Thursday, October 8, 2020

Dr. Funk and the high school entrepreneur

Daniel “Danny” Scher spent the final 24 years of the 20th century working alongside famed San Francisco Bay Area music impresario Bill Graham. Danny’s accomplishments were significant, and included some of the company’s biggest projects. He created and produced the annual New Orleans by the Bay Festival, the largest New Orleans food and music festival outside of New Orleans itself; developed the famed outdoor Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California; and booked venues such as San Francisco’s iconic Winterland Ballroom and the massive Day on the Green concerts at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Danny remains quite active in the music and concert world, and has been in the news lately for facilitating the release of a vintage live performance by Thelonious Monk; the album, titled Palo Alto, debuted this past summer.

 

In the autumn of 1967, Danny was a junior at Palo Alto (Paly) High School. Even then, he wanted to be a concert promoter.

 

He began with Vince Guaraldi. Danny turned 16 on October 19 that year; shortly before that milestone birthday, the ambitious young man cold-called Guaraldi, to “invite” him to perform at Paly High. And Guaraldi accepted.

 

But let’s back up a bit.

 

Danny was born with music in his blood. He has played drums his entire life, ever since attending Palo Alto’s Herbert Hoover Elementary School. He grew up bold; as a child of 8 or 9, attending dinner shows and concerts with his family, he’d sneak backstage in order to get autographs from the performers. He fronted a Dixieland jazz band in junior high school — The Dukes of Dixie — and was principal percussionist and timpanist with the California Youth Symphony.

 

He also was something of an anomaly, during a time when kids his age were obsessed by rock ’n’ roll. “I started studying jazz,” he recalls, “and giving reports on its history in my eighth and ninth grade classes.”

He desperately wanted to see the many big names booked into San Francisco’s clubs during the height of the city’s jazz scene, but his age was an insurmountable barrier.

 

“You had to be 21 to get in. That was one of the reasons I wanted to start promoting in high school; I couldn’t see these guys any other way. The only exception was Basin Street West, which allowed minors, because they served food.”

 

(The Blackhawk also briefly maintained a section for minors, separated from the rest of the bar by chicken wire. But that practice ceased in 1953 or ’54, by order of San Francisco Mayor George Christopher; besides which, the club closed in July 1963.)

 

Danny saw Dave Brubeck perform at Basin Street West when he was 14. The excursion involved bus fare, a door admission fee and a pair of Cokes, to accommodate the two-drink minimum: a month’s wages from his newspaper route. “The best money I ever spent,” Danny insists, to this day.