If you've been to an event at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, you're already familiar with Danny Scher's music-industry legacy. During nearly a quarter century at Bill Graham Presents, he booked such historic venues as Winterland and beloved events like Day on the Green. He also led the way to other venues being built, including Cal Expo in Sacramento.
But jazz was the first love for Scher, whose family lived in Midtown and then on University Avenue in Palo Alto.
"I love Duke Ellington to this day. And I started out also listening to Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie," he said in a recent phone interview from his East Bay home. "So I was just a kid into jazz — really not into rock 'n' roll until much later."
Scher took up drums while attending Herbert Hoover Elementary School. "I still play," he noted. As a fledgling instrumentalist, he led his own traditional jazz style Dukes of Dixie group and was principal percussionist in the California Youth Symphony. His education was thoroughly Palo Alto-based, going from Jordan Middle School (now Greene Middle School) to Palo Alto High School to Stanford University for both his undergraduate degree and later MBA.
While the late rock 'n' roll legend Bill Graham famously took note of Scher while he was promoting concerts at Stanford as a student, it was at Paly when he got his first taste of the thrill of bringing a live show to fruition. "The first concert I did was when I was a junior, with Vince Guaraldi and Jon Hendricks," he said. Herb Wong, the late jazz titan and longtime Menlo Park resident whom he had befriended, gave him Guaraldi's phone number.
"So I called him and said I wanted to do a concert with him at my high school," Scher recounted. "And he said, 'Have you ever done a concert before?' I said, 'No, but I've been to a lot.' And he said, 'Come on up to my house, and I'll give you a little lesson in how to produce a concert.'"
Arriving at the pianist's house in Marin County, he met the composer now best known for his beloved musical work on "The Peanuts" animated specials. Guaraldi explained the importance of a concise press release to promote a show and also gave him some promotional photos of himself to use. "And then he says, 'Here's a box of paper mustaches so you can hand these out, and people can look like me," Scher recalled, with a chuckle.
"I was looking at the high school yearbook entry of that Vince Guaraldi concert, and there he is: There's no stage. He's just playing on the basketball court," he added. "And he's playing a regular upright piano, so I didn't know about baby grands, either.
"This is the first concert I did, and I really didn't know what I was doing. But at the time, I remember telling myself, 'You know what? This is what I want to do. I want to be a concert promoter.'"
Freelancer writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at [email protected]