Nicolas Bearde stresses jazz in new collaboration 

Veteran Oakland soul and jazz vocalist Nicolas Bearde is in a good place in his career.

“At this point in life, I do concerts and select venues and the kind of music that I want to do,” the smooth-voiced singer — he deliciously sounds like the late Lou Rawls — says in a phone interview to promote his Saturday gig in San Francisco.

But Bearde, whose lengthy résumé includes self-releasing four albums, touring the world with Bobby McFerrin as well as acting in movies, on TV and with major Bay Area theater troupes, is most excited about his latest project: a collaboration with Nat Adderley Jr., who was Luther Vandross’ musical director for 20 years.

Unlike his previous recordings, which he made under mounting pressure, Bearde is taking his time with his new, still untitled, album.

“I’m taking all of that pressure out of the equation to reflect fully who I am as an artist, where I am today,” he says.

An admirer of Shirley Horn and Johnny Hartman, Bearde says the upcoming CD will include classic love songs, standards he always has wanted to do, and original jazz rather than R&B-flavored material. (A big difference between the genres, he says, is that jazz lyrics are more sophisticated and metaphorical.)

Following advice he got from a famous artist (whom he won’t name) he got early in his career — “if you’re paying, we’re playing” — Bearde has assembled a top-notch band for the Yoshi’s engagement: Adderley, saxophonist Charles McNeal, bassist John Shifflett and drummer Leon Joyce Jr. Blues guitarist Alvon Johnson joins the fun for the late show.

Bearde, who grew up in Nashville, Tenn., singing — with the radio, in a conservative African Methodist Episcopal Church (“they looked down on gospel”) and by himself “in a cloud” — began harmonizing in the Bay Area in the 1980s in a group called Jazzmouth led by Molly Holm. At the same time, he was in a Top 40 band, acting with TheatreWorks and had a day job as an electronic technician.

Later, he sang a cappella in McFerrin’s group Voicestra, which branched into the group SoVoSó. Tiring of that format — “Musicians can go a lot of places a voice can’t go” — in the late 1990s, Bearde began his solo vocal career, which admittedly has had ups and downs.

He’ll no longer appear with two or three people in the back corner of a restaurant (a kind of gig that “can be soul-killing”). On the other hand, there are places like Trumpets, a great jazz club in New Jersey run by Enrico Granafei and Kristine Massari, who suggested Bearde hook up with Adderley.

The pair played three East Coast shows in April. Bearde says, “Things went swimmingly. we’ve been working together ever since.”


Nicolas Bearde

Where: Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St., S.F.

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $20 to $25

Contact: (415) 655-5600,

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Leslie Katz

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