Music. History.
Joy. Service. Community.

A singer belts out a song onstage.

Blue Bear is . . .

…San Francisco’s pre-eminent school of rock, blues, jazz, folk and pop music

…a home for aspiring musicians of all ages and all skill levels

…a place where each student’s unique talents and goals are recognized and supported

…a nonprofit bringing music programs to underserved communities

…a vibrant community, a place for making, learning, and sharing music

Play the music you love!

A Bit of Our History & Roots

Nonprofit organization Blue Bear School of Music was founded as “Blue Bear Waltzes School of Genuine Music” in the summer of 1971 by a rock band called “Wolfgang & Strauss” – “Wolfgang” was a dog, and “Strauss,” two brothers in the band.  Before moving to San Francisco to make their fame and fortune (and to found a music school), they lived in Northern California on the Bear River.  When naming the school, the brothers Strauss whimsically recalled Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz,” substituting the Bear River for the Danube, and the rest is history.

For a period in the mid-’70s, when the founding members moved on, Blue Bear was run by a co-operative of teachers and students.  In 1978 operations moved from the original storefront on Ocean Avenue (photo, right) to Fort Mason Center, where Blue Bear has thrived and evolved to its current state of more than 850 music-loving students per quarter.  Blue Bear’s current Board of Trustees and Staff includes former “Wolfgang & Strauss” members Steve Savage (ED and Board President) and Richard Strauss along with Electric Orchestra & Folk Chorus (and Blue Bear Association) member Bonnie Hayes.  Day-to-day operations are under the direction of Dennis Criteser, a former student who has been associated with the school since 1979.

Enrich your life.

A co-operative of Blue Bear teachers and students gather in front of the original storefront on Ocean Avenue in 1978.
A singer and electric guitar player perform onstage.

Legacy. Reputation. Music.

We’re most celebrated for being a welcoming, energizing, and soulful community that cultivates musical  passion and skill in musicians of all ages.  As San Francisco’s pre-eminent school of rock, we go deeper with blues, jazz, folk, EM, pop and more.

A girl band stands with their instruments.

Cutting-edge Old School.

We’re your home for music.  Our doors are open to aspiring musicians of all ages and skill levels.  We are passionate about cultivating and supporting your unique talents and goals.

Making Music, Changing Lives

A student and instructor smile as they use music software.

Something that we at Blue Bear have learned in our almost half-century in business is that music truly changes lives.  Transformation can occur instantly – bringing joy and happiness.  Over time, the habit of music provides confidence, discipline, and improves academic and motor skills while creating community.

Blue Bear strives to bring the power of music to underserved communities all across the San Francisco Bay Area.  Through donor support, we offer free and low-cost programs in many wonderful local schools, community centers, churches and family shelters.  Your donation to Blue Bear School of Music is an investment in a vibrant, established and legacy nonprofit organization that improves lives.  Join our community today.

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A student and instructor smile as they use music software.

So what's your dream?

Little Bears Program

Toddlers Music - 4 mos to 5 yrsSan Francisco · East Bay
Ready to rock?
Find a class
An adult student band poses with their instruments.

A vibrant community, a place for making, learning & sharing music.

Not sure where to begin?

Meet Our Celebrated Faculty

Where Music Comes Alive

Guitar • Piano • Voice • Bass • Drums • Ukulele • Violin • Electronic Music • Music Theory • Songwriting • more . . .

Blue Bear’s instructors are the heart and soul of the school, committed to helping you realize your musical dreams.

Guitar player arches backwards dramatically.

