Serving the San Francisco Bay Area New Music Community

Andrew Gilbert

Article about Lisa Mezzacappa in Chronicle SFGate
Date of Interview/Article:7/18/2011
Please see link to article in San Francisco Chronicle

The list of Bay Area musicians who've moved to New York City is long and depressing, a testament to Gotham's undiminished status as the world's jazz capital. So when a New Yorker ends up capturing national attention from San Francisco, the triumph feels particularly sweet.

For Staten Island-raised bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, who settled in the Bay Area 10 years ago, the biggest thrill about winning the 2010 Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll (tying with Grammy-nominated vocalist Gregory Porter for best debut recording) was seeing her name alongside jazz giants. Released on Clean Feed, her album "What Is Known" features her rambunctious garage jazz band Bait & Switch, a fierce quartet featuring tenor saxophonist Aaron Bennett, guitarist John Finkbeiner and drummer Vijay Anderson.

"As a kid growing up in New York, I used to read the Jazz Poll and see all my heroes," Mezzacappa says. "People still look to New York for jazz, but we're getting more attention, and it feels like the West Coast is getting less isolated."

While Mezzacappa released her first album as a leader relatively late in her career, she hasn't been slacking off. A tireless organizer, she's involved in at least a dozen ensembles, including the powerhouse collective quartet Cylinder with trumpeter Darren Johnston, alto saxophonist Aram Shelton and drummer Kjell Nordeson. An avid cinephile, she created and oversees the Mission Eye & Ear series, which brings together Bay Area filmmakers, writers, composers and musicians to create film events with live scores. (The next program takes place at Artists' Television Access on June 3, and features movies by Paul Clipson, Kerry Laitala and Konrad Steiner set to music by Darren Johnston, Aaron Novik and Matt Ingalls, respectively.)

She does pretty much the same thing in her day gig as Stanford University's campus programs manager, overseeing artist residencies and producing free events on campus.

"It's probably a personality disorder," Mezzacappa says. "There are an infinite number of great ideas, and if no one else is going to make them happen, then I do. The job at Stanford is very similar to my musical life: It's one more version of trying to put some good things into the world and trying to connect."

Self-starters and inveterate organizers have long thrived on the Bay Area creative music scene both by necessity and DIY inclination. Mezzacappa has added a welcome jolt of energy, forging deep ties with older underground masters like pianist/composer Graham Connah and saxophonist Phillip Greenlief. Impressed with her musicianship, brawny tone and far-ranging artistic passions, Greenlief recruited Mezzacappa for his trio Citta di Vitti, which plays his darkly alluring compositions inspired by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni.

"Lisa is a great player and super smart," Greenlief says. "She grew up in New York and she's a hustler with the let's-get-something-done attitude. It's not about how is this going to help my career. She's looking at the scene and thinking big picture."