up to other musicians to join after the trio’s first set. His group has also been joined by RJAM faculty members at times, a surprise opportunity for patrons to see some of the Bay’s world-class jazz musicians with no cover.
Uccello offers Hoefort a welcome opportunity for him and his peers to workshop their original compositions and control the theme of an evening. “It’s not always so often that you get to play your own originals on a gig,” he said. (For one gig over the summer he and Cavalier also played a set of Beatles songs.)
In addition Hoefort and Reynolds have had discussions about bringing in musicians from SFJazz’s High School All-Stars program for playing opportunities, with both of them citing the lack of venues for underage musicians. (Several members of the RJAM faculty are involved with SFJazz, either as performers or administrators.)
“This project has been one where it’s a restaurant, but it’s also a place where the students will be performing and have an opportunity to hone their skills in front of the real public,” Reynolds said. “(Uccello Chef) Loretta and Ihave been in the restaurant world for some time. Our partner at the Exploratorium is Ute Bowes, and she set up a meeting with David Stull, and we started talking about their vision for the Bowes Center, the student meal program, and the Lounge. The student involvement was always talked about from the beginning, and every student I’ve talked to has wanted to do it.”
“Because he has a strong relationship with the Conservatory, Clay really wants to provide opportunities for students,” Rogers said.
As with the rest of SFCM, Uccello is outfitted with a sound system from Berkeley’s Meyer Sound, so Reynolds thinks the space can hold its own with other venues in the area. “It’s hard to be two things at once, but I think that there’s an opportunity to be both a music venue that gives students these opportunities and a destination for people who might be walking around Hayes Valley looking for something to eat or drink.”