Jazz gospel fills the sidewalk in front of the Royal Cuckoo Market on 19th Street, off of Mission. Marc Capelle is on the piano. He’s usually there or at The Chapel, three blocks up, several days a week.
“What do I love about music? Well, music is love. And, what do I love about love? Love is love — it really is the staff of life,” said the longtime Mission resident. “Music, gosh: It’s absolutely transcendental, representational and communicational, and humorous and sad and tragic; and everybody seems to be able to speak it; and it might be the best food there is.”
The Haight native and McAteer High School graduate was exposed to local music early on from performers and artist friends of his parents.
Growing up in the city in the ’70s, Capelle became attracted to soul, Latin soul, lowrider music, cruising music and “all the stuff just blasting out of windows.”
He started plugging on pianos at five, and playing trumpet and brass instruments when he was around seven or eight. He did gigs as a teenager, and worked as a semi-professional in his 20s and 30s. In the ’90s, Capelle worked more with different bands as a sideman and composer, and he did more touring and work on recording sessions.
“This place was completely swimming in music,” he said.
The Changing Scene
Now 59, he’s played on more than 100 records and worked alongside many musicians, including Mark Eitzel, lead singer of the San Francisco-based American Music Club; Jason Lytle, the musician best known from the indie rock band Grandaddy; and the Plastic Ono Band, formed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
He’s also played with the Bay Area band the Kinetics and the Mission-born group Los Mocosos.
Capelle said he has faith local music organizations will pull through in the aftermath of the pandemic.
He also believes that the conversion to digital has reified and reestablished the magic of live music.
“The good thing is, we’re not starting from nothing,” Capelle said. “We’re just having to rebuild it back to where it was and then hopefully expand it to what it feels like will be an enormous hunger for an analog experience and not a streaming experience.”
Capelle primarily plays keyboards and brass instruments.
Most work comes as a contractor and a band leader bringing musicians together.
He still makes arrangements and songs, and he has created many compositions for the San Francisco Film Festival, often with the Red Room Orchestra.
He recently finished the soundtrack for Tell Them We Were Here, a film that chronicles artists following community-driven paths within the Bay Area. With a recent showing at the Roxie, it will continue to play later in the month and stream at the Berkeley Art Museum website.
The days usually begin with newspapers and local blogs. He’ll call friends, such as those who book shows or operate clubs, to ask about when performances will return to normal. And, he plays the piano and walks the Mission.
“I try to stick with the neighborhood. I try to be really positive about the neighborhood. I try to reach out to people that have trouble,” Capelle said. “I really try to stay in touch with the enormous shifts that have occurred in San Francisco, in regards to our compassion for our fellow man.”
A music educator, he often volunteers to teach students who wish to learn an instrument. What he brings in performing in front of the Royal Cuckoo Market usually goes to people who live on the streets.
“It would be a mistake to not see and embrace the interdependence on the people here in the neighborhood — at the local market, at the bus stop, at the various restaurants and in various jobs — and that we are all very much tied together in this neighborhood,” he said.