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Arts & Culture

Keyboard Wizard: Starving Musician in Santa Clara offers the Best Squeeze Play for accordion players--as well as affordable goods for any other impoverished instrumentalist.

Best Squeeze Play
The Starving Musician
3427 El Camino Real, Santa Clara

This beloved used-instrument store advertises itself with bumper stickers showing some clown hefting a squeeze box and the cautionary caption "Use an Accordion, Go to Jail--It's the Law." Which is exactly why the Starving Musician deserves to be fingered as the valley's most reliable supplier of the wheezing boxes. On several visits, I found not just accordions, but accordions in good shape and at prices (in the $150­$200 range) even Lawrence Welk would commend. The sale of these illicit musical bellows may be justified because they help finance some real objets d'art--a glass case in the back displays a handsome selection of vintage Fender and Gibson guitars. No one who hungers for guitars--or accordions, for that matter--should pass up the Starving Musician.
Richard von Busack

Best Job for a Young Man
Paramount Imports
455 Meridian Ave., San Jose

Here's what every sullen young dude dreams of: gainful employment at a place where his bros like to hang; where babes are drawn like iron to a magnet; and where he not only gets to but must blast music guaranteed to irritate the hell out of anyone over 30.

Paramount Imports is what used to be called a head shop. Racks filled with Day-Glo posters line the walls--Jimi, Jim, Janis and Kurt provide goth galore for junior death-worshippers--and the joint smells of incense and candle wax. The shelves overflow with inexpensive but attractive jewelry, bumper stickers, patches and lots of, er, paraphernalia. (Signs warn that uttering certain words will get their utterers the 86: the pipes are for legal tobacco only!) Ah, sweet youth, how times never change.
Broos Campbell

Best Jewelry-as-Art Store
De novo
250 University Ave., Palo Alto

Part jewelry store, part modern-art museum, the de novo gallery in Palo Alto presents fine works of the jeweler's art in rotating shows of glittering magnificence--each on a small, ultimately wearable scale. De novo just dismantled an extensive European collection, featuring intricate metal brooches resembling tiny, sparkling Death Stars, and geometric necklaces in muted silver and gold--with pieces that turned on tiny hinges, looked solid and yet were as light as cappuccino foam.

Currently, de novo features its regular stable of roughly 70 international, small-studio artists. On Nov. 16, the store will present the collected works of Carolyn Morris Bach, a top American contemporary jeweler whose whimsical bone, stone and precious metal works are collected wildly. As owner Cherry LeBrun puts it, "Contemporary jewelry is so different from traditional jewelry. Nothing is mass-produced--everything is hand-fabricated. All these pieces come from small, studio jewelers where the designer is the creator. And I enjoy supporting them--it's very rewarding."
Ami Chen Mills

Best Rock & Roll
Fashion Statement
The Taco Bravo T-shirt
Taco Bravo
1950 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell

Jim Leonard from Soda owns a Taco Bravo T with the restaurant's distinctive serif-heavy crest discreetly placed above the front pocket and indiscreetly emblazoned across the back. Tom Walker from Salmon wore his at the band's Fillmore gig. The shirts can be spotted in the crowd at every local show. Open till 3am, Bravo appeals to the people who wrap cords and lug amps outside of clubs long after the party animals have passed out. The window people crackle with moxie; the Americanized Mexican food is drippy and good; and the 100 percent cotton T-shirt, available in red or white, is the gastronomic equivalent of the "Van Halen 1980 Invasion" baseball shirt. It's tacky, it's cool, it's Zen, it's $10. Best of all, it's unabashedly South Bay.
Todd S. Inoue

Best Place to Spend
Monday Night
Hong Kong Cinema at the Towne Theatre
1433 The Alameda, San Jose
408/287-1433 Hong Kong nights at San Jose's Towne Theatre draw large crowds for Mondays and Tuesdays, traditionally slow nights for movie theaters, with a program of lightning-quick martial-arts features. Towne audiences discovered actors like Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat and directors like John Woo and Ringo Lam years before Hollywood did. Attendance at the series has been a safe bet for movie fans--even if the titles and actors are totally unfamiliar. Few viewers are left cold by these movies; the velocity, the humor and, occasionally, the surprising polysexuality make them a vast improvement over the domestic actioner.
Richard von Busack

Best Argument for Multi-culturalism
San Jose Minority Artists Guild
476 Park Ave. #232, San Jose

