Bay Area jazz icon Larry Vuckovich celebrates 80th birthday gigging with old pals (via Mercury News)

Larry Vuckovich isn’t just Bay Area jazz royalty. With his exquisite touch, encyclopedic command of modern jazz keyboard idioms and uncommon rhythmic facility, the pianist is one of the few active players on the scene with direct ties to bebop’s founding generation.

As his 80th birthday approaches on Dec. 8, the popular, amiable musician is marking the milestone with concerts that pay homage to the masters who mentored and inspired him as a jazz-besotted young refugee from Communist Yugoslavia. He arrived with his family in San Francisco in the early 1950s, a moment when the city’s nightlife rivaled any spot east of New York City. He eagerly took it all in.

“When I started going out in high school, we’d sit in the special teenage section of the Black Hawk, and the music was unbelievable,” says Vuckovich, who kicks off his birthday gigs Nov. 20 with a sold-out show at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, featuring vocalist Jackie Ryan, reed master Noel Jewkes and guest percussionist John Santos.

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