Ensemble Bizou

Have you ever dreamed about stepping back in time and down the steps of a 1930s European cabaret? Who knows what you might find there – perhaps a sultry French chanteuse, or Neapolitan street musicians, or a band playing provocative tango from Germany, France and Argentina. Perhaps you’ll even get a taste of “Le Jazz Hot”! Let Ensemble Bizou take you there. From Weill to Piaf – Gardel to Piazzolla, the musicians of Ensemble Bizou show you the cabaret of life, from its deepest secrets to its greatest ecstasy.

Like the cabaret performers of Europe in the 1930s, the members of Ensemble Bizou come from widely varied directions. Take a moment and meet these extraordinary musicians.

Paul Binkley (guitar, banjo, mandolin) is an astonishingly versatile musician. Besides tango and Continental styles, he plays jazz guitar and a full spectrum of classical music, from pre-Baroque to post-modern. He is also a noted mandolinist who has toured worldwide and recorded five CDs with the Modern Mandolin Quartet. Locally he has performed with the San Francisco Opera (on the lute), the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. He played mandolin on the Symphony’s 1996 Grammy award-winning recording of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Recently he played in the pit for Theodore Bikel’s touring production of Fiddler on the Roof. Paul’s sense of rhythm is astounding, which makes him a rock-solid asset to any group. His creative and often playful approach to music makes him a constant delight to perform with. His wry sense of humor keeps all his colleagues sounding fresh and lively.

Su Buchignani (violin, piano), by her mid-teens, was already a working violist with the San Jose Symphony and playing piano for local productions. Unlike other music students her age, she would spend hours in the music library, pouring over music popular in America from the late 1800s to the 1930s. As a young teen, a chance conversation with Louis Armstrong guided her toward her multi-faceted career. He imparted wisdom that she lives and plays by to this day, teaching her, “It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play, as long as it’s alive!” She has continued to play classical music on viola, violin and piano, but has added genres like klezmer, jazz, flamenco, blues, country, and tango. Her repertoire as a strolling violinist is staggering, and she is considered by many to be the best in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her voracious appetite for popular music has led to thousands of appearances as a strolling musician, as well as lengthy stints in pit orchestras, and in the orchestras of headliners from Bob Hope to Bjork. She was also musical director for mimes Shields and Yarnell. Su has her own music booking organization, works as an arranger and coaches non-classical vocal style.

Steve Hanson (bass) has played his bass, tuba and trombone all over the world. In 1973, while part of the US Navy Band, he was out in the Pacific for Skylab III’s return to earth. Two years later his brass ensemble performed at the Vatican for the canonization of the first American saint. He also appeared all over Europe and Japan. Closer to home, he spent several years in New York, playing with Puerto Rican salsa groups, Italian festivals and other ethnic events. One of his groups, a Chinese funeral band, appeared in the film, The Year of the Dragon. He also played tuba in Woody Allen’s Dixieland group. After moving to the Bay Area, Steve spent years playing steady engagements at the Fairmont and Mark Hopkins Hotels on Nob Hill. He also worked frequently with Don Neely’s Royal Society Six, a well-known local jazz group. Steve is one of the busiest bass players in the Bay Area. It’s easy to see why. We are delighted that he has donned the fedora, spats and cravat of Ensemble Bizou.

Mia (vocals) has already embarked on an active singing career at the age of twenty-four. In high school she was a scholarship student of SummerSong Vocal Arts Institute, and in college she played leading roles in operas. She went oversees to continue her musical education, with private and conservatory study in Brussels. She was the winner of several awards, including the Bay Area Talent 2000 Cabaret Competition for foreign language performance. She has written and performed three one-woman shows, featuring the music of Kurt Weill. Mia is equally at home singing selections from musical theatre, jazz, opera, tango, and European cabaret. She is a featured soloist with the Golden Gate Ensembles and is known throughout the tango community for her exceptional work with Strictly Tango. Mia recently starred in a French cabaret show for Hewlett-Packard which featured the music of Edith Piaf. Her performances with Ensemble Bizou send audiences to their feet, shouting “Encore!”

Dave Miotke (accordion, vocals) is always surprising us. Just when we think we know all about his musical career, we uncover something new. This Chicago native clearly showed extraordinary talent at an early age when he studied classical music on the accordion. He even had a specially-designed instrument to allow him to play a more extensive (and more difficult) repertoire. Dave continued his musical education, receiving two degrees in performance at Northwestern University. But clearly, classical music was just a part of Dave’s musical experience. He was well known throughout Chicago and beyond, performing and recording a wide range of styles. Dave was a lead singer in the 1960s rock group, H. P. Lovecraft. This diversity continues. Dave spent several years as pianist/vocalist at Max’s Opera Cafe in San Francisco. He recently recorded a CD, “In Dust I Sing”, where he sings and plays original compositions to the Ghazal lyrics of Francis Brabason and Bhau Kalchuri.

John Tenney (violin, mandolin) has performed over three thousand performances of Broadway musicals and two thousand-odd chamber music appearances, including more than fifteen years with the Nob Hill Ensembles. He is founder and leader of the Golden Gate Ensembles. John has been concertmaster for Joel Grey, Liberace, Dionne Warwick and Tony Bennett and has played in orchestras for Marlene Dietrich, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Barry Manilow, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Boz Scaggs, Bjork, and countless others. He toured nationally with the Van Morrison Band. There is no counting the numerous society parties with the local big bands or the hundreds of recordings he’s made, playing everything from religious music to rock and roll to film soundtracks. John is equally fluent in classical performances, having played with the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose Symphonies, the San Francisco Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the San Francisco Opera and one of Western Opera Theatre’s national tours.