Blue Bear Staff


    • Executive Director Steve Savage, Ph.D., a Blue Bear founder and current President of the Board of Trustees, is an active producer and recording engineer and has been the primary engineer on seven records that received GRAMMY nominations, including CDs for Robert Cray, John Hammond, The Gospel Hummingbirds and Elvin Bishop.  He is former Chapter President and National Trustee of the San Francisco Chapter of the Recording Academy and teaches in the Humanities Department at San Francisco State University.  Steve has a Ph.D. in musicology from The University of London and has three recently published books: Mixing and Mastering in the Box from Oxford University Press, The Art of Digital Audio Recording from Oxford University Press, and Bytes & Backbeats: Repurposing Music in the Digital Age from The University of Michigan Press.  Steve also sits on the board of Spirit Series, which is a drama-based character education curriculum that brings inspirational biographies to life.  More at
    • General Manager/Program Director Dennis Criteser has produced albums in folk, rock, and jazz styles for a variety of Bay Area artists.  He’s cut eight albums of original music as Diesel Cats, ranging from the cinematic musico-documentary History Club Minutes to the faux-jazz hip-ocracy of In Search of Blue Treasure.  Dennis attended Blue Bear as a student from 1979 to 1980, studying piano, voice, saxophone, and songwriting.  Current musical activities include performing songs of Fabrizio De André and other Italian singer/songwriters.
    • Youth Program Director Tennessee Mowrey is a bona fide Blue Bear “lifer.” Born and raised in the Bay Area, he first joined the school in a summer camp in 2005 at the age of 13 and was soon a fixture around the school. He started as a student but quickly began interning and student teaching at summer camps. After receiving his degree in music from Wesleyan University, Tennessee came back to teach private lessons, Little Bears classes, and the All Star Band program. He also spent some time as the self-styled “Ghost in the Machine,” fixing and refurbishing over-loved instruments. In 2018 he moved to a full-time administrative role at Blue Bear, working as Desk Staff, Little Bears program manager, and serving on the Marketing Team. Tennessee now runs our beloved Little Bears and teen band programs. In his off time, he plays in two bands that regularly gig around the Bay (just ask him about his recently converted garage music studio!), and as an Oakland resident is excited to have a campus a bit closer to home!
    • Cole Odin Berggren is Blue Bear’s Community Programs Director as well as the creator of Blue Bear’s electronic music and DJ program.  He is a true patron of all things ART and good times.  A trained glassblower, Cole is also a prominent local DJ who spins vinyl and plays digital at locations city- and country-wide.  He has played in bands for over 20 years and, as a songwriter/singer/multi-instrumentalist, releases pulsing, heady, electronic rock music as Cole Odin (and sometimes Ownership).  Recent accomplishments include playing the legendary Bimbo’s 365 Club in SF and releasing music on electronic music labels such as LENG, NuNorthern Soul, Eclectics & Das Sind Wir.  He’s a people person through and through, so sling him a smile and he’ll sling it back . .
    • Development Director Melanie Brooks is an events-and-fundraising fanatic! After a decade of volunteer fundraising and board service for her kids’ schools, she took it pro and joined the Blue Bear team.  Before being bit by the development bug, Melanie studied Merchandising at the Louise Salinger Academy of Fashion and worked in event management and graphic design.  In her spare time, Melanie can be found exploring SF with her fabulous family and enjoying her favorite things: fantastic food, great music, and cheering on the Giants!
    • Finance Director Kathy Kaufmann is thrilled to be part of the Blue Bear family, having been a student here for a number of years. She spent the majority of her life on the East Coast (born in Boston, grew up in Maryland, graduated from New York University), but finally decided to check out the ‘left coast’ in 2015. At Blue Bear, Kathy was able to at last pick up some drumsticks and rock on!
    • Events Director Jordan Auleb is passionate about the intersection of social justice and the music industry. Jordan is a San Francisco native with a lifelong love of and involvement in live music in a variety of social and professional capacities. Jordan has done fundraising, artist outreach, social media, and advocacy work with organizations including the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Camp Winnarainbow, the Seva Foundation, and HeadCount; films including The Cherokee Word for Water, and Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story; festivals including BottleRock, Outside Lands, Bonnaroo, and Sound Summit; advocacy and lobbying initiatives including GRAMMYs on the Hill and National Voter Registration Day; and artists including Mickey Hart, David Nelson, The Ace of Cups, and Wavy Gravy. Jordan has a degree in Political Science and Community and Justice Studies and is very slowly working toward a Master’s in Psychology.



        • Office Manager Kristina Melendez has been with Blue Bear since 20xx and keeps all things on track at the Bear!
        • Desk staff Flora Espinosa is a musician who is also passionate about all aspects of arts/performing arts. 

Board of Trustees

Board Emeritus
Steve Strauss – Founder
Mitchell Stevko – Founding chair
Maria Cardamone – Chair
David Schwartz – Chair
David Given – Chair
Dominic Haigh – Chair

Advisory Board
Elvin Bishop
Randy Eckhardt
Ben Fong-Torres
Rose Kirkland
Huey Lewis
Keiko McKibben
Vicki Randle
Jack Schuberth
Carol Snow


Blue Bear is grateful for volunteers who help with

  • event production
  • fundraising
  • marketing
  • and more.

If you have talents or contacts, and the dedication to volunteer with Blue Bear School of Music, please contact us at 415.673.3600 or at [email protected]

Non-Discrimination Policy

Blue Bear School of Music does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, age, political affiliation, disability, gender and gender expression, sexual orientation, physical appearance, language, educational background, veteran status, or religious belief in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship programs, and other school-administered programs or in affording students the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. 

Learn more about what we do . . . 

An adult student band performs onstage.

Blue Bear Band Workshop performing at the Boom Boom Room for their end-of-quarter Showcase

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