KCSM BLURB by Alisa Clancy
Musician, comedian and cabby Buzz Brooks embodies what makes San Francisco the city it is: quirky, imaginative and inventive. He got his nickname as a teenager about 50 years ago because of his Type-A approach to living.
Buzz got just enough piano training to develop a good ear and thence to become part of an R&B show called 300 Years. He was accepted to the Berklee College of Music, Boston University and Washington University, and actually went to Hofstra for a couple of semesters, but the band was just doing too much playing. Who wouldn't want to open for Sly Stone, King Curtis, The Chambers Brothers, The Spinners, or Isaac Hayes?
The group broke up in 1977, and Buzz made his way to San Francisco, becoming a cab driver a few years later. But he kept playing, writing and singing, and in 2005 put out a CD.
With the rise of Uber and Lyft, Buzz realized that he'd have to hone his entertainment chops in order to beat them out—and he has. Any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, you can hail the Kabaret Kab, and take an unforgettable San Francisco journey.
“Check out my review! This time I made the front page of the Sunday Chronicle, above the fold! Second time I've been on the front page of the Chron. Here's the link for the Sunday feature: http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Take-a-ride-for-a-song-in-San-Francisco-s-12462803.php” - Carolyne Zinko
“Here's the first time I was featured on the front page of the Chronicle. ” - Erin Brethauer
“Saying that there are interesting people in San Francisco is like saying jam goes great on toast; everybody knows it. In the few months I’ve been down here, I’ve shook hands with ladies and fellows from many walks of life, from all over the planet. In a city as big as this, there’s no doubt an interesting person is just around the corner, and sometimes driving a cab. It was a wild Friday night and my friends and I had just stumbled out of the Bar None, thinking we could walk to the Upper Haight. If you live in the City, you’ll know what a ridiculous idea this was. Disorderly and disoriented, we trudged up a few hills before making the smart decision to call a taxi. The De Soto Cab Company responded swiftly, albeit by accident. As soon as we hung up the phone, an empty De Soto cab-van pulled up next to us and we hopped in. The driver was named Buzz; I could tell because there were posters with his striking visage all over the backs of the seats with his name in big block letters. He was a musician; a keyboard and jazz vocalist by trade and the posters were for his CD, The Oenophile Anthem. On the ride home, my friends and I were not only treated to the artist’s commentary on some of the tracks, but Mr. Brooks also gave a live performance. A few bones later, we were not only home safely, but wholly entertained by Buzz, with my buddy Dave the proud owner of The Oenophile Anthem. Leaving the taxi, I knew this particular character had the sort of story that would be well received by those with idle time. Robert Brooks started out in Nassau County, Long Island. As a boy, Robert was a bit precocious; growing up with his older brothers had brought him around an older crowd. Hanging out with older kids meant being interested in the things they were interested in, particularly music. From 1963 to ’64 Robert took piano lessons where he learned basic music theory and ear training; however, after a few years he quit. “ I didn’t want to practice, I wanted to socialize. There were too many distractions,” he recalls. “When it’s a task and not a joy, it’s not worth doing; that’s how I felt at the time.” Fortunately for him, he had picked up enough in his lessons that he could learn the chords of a song just by listening to it. In the mid 60’s, the British Invasion had invigorated Rock ‘n’ Roll music to all new heights. At that time, Bob (as he was known at that time) had met a student at the local community college who was listening to something new: records from Motown and Stax. These labels were introducing the world to a new sound, one that incorporated rhythm and blues, soul, and pop. “We just called it Soul music,” Buzz says. But today we identify it as Motown. Robert’s friends would spin Motown records, and something inside him just clicked: “I always liked Soul music, really all music that was rooted in Black culture. There are rhythmic and harmonic structures that I think are more interesting than rock music.” Bob saw a chance to be a respected figure in his community: