Sunday, August 19th – 2:00-4:00 pm
Larry Vuckovich Tells Tales of Jazz

$10 requested donation;
$5 for students / musicians / low income.
$20 if you can afford it and truly believe in the value of this music and its treasured proponents!

Pianist Larry Vuckovich, having played throughout the years with so many of the jazz greats, has acquired an extensive repertoire of stories about these legendary figures. His vast knowledge of American jazz performance and its recorded history has given him unrivaled insight into the qualities of countless instrumental and vocal masterpieces.

In this storytelling/commentary presentation, “El Vuko” will offer unique insight into gems of American jazz as well as great jazz from around the globe. You’ll hear keyboard illustrations, inspired recordings and tales of jazz musicians and the jazz life as only one steeped in the music from an early age who has performed at the highest level for more than a half century can provide.


“If you’re wondering what brother Vuckovich is doing here,
he comes from that part of Yugoslavia known as Monte…Negro”.

– Jon Hendricks, Evolution of The Blues, 1974

As a child in Yugoslavia, Vuckovich was trained in classical piano but developed an interest in jazz from radio broadcasts of the American Forces Network.

“When I heard folk music on the radio, those minor keys immediately hit me.
But when I heard jazz on the armed forces radio, I said, ‘this is it!’ I knew right away.”
– AFM Local 6 Member Profile

Persecuted by the Tito regime, his family emigrated in 1951 and received political asylum in America.

The Vuckoviches stayed in New York for a week,
and then flew to San Francisco where they lived with friends on 18th & Taravel.
“I learned English by going to the Parkside theater, and listening to the radio.
Kids at school laughed at my pronunciation, but after 6 months I was proficient.”
In 1953, the family bought a house on Pacheco Street in the Sunset District,
and Larry attended Lincoln High School. They also bought a piano.
AFM Local 6 Member Profile

Soon, he was visiting local jazz clubs to hear Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and countless other jazz greats. It was at San Francisco’s Blackhawk jazz club that he met Vince Guaraldi, and he became Guaraldi’s only student, subbing on occasion for Guaraldi accompanying vocalists David Allyn and Irene Kral.

“My first teacher was Cal Tjader’s wife, Pat Tjader. She played very sophisticated harmonies.
She opened me up to Bill Evans and Ellis Larkins, beautiful harmonic things with a soft touch.
When she became pregnant, she turned me over to Vince, who was playing with Cal.
I went to Vince’s house in Westlake every week, or as much as possible.
He’d show me things. We’d listen to Bud Powell and different records.”
AFM Local 6 Member Profile

Vuckovich finished high school in 1956, joined Local 6 in 1957 and gigged all over town. In 1959, he joined tenor sax player Brew Moore’s band, and right afterwards he started at SF State, where John Handy was a major influence and a great teacher. Vuckovich began to work with Mel Torme in 1963 and then headed to Europe that same year, gigging in Copenhagen, Munich, Berlin and other European cities, playing with Dexter Gordon, Don Byas, Paul Gonsalves, Lucky Thompson, Philly Joe Jones, Pony Poindexter, Slide Hampton, Clifford Jordan, Herb Geller and others. Returning to the U.S. in mid-1965, Vuckovich was hired by the great jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks, an association that spanned the continents and lasted a decade, including the launch of Hendrick’s long-running “Evolution of the Blues,” where the cat from Montenegro acquitted himself with elan for two years before feeling the need “to play some more open jazz.” Consequently, he says, he “went to work with Anita O’Day at the Matador, then later with Gerry Mulligan, and started doing other gigs.” His first lp as a leader, “Blue Balkan,” came in 1980 on the Inner City label, a fusion of Balkan, Gypsy/Roma, Middle Eastern scales and jazz, featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. This landmark recording established Larry as a pioneer, being the first in the U.S. to fuse Balkan ethnic elements with jazz. At least a dozen more lps and cds have followed.

Vuckovich’s latin ensemble, La Orquesta El Vuko, featuring Valeriana Quevedo, Noel Jewkes, Louis Romero and Hector Lugo, was launched in 2001. As it happens, Valeriana and Noel were last heard at Bird & Beckett last Saturday night… Larry was last heard performing here in 2013, in a duo with Noel… His return is long overdue!

Sunday, August 19th, at 2 pm, come hear Larry Vuckovich’s stories and gain some unparalleled insight into the music. You’ll be thrilled, enthralled and uplifted in the presence of this jazz enthusiast, jazz legend and towering musical talent, and you’ll be edified by his tales of the many jazz greats he’s known and worked with.

And mark your calendar now for September 29th, for an evening with the Larry Vuckovich/Jeff Chambers Duo! 

With 60+ years in the business, Larry Vuckovich has never left the stage and is still swingin’ mightily.