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House of Tudor 

Wednesday, Dec 2 1998
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It's easy see how Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire has benefited from the Squirrel Nut Zippers' style and fame: Zippers guitarist James Mathus and leading femme Katherine Whalen both play a substantial role on Bird's Rykodisc debut, Thrills, and this year Bird's group has enjoyed an opening slot on the Zippers' sold-out national tour. But, as Thrills proves, it's easier still to see how the Squirrel Nut Zippers will benefit from Bird, who not only accompanies the Zippers live but has also co-written several new songs on their forthcoming album. Bird's deranged sense of humor and virtuoso violin playing force Thrills into places that are, musically and literally, prohibitive to most day-old swing outfits: Gypsy fires, piss-drenched alleyways, drunken porch swings, and German cabarets where people resemble cows who eat their young. Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire performs at the Starry Plough in Berkeley on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $5; call (510) 841-2082. Also at Cafe Du Nord on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 861-5016. And at the Elbo Room on Monday, Dec. 7, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $4; call 552-7788.

At 73, Jimmy Scott has finally been acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of song living. It didn't take all that much to highlight a largely ignored 50-year career -- just the prescience and immutable demise of one of early rock's pre-eminent songwriters. In 1991, Doc Pomus -- author of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas" and the Drifters' "This Magic Moment" -- died of lung cancer. As Pomus predicted, the music industry bigwigs turned out in force for his funeral, and it was the sly wish of the deceased that the country's taste-makers be consoled with a delicate rendition of "Someone to Watch Over Me," sung by the nearly forgotten Little Jimmy Scott. In the late '40s, the then-diminutive Scott (he was born with Kallman's syndrome, which delays puberty; he was 4 feet 11 inches until his 30s, when he shot up to 5 feet 7 inches) had a big hit with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. He went out on his own, performed at Dwight Eisenhower's inauguration, and recorded some enduring numbers for Savoy Records like "Imagination" and "When Did You Leave Heaven." Unfortunately, Savoy insisted on marketing Scott as an R&B singer while it was clear to Scott, as well as to anyone who listened to him sing, that he was a jazz man. When the relationship became unworkable, Savoy kept Scott under contract without a recording for more than six years. Scott lost momentum and several wives. He slipped into obscurity, playing occasionally throughout the '70s and '80s in small Brooklyn nightspots. Then Pomus died, Scott sang, Sire signed him, and David Lynch gave him a role in the final episode of Twin Peaks (he would be the small, elegant, black man crooning "Under the Sycamore Tree"). Before Scott knew it, he was appearing in Levi's commercials, touring with Lou Reed, and singing ballads with David Sanborn, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, and Flea. He sang at Clinton's 1993 inauguration, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger's wedding, and Clint Eastwood's special at Carnegie Hall. Madonna just loves him. After all these years, Jimmy Scott has got cachet, baby. Funny, though, how a few years of elbow-rubbing can't really erase a lifetime of knocks. On his most recent album, Holding Back the Years, you can still hear the legacy of a man whose mother died when he was a child; whose father abandoned him and his nine siblings; who has tasted fame but could not hold on to love. Scott has said singing is a profound expression of the struggle, and now, as his dusky soprano has grown smokier with time, he is able to express that, capturing an entire world of anguish within a single note. Holding Back the Years was, no doubt, sparked by Scott's last Warner Bros. album, which mingled traditional spirituals with hits written by Curtis Mayfield, Talking Heads, and Bob Dylan; the collection of pop songs on Years -- John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," Bryan Ferry's "Slave to Love," Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 You," and the boundlessly melancholy "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" by Elton John -- will sound familiar, but unapproachable in their grace and profundity. Jimmy Scott performs at the Great American Music Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 885-0750.

Ten years ago, when Nickie's BBQ began its transformation into an internationally known nightclub, the Lower Haight was considered something of a derelict neighborhood, known and loved only by local residents. That was changed, in part, by the arrival of Algeria's DJ Cheb i Sabbah, a man with an exquisitely erudite ear and a faithfully cosmopolitan proclivity who brought new music from Africa, Arabia, and Asia to Nickie's every Tuesday night. Together with great talents like trumpeter Don Cherry, Sabbah helped create one of the most vibrant international music scenes in the country, right here in the Bay Area. "1002 Nights" became a launching point for the highly anticipated, large-scale, full-immersion events Sabbah would later produce with the likes of Talvin Singh and Morocco's Hassan Hakmoun. However, his weekly club night remains the anchor for lovers of music that reaches beyond the pale. Celebrate 10 years of "1002 Nights" with Middle Eastern snacks, a live performance by the Ultra Gypsy dance troupe, and the ravishing textures created by Cheb i Sabbah at Nickie's on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 621-6508.

--Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor

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