with his ear training, he could listen to popular songs and learn how to play them. With the encouragement of his student friend, Bob started playing keyboards in a group called “A Taste of Honey,” a fun group that was aping the popular soul songs at the time, giving the kids of the area something to dance to. It was during this time that Bob Leek dubbed Bob Brooks, 'Buzz". Then in 1967, a popular singing group, the Belvederes, at the college, needed a back-up band. Buzz and a few friends go the gig, and eventually the Belvederes evolved into “300 Years,” a soul, funk inspired group. The band toured locally, then around the northeast between 1970-1977. In that time, 300 Years opened for acts like Sly Stone, Chaka Khan and Rufus, The Ohio Players, Isaac Hayes, Deep Purple, the Coasters, and other prominent soul groups. In 1975, the group recorded a 45 rpm single featuring “Soul Song” and “I can’t get arrested.” However, life on the road was anything but glamorous and a major label never picked up the record; something that Buzz still blames on mismanagement today. “We had a guy, and he had connections, I guess he was just too stingy to use them.” After 300 Years broke up in 1977, Buzz felt bitter towards the music biz. He had devoted seven years of his life that he could have spent attending one of the many schools he had been accepted at, including Berklee School of Music. Disheartened, but not ready to quit, Buzz still played keyboards here and there. At one point, a bass player Buzz had met through a friend recruited Buzz to play keyboards for a Wilson Pickett show. The gig was in Iran at some sort of mansion that belonged the fourth richest guy in Iran, a friend of the Shah. An Iranian pop star named Googoosh, who had previously played in America with the bass player, told him that someday she would have him over to Iran to perform. Her husband was a friend of the rich guy. So one day Googoosh made good on her promise, hiring Wilson Pickett to play a private concert with the bass player organizing the back-up band. Unfortunately, Wilson Pickett backed out at the last minute, but after rehearsing all the songs, the bass player put out his own money to hire back-up vocals and a full horn section; Googoosh would fly them over and the show would go on. Buzz was shocked, “Do you know how much it cost back then to fly to Iran? It had to be around $1,500. It sounded like bullshit to me at the time, but then I got the ticket with my name on it, so I went.” This would be one of Buzz’s most memorable performances and an adventure in itself, one that Buzz says he may one day share with the Idle Time audience. In 1978, Buzz moved to San Francisco to work as an expediter for a construction company. An expediter’s job is to schedule labors and order supplies and building materials; a less than thrilling use of time. Buzz wasn’t happy with his job, and felt called back to music. “I thought about what I would say at the end of my life. Who cares how many feet of steel rods I ordered?” One day while driving to his job site, Buzz stopped at a corner and saw a group of kids shooting the breeze. They had a radio with them, and they started dancing. “At that point, I realized that my life wasn’t mine, my time belonged to the company. I’ve never been comfortable with a nine-to-five, and I didn’t want a job in construction. I thought, ‘my job is to make the music that those kids are dancing to.’ It’s my calling.” After quitting his construction job, Buzz was looking for a way to make money, yet still have time to write and play music. One of his friends suggested driving a cab. The hours were flexible, and with tips he could make a decent living. After a year learning the trade, Buzz joined the De Soto cab company where he continues to work today. In 1982, Buzz began his solo career, trying his hand at writing pop songs. In the early 90’s, he played keyboards on a fairly regular basis for R&B, soul bands and a blues group at weddings and various small venues. He joined Chicago Blues Power, playing every Sunday afternoons at the Saloon in North Beach. The band played typical blues material, so to make it interesting Buzz would dress up in the flamboyant clothing from his 300 Years days and dance around while playing. The whole show regressed into a circus, with Buzz’s stage persona becoming a sideshow. Buzz again took a break from music in the mid 90’s, using this time to save money and buy a house before returning to his craft in 1997. At this point, he was ready to