Three ways the San Jose Minority Artists enrich the lives of art lovers throughout the valley: the Tabia Theatre Ensemble, Teatro Familia Aztlan and the Maiko Poetry and Drum Ensemble. The tripartite guild symbolizes the possibilities that real multiculturalism can offer. Working as individual units, Tabia, Teatro and Maiko have posted some fine works, but the consolidated effort that went into the guild's superb interpretation of Los Vejigantes a couple of months ago strongly suggests that the umbrella organization ought to consider similar projects in the future. (In fact, it was is just the second such undertaking in the group's history.) Los Vejigantes' controversial subject matter aside, this cooperative venture amongst San Jose Multicultural Artists Guild theater groups allowed Maiko fans who might never go and see, say, a Tabia performance, to experience something new. We can't wait for the next intramural presentation.
Nicky Baxter

Best Fisherman's Friend
Lubbock or Leave It
KFJC (89.7FM)

Joe Ed, the DJ of the Lubbock or Leave It show, 10am­2pm Wednesdays on KFJC, does a fishing report at noon, and even if you prefer to look upon the slimy monsters when they're dead, gutted and cooked, it's always interesting to hear how they're biting in San Pablo Bay or off the coast of Pacifica. The four-hour set also includes a handsome selection of country that's an alternative to the typical Nashville hat-act malarkey of Billy Ray and his successors, favoring instead Robert Earl Keen Jr., Butch Hancock and the never-to-be-forgotten Country Dick Montana.
Richard von Busack

Best African Art Gallery
Post Street Gallery
1064 The Alameda, San Jose

When it comes to African art, Paul Hancock's Post Street Gallery is the place. Its off-white walls are festooned with prints, lithographs and artist's proofs of varying sizes. An impressive array of works, ranging from abstract to surreal to the very real, reflect the diversity of the black experience. Hancock has done a remarkable job not only with the gallery but also with his goal of making Post Street a community-centered enterprise (hence the surprisingly successful "Everything Black" conference two months ago).

There's more to the Post Street Gallery than paintings and prints. In an adjoining room, at Jahi's Books N' Things, bibliophiles curious about African Diasporan culture and history will find what they're looking for. If that rare Chancellor Williams tome isn't on the shelves, chances are Haymon and Amina Jahi can track it down in short order.
Nicky Baxter

Best Place to Eyeball Art
While on a Caffeine High
Kismet Gallery
434 S. First St., San Jose

When Donna Fritz realized that your typical art gallery "just doesn't fly anymore," and Mike Walden decided that he wanted to open the "coolest cafe ever," the twosome pooled their ideas to create Kismet Gallery/Cafe. Ultimately, Fritz and Walden wanted to oversee the ideal meeting place (translated, Kismet means "fateful encounter"), modeled after the kind of European cafes where artists and writers propound on the big issues of life. In fact, when designing the Kismet, Fritz and Walden asked themselves, "What kind of cafe would Picasso hang out in?" And the hip, artsy scene at the Kismet certainly attracts a number of supercool, poetry-scribbling philosopher-artistes interested as much in the rotating group exhibits as in the espresso. The angstless, however, need not be afraid to set a non-black-booted foot inside Kismet, because a mix of people--from art connoisseurs to college students--also frequent the scene.
Bernice Yeung

Best Hip-Hop Store
With a Sense of History
Star Records
311-C N. Capitol Ave., San Jose

No doubt: Star Records, which opened its doors some two decades ago, is still tha hardcore rap addict's freshest choice. Brags assistant store manager Mark, "We have one of the largest selections of releases by independent [and] Bay Area artists." The store also stocks a representative sampling of other genres, including Latin, R&B and gospel. Product by current superpowers like Fugee-lalas and the Wu-Tang Clan can be bought at chain stores everywhere, but Star Records is the spot to find the latest San Quinn drop, "Hustle Continues," and the Hoe Riders' "Shot Callin'." This "mom and pop" operation is larger than life in suburbia generally gets. You gotta have some juice to lure the likes of a Method Man or Redman to your establishment for a signature-scribbling session. Whether you're fiending for fancy vinyl items, craving cassettes or coveting CDs, Star Records shines bright.
Nicky Baxter

Best Improv-Music Radio Show
Jazzline, Mondays, 3­6AM, KKUP (91.5FM)
Jazzline Hotline: 408/534-1390

Weary of the watered-down pap passing for improvisational music/jazz polluting radio's airwaves? Here's a quick fix. It's called "Jazzline" and is broadcast under the good auspices of KKUP (91.5FM). Jazzline, hosted by Afrikahan Dayvs, delivers a panoply of sounds whose seemingly disparate strands all interconnect. Blues, bebop, hard bop, funk, blues, hip-bop, even acid jazz get played by Dayvs, who is both a DJ and a hyperliterate musicologist. On any given show, Dayvs might program Hammond B-3 hero Jimmy Smith cooking up a funky-jazz stew, followed by Michael Franks' lighter fare, then on to Lonnie Smith's deeper, darker soul experience. Too bad only night owls can stay up (or wake up) for the decidedly un-prime-time slot. Luckily, Dayvs also hosts a 10am­noon program every other Wednesday.
Nicky Baxter

Pirate Cat Records
Black Beards Welcome: Pirate Cat Records in Campbell is where serious punks of all ages go for CDs and vinyl.

