Music has come roaring back in the Mission in recent months, with at least half a dozen restaurants and venues presenting acts several times a week, including Zeitgeist, Arkana, the Royal Cuckoo, Gestalt Bar, The Rite Spot and The Chapel. But no venue still standing in the neighborhood has supported adventurous, improvised music more than the Make Out Room.
Relaunched in February, the monthly third-Tuesday series returns Tuesday, March 15, with the double bill of multi-instrumentalist Tony Passarell’s Ornette Coleman-inspired quartet Body Meta and drummer Tim Bulkley’s Gatekeeper, featuring tenor saxophonist/oboist Matt Renzi and pianist Dahveed Behroozi (whose recent trio album “Echos” earned radiant reviews).
“We’ve all brought music into Gatekeeper, and we’ve all known each other a long time, since we were in New York together,” said Bulkley, a Grass Valley resident who spent much of the aughts living in the Mission. “Dahveed’s compositional style leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and Matt arranged a really interesting piece that he originally wrote for a quartet with bass and cello. More than anything it’s a fun band that’s on the looser, freer side.”
A mainstay on Sacramento’s small but vibrant improvised music scene, Passarell will be playing drums with Body Meta, but he’ll be on saxophone with Bulkley the night before at Luna’s Café’s long-running Monday night experimental music series in Sacramento. Before the pandemic, three-act programs made Make Out Mondays one of the region’s most inviting series for fans of left-field jazz. With no cover charge, it was eminently accessible and indisputable bargain (if not particularly lucrative for the artists).
The series was curated for many years by bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, who turned it over to guitarist Karl Evangelista around 2017 “with the intention that I put my own stamp on it,” he said. “My objective was to be as inclusive as possible and present as many different styles in this community.”
The Make Out Room’s exemplary role in Mission extends beyond its open-minded music policy. The annual Holiday “Craptacular,” featuring disparate rosters of local acts, is a neighborhood tradition raising money and collecting canned food for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.
Evangelista stayed in touch with the Make Out’s owner Martin Rapalski and manager Amy Morris Gibbs throughout the pandemic as the club struggled to survive being shuttered. In 2020, he helped produce the live-streamed Lockdown Festival, which contributed some of the funds raised to the venue. Still facing steep financial challenges, the venue is still dark on Mondays, so the jazz series migrated to the Tuesday slot.
“They’ve always been very supportive of the series,” he said. “With the loss of Revolution Café they’re sort of an endangered species. It feels really important to keep this going. There’s a devoted audience. Lots of people in the Mission walk over and musicians come out to hear what’s going on. It’s really to the club’s credit that they strongly support what we do, this left-of-center jazz.”
Evangelista has turned over curating responsibilities for the coming months to several illustrious Oakland peers. Saxophonist and prolific Rent Romus, who’s performing Tuesday in Body Meta, is booking April 19. And saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, whose collaboration with 500 Capp Street resulted in his 2020 live solo album Bellingham for David Ireland, is handling May 17.
For Bulkley, who thrived in the Mission from 2000 to 2006, the Make Out Room’s recommitment to adventurous music offers an opportunity to preserve the neighborhood’s art-friendly history. “It was so great to walk to Bruno’s and all the little clubs,” he said. “I played The Make Out with indie rock bands and improvising groups and it always felt like a great place to present music. It sounds good and there’s a lot of space to fill with sound. It’s amazing that it’s coming back. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic.”