Press Releases

Arts: SF Jazz Festival Offers Star Performers in Elegant Venues By IRA STEINGROOT Special to the Planet

Tuesday October 18, 2005

The 23rd annual San Francisco Jazz Festival begins this Thursday and continues for another 42 events through Dec. 10. This is the most concentrated amount of great jazz available in the Bay Area all year. 

The performances are matched to beautiful locations like the Palace of the Legion of Honor’s Florence Gould Theatre where admission to the museum is included in the ticket price, Davies Hall, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Herbst Theatre with its magnificent autumnal murals by Sir Frank Brangwyn. 

Besides straight-ahead musical performances that range through mainstream, avant-garde, Latin, African, French, klezmer, Broadway and gospel, there are also classes, interviews and films that can broaden and enhance the experience of the music. The following programs are just the top picks from a consistently great lineup: 

Abbey Lincoln has moved from one among many jazz song stylists to take her place in the tiny pantheon of all-time great jazz singers. Over the years she has been a big band singer, a competent supper club chanteuse, a cutting-edge jazz vocalist with groups led by her then husband percussionist Max Roach, and a film starlet. 

At some point she pulled all of these disparate parts of herself together and became one of the most individual and fully-realized vocalists in jazz. She did this by learning to express herself through her original songs, poems set to lovely tunes that are the perfect vehicles for her emotion-drenched voice. She also knows which standards work best for her, from Yip Harburg’s Depression-era “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” to Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and can turn a group of talented young accompanists into top flight jazz performers. This event, at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 19, at Herbst Theatre, kicks off the festival and was originally an members-only event. Now some tickets are being made available to the general public. 

The World Saxophone Quartet—David Murray, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett and Bruce Williams plus guests Gene Lake, Matthew Garrison and Lee Pearson—will present the music of Jimi Hendrix at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 20, at the Great American Music Hall. 

Hendrix is usually considered a ‘60s psychedelic rock musician, but in fact his music is closer to a cross between B.B. King’s blues and John Coltrane’s free jazz saxophone. The Quartet is one of the all-time great jazz combos, combining wide-ranging interests with stellar performers Murray, Bluiett and Lake. Their recordings are studded with performances of various tunes retrieved from the world of rock, pop, blues and soul. Far from being daunted by Hendrix, they are probably closer to where he would have been now, had he lived long enough to figure out who he was then. 

Etta James, the queen of Rhythm and Blues, brings her Roots Band to Nob Hill Masonic Center at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 22. She has been a giant since she pleaded “Dance with Me Henry” back in the ‘50s. Although known as a blues singer, like Dinah Washington or Big Maybelle, she is just as great doing jazz interpretations of standards, as witness her album of songs dedicated to Billie Holiday. As with Abbey Lincoln, she approached her place at the table of great jazz vocalists from her own oblique direction.  

Clarinet virtuoso Don Byron was at the festival last year with drummer Jack DeJohnette in a tribute to tenor sax legend Lester “Prez” Young. He performed at the festival a few years before that playing the klezmer compositions of Mickey Katz. He returns this year, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, doffing his pork pie hat in favor of a shtreimel, to present the music of Sam Musiker, a great swing and klezmer player, and his father-in-law Dave Tarras, arguably the greatest klezmer clarinetist to ever record.  

Byron first came to the attention of the public as the star soloist with the Klezmer Conservatory Orchestra, a group formed at the New England Conservatory of Music where he was a student. The KCO was performing a wide variety of Jewish music, but Byron became most interested in those players, like Mickey Katz and Sam Musiker, who were as much swing players as klezmer players. He points our attention to the fact that much of what we think of as the golden age of Yiddish culture took place in the United States, not Eastern Europe. Far from being a falling away from a great tradition, klezmer in America is actually the fruition of that tradition.  

Barbara Cook is not a jazz singer, but she is one of the greatest Broadway and cabaret performers of the last half century. A Broadway legend ever since she created the role of Marian the librarian in the original production of The Music Man, she’ll present masterful interpretations of tunes from the “Great American Songbook” at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 4, at Davies Symphony Hall. 

These are the same songs—from Broadway shows, Hollywood films, tin pan alley and jazz composers—that jazz musicians have been interpreting since the ‘20s. Cook represents one source of these standards, but also reveals the way jazz techniques have constantly enriched Broadway ever since Sissle and Blake’s 1921 musical Shuffle Along.  

Finally, the Ornette Coleman Quartet will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, at Nob Hill Masonic Center. In the world of jazz, Ornette is an eccentric among eccentrics. When the harmonic inventions of Charlie Parker were being pushed to a dead end of baroque chordal elaboration, Ornette stepped forward with what was considered an atonal form of jazz. He might just as well have been described as stepping backward to retrieve the most primitive field hollers and street cries. Although his rhythm section—two string bassists and his son Denardo on drums—seems beside the point, his own playing is always fresh, lyrical and surprising and he remains one of the seminal influences in the history of post-bop jazz. 


For more information on the San Francisco Jazz Festival call (415) 788-7353 or visit their website at