Press Releases

Great Performers Reanimate Regional Jazz Scene: By IRA STEINGROOT

Special to the Planet
Friday August 27, 2004

The Bay Area jazz scene, often lethargic if not moribund, picked up in the summer months with some great performances that also stretched the envelope. At Yoshi’s, David Murray played his usual spectacular saxophone, but in the context of a jazz plus Guadeloupean gwo-ka drums unit. Also at Yoshi’s, saxophonist James Carter was exceptional playing the music of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Jazz seniors, the Heath Brothers, performed at a benefit for Berkeley’s Jazzschool and erased all questions of age with the diamond-like brilliance of their playing. Bassist Percy Heath, Tuskegee Airman and last surviving member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, played a pizzicato cello version of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite that was as accomplished as Rostropovich and as rollicking as Elmer Snowden. 

Hopefully the fall will provide just as much great jazz and just as many surprises. The two most promising sources of the best jazz locally over the next few months are Yoshi’s and the 22nd Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival. Two performers have just been added to the Yoshi’s calendar for brief engagements in September. Jazz/cabaret singer Jane Monheit appears at the club on the 9th and 10th followed by trumpeter Wallace Roney on the 11th and 12th. Both players evince a knowledge and respect for classic jazz styles and performers without allowing their personal voices to be subsumed in the past. Indeed, Roney is one of the last and youngest musicians to have apprenticed in the bands of Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and Dizzy Gillespie, groups in which journeymen became masters. 

In November, jazz legend Jackie McLean brings his alto to Yoshi’s in the company of the Cedar Walton Trio from the 9th to the 14th. McLean was playing with Sonny Rollins when they were both in their teens. He and Walton played in different editions of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Walton is one of the greatest hard bop pianists. Later in the year, Yoshi’s will host two top Latin jazz musicians: Cuban bebop trumpeter Arturo Sandoval from Nov. 16 to 21 and Argentinean jazz saxophonist Gato Barbieri, famous for mixing folk instruments and free jazz, from Dec. 9 to 12.  

The SF Jazz Festival runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 11 with more than three dozen performances, all of which have something to recommend them. The ones that look best to this old jazz fan are: 

• A tribute to tenor sax legend Lester “Prez” Young with clarinet virtuoso Don Byron and drummer Jack DeJohnette. There is not enough space to say all that should be said about Prez, but he recorded some hauntingly beautiful performances on an old metal clarinet and perhaps Byron, who performs everything from klezmer to Ellington to Raymond Scott, will evoke that (Herbst Theatre, 7 p.m., Oct. 17). 

• The Rite of Strings with guitarist Al Di Meola, bassist Stanley Clarke and, most notably, French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, who is rarely seen in the Bay Area (Masonic Auditorium, 8 p.m., Oct. 22). 

• The music of composer/ pianist Thelonious Monk in memory of soprano saxophonist and Monk alum Steve Lacy featuring free jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd. Rudd and Lacy performed Monk’s music together in the early 1960s (Palace of Fine Arts, 7:30 p.m., Oct.28). 

• Master guitarist and accompanist extraordinaire Jim Hall with his trio. Hall has given phenomenal support on everything from Ella Fitzgerald ballad sessions to an album of Sonny Stitt and John Lewis playing Charlie Parker tunes (Herbst Theatre, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 4).  

• For lovers of Latin jazz there are two key events: the great Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, one of Dizzy Gillespie’s many protégés, (Herbst Theatre, 8 p.m., Nov. 5) and the conga kings featuring two Machito alums, Candido Camero and “Patato” Valdez (Calvin Simmons Theatre, 7 p.m., Nov. 7). 

• The Queen of R & B and just as great a jazz singer when she chooses, Etta James, who has been a giant since she pleaded Dance with Me Henry in the Fifties (Masonic Auditorium, 8 p.m., Nov. 6). 

• You can count the greatest jazz vibraphonists on one hand and one of them is Gary Burton, technically gifted, conceptually original and emotionally nuanced (Herbst Theatre, 8 p.m., Nov. 6). 

• Finally, a 100th birthday bash for stride pianist-organist-composer-singer-bandleader-actor-comedian Fats Waller, a giant in girth and genius, featuring vocalist Ruth Brown; ragtime/stride pianist and master of the upright organ Dick Hyman; Mike Lipskin, student of Waller’s friend and fellow stride pianist Willie the Lion Smith; and piano legend Jay McShann. McShann is not only a major stride stylist in his own right, but Charlie Parker’s first boss in the last of the great big bands to come out of Kansas City (Davies Symphony Hall, 7 p.m., Nov. 7). Bon temps rouler