Arts Listings

Arts: SFJAZZ Spring Season Boasts Many Musical Treats, By: Ira Steingroot

Tuesday March 14, 2006

This year’s SFJAZZ Spring Season 2006, which jumps the gun on spring this Friday, March 17 and continues through June 17, offers nearly 50 imaginatively conceived programs in venues all over San Francisco. The events take place at 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, Grace Cathedral, the War Memorial Opera House, the Masonic Center, the Great American Music Hall, the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, and Herbst Theatre with its magnificent autumnal (thus Herbst) murals by Sir Frank Brangwyn. Besides straight ahead musical performances that range through mainstream, New Orleans, avant-garde, Latin, African and Bulgarian music, there are also classes, pre-concert talks, jam sessions, films and cartoons that can broaden and enhance the experience of the music. The following eight shows are just the cream of a consistently great festival: 

Saturday, March 18, 8 p.m., Masonic Center: Eartha Kitt, a five-foot four-inch giant, was an illegitimate child from South Carolina who transformed herself into an international singing and dancing star. She made films, was friends with Orson Welles and James Dean, had hit records including “Santa Baby,” sang in a dozen languages, was the second Catwoman on television’s Batman, wrote three autobiographies with no ghost, and was twice nominated for Tony’s, most recently for her powerful performance in 2000 in The Wild Party based on the brutal poetic masterpiece by Joseph Moncure March. Never chary of offering her opinion, she found herself blacklisted in 1968 because of anti-war statements she made at a White House luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson. Although she seemed to be going down in flames, she fooled everyone and persisted until she was reborn phoenix-like from those very flames. Still going strong at 79, she is a living legend. 

Saturday, April 1, 8 p.m., Palace of Fine Arts Theatre: Alto saxophonist, flutist and composer Henry Threadgill is the last survivor of the classic free jazz trio Air. His current group Zooid mixes jazz, blues, gospel, funk, marching band, Middle Eastern, classical and tango elements to address the mythic themes that inspire Threadgill to create his freely improvised but intricately structured pieces. This acoustic band includes guitar, cello, oud, tuba and drums plus Henry’s horns. Although his composition and playing is eccentric, it proceeds from a particularly interesting mind, one that can play at the edges of freedom and come back with something deliriously lyrical and timeless.  

Friday, April 28, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Randy Weston studied with Thelonious Monk at Monk’s apartment in the late 1940s. He plays closer to Monk’s manner than any other jazz pianist, but with his own personal rhythmic and harmonic take on that style. For the last 45 years he has applied it to his study and work with African musicians following a long residence in Morocco in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. To celebrate his 80th birthday, he brings the Gnawa Master Musicians of Morocco with him to this year’s festival to combine the power of Islamic Sufi mysticism with the jazz musicians’ voodoo mysticism.  

Sunday, April 30, 7 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Dewey Redman brings his quartet to town to help celebrate his 75th birthday. The big-toned Oklahoma tenor saxophonist became well-known as a sidekick of Ornette Coleman’s and solidified his position as a major player with his group Old and New Dreams. He also has a claim to fame as the father of tenor saxophonist Josh Redman. Like his old friends Charlie Haden and Don Cherry, he loves to bring together funky blues, muscular bebop and free-form jazz with innovative sounds from world music. 

Saturday, May 6, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Kenny Barron and Danilo Pérez offer up dueling jazz piano trios. In this corner, Danilo Pérez, 40-year old Panamanian piano wizard wearing maroon trunks; and in this corner, Kenny Barron, one of the greatest living jazz musicians who has spent the last half century playing with everyone from Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Scott, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy and Tootie Heath, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, James Moody, Benny Golson, Abbey Lincoln, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Roy Haynes, Johnny Griffin, Elvin Jones, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Marion Brown, John Hicks and Chico Freeman to Teresa Brewer, Maria Muldaur, Manhattan Transfer, Larry Coryell, Jane Monheit, Regina Carter, Paquito D’Rivera and Danilo Perez. The reason they all want to work with him is because he is remarkable. 

Sunday, May 14, 7 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Jimmy Scott has an intuitive mastery of phrasing the likes of which has not been heard since Billie Holiday or Mabel Mercer. The timbre of his unique voice drips with smoke, romance, heartbreak and androgyny. A perfect fit for Mother’s Day.  

Saturday, June 10, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Savion Glover is the greatest living tap dancer because he is the most innovative and contemporary. The last time he was in the area, at the Marin Center Veterans Memorial Auditorium in November, he presented a program of tapping to the classics. This could easily have been effete, but Savion had me convinced during Mozart’s Divertimento in D major, K.136, that he was right and everyone else had missed Mozart’s rhythmic and percussive genius. His remarkable grace, energy and improvisational genius are not to be missed. 

Sunday, June 11, 7 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Alto saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, a child prodigy in his native Cuba, went on to be a founding member of Irakere. After defecting in 1980, he moved to New York and was soon playing with Dizzy Gillespie, a musician who adored Cuban music and was adored in Cuba. Paquito, who brings his quintet to the festival, is certainly the greatest Latin alto player of all time, combining Cuban roots, bebop and his own personal lyricism.