OAKLAND — No telling what the big-band masters, like Tommy Dorsey or Guy Lombardo, would have said if they were hanging around the Claremont Resort and Spa last Friday when "smooth jazz" saxophonist Gerald Albright took to the stage of the grand ballroom.

Hard to say, but I bet Count Basie would have been tapping his toes.

"It's about time for some music to return to this room," Albright told the crowd as he came on stage dressed in blue. His buxom rhythm guitarist was all in black except her shoes. She wasn't wearing any.

The occasion for the swank dinner-and-show package was to inaugurate an ongoing jazz series and celebrate the return of jazz to the grand ballroom since guys and dolls were swinging to the big bands on the dance floor.

"The world has changed. The experience has not," so the Claremont motto goes.

But in the big-band heyday, the guests were as white as the Berkeley resort and some of Albright's funkadelic songs, like "To the Max," probably would have scared the pants off Lawrence Welk, who also played there, not to mention Bill Thornburg, the Kansas farmer who built the Claremont in the 1890s, using Gold Rush riches, as a home for his nouveau riche wife.

The "castle" burned to the ground July 14, 1901. What was left of the property passed into several hands (including Francis "Borax" Smith) before the sprawling Mediterranean resort was completed in 1915 to the tune of $400,000.

In 1937, Claude Gillum, a chief deskclerk at the Claremont, saved enough money to buy the hotel for $250,000 and turned it into "the beauty spot of California." I love that story almost as much as the tale of the clever University of California, Berkeley, student who proved after a long dry spell that the hotel was far enough away from Cal to exempt it from a state law that prohibited alcohol within a 1-mile radius of the university. A bar was opened (the Terrace bar) and the gal got free drinks at the Claremont for the rest of her life.

The Claremont was whitewashed in 1940, not long before the photograph hanging in the lobby of dapper GIs and ladies with flowers in their hair was taken. (My favorite photo is of Farah Fawcett and Lee Majors on the tennis court flashing their megawatt smiles. I swear her thighs looked a tad on the chunky side.)

But no matter how much has changed, the Claremont's middle name is still "classy."

That's what the guests paid for last Friday night, not to mention bite-sized grilled brie and prosciutto sandwiches on skewers, frisee-arugula salads with smoked duck, crab ravioli in a veal cream sauce, and a table of grilled sumptuous meats.

The food was fresh, well-prepared and well-served, especially for such a big crowd, said Diablo Magazine's food editor Cathryn Jessup.

What Jessup said she always enjoys about Claremont events is that they attract a diverse, upscale set.

She and her companions were trying to eat before the show started so I headed to the dessert table covered with raspberry tartlettes, petite-fours, marzipan pears and bananas foster, prepared on the spot by Chef Janine Fong.

Soups were served in cocktail glasses, which brought out the Martha Stewart in Linda and Mike Van Brunt from Concord.

What essentially was a buffet was "far beyond" their expectations. "This might start a new tradition," Linda Van Brunt said. "Obviously it will take off."

When the clock struck

8 p.m., a very-tanned, stiletto-heeled blonde with a Southern accent fluttered into the ballroom, a copiously filled glass of red in one of her manicured hands (drinks cost extra).

Although Albright's smooth jazz is not up my alley, I could see how he could come close to packing the ballroom with old fans such as Veronica Andrews and new ones like her husband Darryl Andrews.

Albright and his band members are entertaining, which is not a word associated with the intense straight-on jazz cats.

"Oakland we need you as part of this groove, so can I get you to snap to this?" beckoned Albright as they launched into the second song of set, "Bermuda." Half the people in the row behind me were swaying back and forth, clapping their hands.

The atmosphere was like that of a rock concert. So was the noise level.

"Are we havin' fun yet?" Albright asked "Yes sir. Yes sir," replied the woman next to me, pumping a fist in the air.