move on from covering old soul and blues material, and Jazz became his pursuit. “I was pretty good at keyboards, but not jazz piano. Jazz piano is extremely technical and it would take me too long to get to a point where I felt I’d be good enough. But, I felt what I knew about playing piano could help me succeed as a jazz vocalist.” In 1997, Buzz joined the Skyline College choir, switched to the SF City College Gospel Choir in 1998, and in ’99 discovered the Oakland Jazz Choir where he remained until 2003. “I think anyone that plays in a genre of music generated by the black music thread will at some point end up in jazz. It’s music’s final frontier.” With the help of some fellow musicians, Buzz produced and released his opus, The Oenophile Anthem in 2005. This “witty and wacky” compilation is a significant milestone in Buzz’s career. For those who are not familiar with jazz music, it is a uniquely composed introduction to the genre. The 12 Note Samba, is a parody of an old standard called the “One Note Samba,” which is really an inside joke for jazz aficionados, but as Buzz explains, “I wanted to appeal to a more intellectual, inquisitive audience. I wanted people to ask questions. I’m not an oenophile myself, but it sounded more exotic than ‘connoisseur.’” The best example of Buzz’s witty musicianship can be heard in Madam I’m Adam, or simply the palindrome song. Besides the chorus, the lyrics of the entire song are palindromes, words and phrases that are spelled the same way forwards and backwards. After seeing a group called the “Palindrome Quartet,” Buzz knew he had to write a palindrome song, and he even got Graham Bruce of the Palindrome Quartet to compose the horn arrangement in a palindromic phrase: “Not only is the sequence of pitches the same forwards and backwards, but the note values (how long you hold a note) are too.” The result is a charming, yet complex jazz tune that can be appreciated for its technicality as well as musicality. The release of The Oenophile Anthem marks a significant milestone in the already fascinating life of Buzz Brooks, but it doesn’t stop there. While Buzz continues to drive a cab today, he has many other aspirations for his career. “I’m like a horse being led by a carrot on a stick,” he confesses. “There’s always going to be something, I always have to have something.” Currently, Buzz plans on organizing a real stage act in old brick and mortar venues with other professional musicians. “When I look back, I don’t want to say I was just a singer, but a band leader too.” This will be a costly endeavor, which Buzz admits is a reason for delaying the project, but he is none the less determined. No matter what awaits him, Buzz lives by his motto, “manifest more mirth,” a lesson that is taken to heart by us here at Idle Time, and we hope that you will too. If you’d like to learn more about Buzz Brooks, you can visit www.buzzbrooks.com. Or if you’re ever lost in the city, or just need a safe and quick way to get about, you can call Buzz at 415-794-BUZZ (2899) and experience silly, witty and wacky jazz yourself, via the Kabaret Kab Experience. See www.facebook.com/taxilaugh. Don’t forget to check out The Oenophile Anthem available through Buzz's website and on iTunes.” - Rex Flores
— Idle Times
“When San Francisco pianist and jazz singer Buzz Brooks paid a visit to Wine Spectator's Napa office to drop off a copy of the music and lyrics to the title track of his latest CD, The Oenophile Anthem. We confess that he got our attention. The lyrics, as Buzz pointed out, comprise 77 Napa Valley winery names (well, technically 76, plus the distillery Domaine Charbay). When we ran the song by our resident music buff, he noted that the inspiration could well have come from the best of the "list" songs, Dave Frishberg's "Van Lingo Mungo." His tune was made up solely of rhyming names of lesser-know baseball players from the 1930s and 40s, while Buzz's arrangement ropes in just about every winery in Napa. If you have ever delighted that Saddleback rhymes with PlumpJack and Chimney Rock with Behrens & Hitchcock, then check out the song at iTunes or at www.buzzbrooks.com.”
— The Wine Spectator
“Delightful! Buzz is a master of Miss Anthropy.... on Tuesdays...and a slave of Miss Chievousness....on Thursdays.” - Kay Windstrom
— San Francisco Bugle
“Superb! Sophomoric, yet refreshing!” - P. Zamora
— Bay Area Herald
“Hark! Buzz's jazz is sure to dial up your Bunny Fone.....or at least tickle your Funny Bone!” - Sue D'Oninny
— Oakland Oracle