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Homecoming: Lee Pardini Trio at Café Stritch

In Music
TOTAL PRO: San Jose’s Lee Pardini makes his bones as a rock and jazz musician.

TOTAL PRO: San Jose’s Lee Pardini makes his bones as a rock and jazz musician.

Locals watching Jimmy Kimmel Live last month might have noticed a familiar face. On Nov. 14, sitting behind the keyboards for L.A.-based folk-rock group Dawes, was San Jose native Lee Pardini.

“It’s been an incredible experience for sure,” Pardini says of his new day job. Starting in January, the group will be embarking on a full U.S. tour with their newest member, the 31-year-old Pardini. The band’s last record, We’re All Gonna Die, was included in Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2016.

But before Pardini hits the road with Dawes next year, he comes back to San Jose for a one-off gig at Café Stritch with his long-running jazz group, the Lee Pardini Trio. Consisting of Pardini on keys, Joe Costantini on bass and Kevin Higuchi on drums, all three are originally from San Jose and represent some of the most active gigging musicians the city has produced.

Since moving to L.A. at the start of 2010, Pardini has played on Leno, CBS This Morning, and most recently on Kimmel. Higuchi lent a hand on Jeff Rosenstock’s November release, Worry., which received an 8.0 from Pitchfork, landed at No. 2 on Billboard’s Alternative New Artist chart and was USA Today’s No. 1 Album of the Year. Constantini, for his part, has put in time with San Jose jazz mainstay Wally Schnalle’s group, Idiot Fish, and gigged with many other veteran Bay Area musicians.

The trio is the result of three serious music heads coming together, all of whom are interested in keeping jazz music on the edge. When asked about his influences, Pardini cites fusion legends Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, classic songwriters like Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, as well as contemporary avant garde musicians like Kneebody, Dawn of Midi and Radiohead.

“Kevin and I were hanging out the other day, and half the time we’re hanging out we’re playing DJ, just going back and forth like ‘have you heard this, have you heard that?’” Pardini says.

All three bandmates used to live in the same house in San Jose’s Japantown. “It was a really creative time,” Pardini says. “We would get up in the morning, we’d jam, we’d go do whatever gigs we had to do, and then come back, play a gig downtown somewhere. It was a really nice time.”

But the increased cost of living, and the closure of many crucial music venues downtown (notably both The Voodoo Lounge, and the SoFA Lounge), caused all three musicians to seek more reliable work elsewhere: Pardini left for L.A., Higuchi went further south to San Diego, and Costantini moved north to Oakland.

Stritch, at least, is one of the few reliable venues in the city of 1 million people.

“I was incredibly excited to hear that the Café Eulipia [became] Café Stritch,” Pardini says. “It’s become a really coveted jazz venue. I know a lot of players down here in L.A. that when they book shows up the coast, Café Stritch is one of the main places they play.”

Though San Jose has clearly struggled to offer support to its musicians, it has at least always been supportive of jazz as a genre. Pardini cites the childhood influence of his second piano teacher as opening him up to the classically American music style.

“I didn’t know much about jazz, so he kind of took the reins and really got me into it, showing me records, and different ways of thinking about playing,” Pardini says. “He was definitely an important figure for me as a piano player. We would work on writing original music—he was the first person to encourage me doing that. I think that education from him has carried all the way through until now for sure.”

And though the building where he once took lessons is now gone, the influence, experience, and dedication have stuck with him over the years.

“Kevin and I, we do music. And that’s what we do,” he says, confidently. “After five or six years, coming back and playing together again, we’ve only gotten better. Our focus has only grown as we’ve grown. It’s gonna be a nice night of music.”

Lee Pardini Trio
Dec 23, 8:30pm, Free
Café Stritch, San Jose

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