Last year Kirby Lee Hammel and Jake Alexander, a pair of college student buskers on a piano and drum set, appeared at the Heart of the City Farmers Market in Civic Center and quickly gained the neighborhood's affection.
Besides the little kid above, who is reportedly an awestruck admirer who begs his mom to take him every Sunday to watch Jake on the drums, the crowd of down-and-out schizophrenics, substance abusers, and just plain miserable near 7th and Market have also become ardent fans.
Last Sunday, instead of their usual public acting out of various miseries, I saw many of the same characters sitting at plastic tables around the musicians, listening to the set and grinning from ear to ear.
Part of the reason for that is the style of music being played, which they describe on their website as follows:
"Clangin' & Bangin' started as a collaboration between pianist Kirby Lee Hammel and drummer Jake Alexander as an entertaining way to make some $ for school, hone their craft as musicians, and spread the good vibes of blues, honky-tonk and boogie music to the masses. Equally influenced by the music emerging from Chicago in the '20s and '30s, the pre-jazz era, and honky-tonks down in Texas, Clangin' & Bangin' takes to the streets like many of their idols before them."
Even more important than the jolly nature of this music is the sheer verve of the playing which sounds like a seamless combination of tight licks and improvisation. In a phone interview, I asked Kirby if they were playing standards or their own material, and he said it was a combination of both, with new additions to the repertory all the time, many based on repeated requests from the crowd.
Neither the Heart of the City Farmers Market or the city of San Francisco pays them for the 11AM-2PM gigs every Sunday and occasional Wednesdays, but both entities should seriously consider doing so, since this pair may be the best-sounding buskers I have heard in 40 years in San Francisco.
"Were you freaked out by all the crazies in the neighborhood when you started?" I asked Kirby, and he confessed there was some trepidation at the beginning but they soon realized their sounds made people happy. A more literal demonstration of music soothing the savage beast would be hard to find.