Best Punk-Owned Store
Pirate Cat Records
14. N. Central Ave., Campbell

Real punks walk into Tower and can't find a thing. The same grebos exit Pirate Cat Records with armloads of CDs and vinyl. The studio-sized shop is a mecca for multigenerational punk rockers. Whatever adjectival attachment--hardcore, emo, oi!, ska, indie--Pirate Cat stocks prime examples. All record stores should look like this: ratty fliers on the walls, rows of lovingly selected vinyl. Plus, the store occasionally throws shows on lazy Sunday afternoons. Unfortunately, during one event, a drunken slob felt compelled to strip down, run through the parking lot and press his flesh against the window of a car, the driver still in it. What does he do for an encore?
Todd S. Inoue

Best Anime Selection
Nikaku Japanese Arts
615 N. Sixth St., San Jose

Acquiring Japanese animation (anime) taxes the initiative of even the most dedicated fan. Major retail outlets carry limited selections at best, and ordering from overseas roils with risk, especially when figuring the exchange rate and reading the often dicey English translations. Trade magazine Anime UK recently rated Nikaku, in San Jose's Japantown, as one of the top five anime shops in the world. Located above Minato restaurant, the out-of-the-way Japanese arts-and-crafts store keeps a well-stocked supply of full-length features on laser, VHS and CD-ROM.

The titles encompass Godzilla, Sailor Moon, My Friend Totoro, Star Blazers, Akira, Ghost in the Shell and the popular Ranma 1/2 series. CDs, plastic rubber monsters, manga books, magazines, laser discs, videos and other paraphernalia are also available in abundance. Al and Bill Kogura opened this friendly shop nine years ago and keep on top of the biz by following the trade magazines and listening to the customers--some who've traveled from as far as England and Australia for the privilege of shopping here.
Todd S. Inoue

Best Place to Realize Your Musical Brilliance
Sue Shannon School of Piano
12380 S. Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road, Saratoga

The Sue Shannon School of Piano is to music composition what Bela Karolyi is to gymnastics. Indeed, cultivating the creativity of its students has been the school's goal since its start in 1960, and it has 178 awards from the Music Teachers Association of California Young Composers' Competition to prove it. Numerous students have reached the finals of national contests, and Shannon School graduates have gone on to choose piano composition as college majors and careers. In June 1995, the conductor's baton was passed from Sue Shannon, the school's original owner, to Kerstin Stone. The teaching philosophy, however, remains the same, says Stone: "Humans are all musical beings, and everyone can make music."
Bernice Yeung

Best Dada Antidote to Election-Year Fervor
Unamerican Activities Web Page

Srini Kumar is one of the more eccentric and lovable characters bumbling around the local music scene. A guitarist (with Cain and the Aquaman) by trade and a radical at heart, Srini and his crew at Unamerican Activities also dabble in dreaming up some of the most inflammatory, eye-popping slogans to adhere themselves to guitar cases, lockers or car bumpers. Such "punk-nacious" one-liners as "My Job Sucks Ass" and "Bomb the Malls" leave poetic justice for pro-lifers. "Whitey Will Pay," "I Don't Vote," "Nobody in '96," "Jesus Hates Me" and "Warm the Globe" reflect an electorate largely overlooked at the Republican National Convention. Stickers sell for a buck apiece at most punk-rock shows. Kumar isn't in it for the money, he says; he does it to "cheese off the rednecks" with stickers that promote "quality rebellion at affordable prices." The up-yours Web site tells all.
Todd S. Inoue

Best Selection of Foreign Films
Midtown Video
2655 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

The 11-year-old Midtown Video probably stocks the most eclectic selection of foreign films between Vidiots in Santa Monica and Le Video in San Francisco. In addition to a rich array of pre-1960 movies, Midtown also rents films from 35 different countries. An added plus: opinionated critiquing of new releases on a bulletin board. On my last visit, the staff was recommending works by the Coen Brothers and John Sayles, as well as a few Claudette Colbert titles in honor of the recently demised star. Independent video stores suffer terrific pressure from the conglomerates, so it's worth patronizing a business that's done its best to tip viewers off to alternatives, instead of ramming the latest garbage down their gullets.
Richard von Busack

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From the 1996 Best of the Valley issue of Metro, September 19-25

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