The 31st Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival opens this week – and for the first time in the history of the organization, the Festival will be held in the recently opened SF JAZZ Center in downtown San Francisco.
For the past 30 years, the Festival has been presented in a number of different venues around the Bay Area, and over multiple weeks. This year, the leading nonprofit jazz organization on the West Coast is able to hold the Festival over two weeks, from June 12 to 23, with most of the events taking place in its own center – the first freestanding building for jazz in the country – which opened in January this year.
Festival themes include Direct from Italy, Latin Jazz, Harmonica Heavyweights and Jazz Legends and Rising Stars – the highlight of which will have enthusiasts flocking to San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall on June 13, for a performance by celebrated pianist and composer, Ahmad Jamal.
Ahmad Jamal is described as having “brought a sense of space and subtlety to jazz improvisation that deeply affected Miles Davis and countless other jazz musicians inspired by them both”. He is accompanied in this performance by Herlin Riley on drums, bassist Reginald Veal and Puerto Rican-born percussionist, Manolo Badrena.
The Festival opens on June 12 with a rare Bay Area appearance by Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and his band which includes the Dutch rhythm duo of bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund. Described by The Guardian as “a 21st Century Art Tatum”, Stefano Bollani is also regarded as the most gifted pianist on Italy’s jazz scene.
Celebrating over 50 years of its combination of traditional South African rhythms, harmonies and Christian gospel music, Ladysmith Black Mambazo takes the stage on June 14. Following his 1986 Graceland project (in which the group participated), Paul Simon was quoted as saying: “It isn’t merely the grace and power of their dancing or the beauty of their singing that rivets the attention, but the sheer joy and love that emanates from their being”.
The 19-piece Pacific Mambo Orchestra, founded three years ago by Mexican-born pianist, Christian Tumalan, and German-born trumpeter, Steffen Kuehn, has rapidly become the West Coast’s premiere Latin dance big band. For its performance on June 15, the Orchestra will be joined by guitarist Ray Obiedo and Tommy Igoe on drums.
Well-known on the New York jazz scene, Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez, appears on June 16. He’s been described by The New York Times as “an incomparable performer”, with a sound influenced by both Afro-Cuban and North American rhythms.
Monday June 17 belongs to keyboardist and composer Bob James, and alto saxophonist David Sanborn, who appear with bassist James Genus and drummer Steve Gadd. This formidable quartet also feature on James and Sanborn’s latest album, Quartette Humaine – a tribute to Dave Brubeck’s collaboration with Paul Desmond, recorded in the month that Brubeck died.
The spotlight falls on the jazz harmonica on June 18. Following his show-stopping performance on the opening night of the SFJAZZ Center in January, Frédéric Yonnet – described by The New York Times as “an exceptional musician” – makes a welcome return to San Francisco with a program of jazz, funk and hip-hop. Also on the bill is Grégoire Maret, of whom Jazz Times writes: “Maret plays the chromatic harmonica with the chops of Toots Thielemans and the soul-searing expression of Stevie Wonder”.
June 19 sees the California debut of acclaimed young jazz singer, Cécile McLorin Salvant, who has recently appeared on Jacky Terrasson’s album, Gouache, and with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The New York Times says: “If anyone can extend the lineage of the Big Three – Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald – it is this 23-year-old virtuoso… “.
Sacramento born Gregory Porter is the featured artist on June 20. Following his 2010 Grammy-nominated debut CD, Water, he’s been making a reputation for himself as one of jazz’s most important male vocalists. With his emotional and “soul-drenched” delivery, The Huffington Post refers to him as “The brilliant new voice of jazz”.
Italian singer, songwriter and guitarist Pino Daniele takes center stage on June 21. Blending his Neapolitan heritage with pop, blues, jazz and Middle Eastern influences, he introduced a blues-inflected Mediterranean sound to the 1970s Neapolitan music scene, and has continued to seek out new sources of inspiration from a range of Mediterranean, North African and Western sources.
Described by The Los Angeles Times as “One of the contemporary jazz world’s finest guitarists”, John Scofield is joined by rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick, bassist Andy Hess and drummer Adam Deitch for a performance by the Überjam quartet on June 22, following the recent release of their new album, Überjam Deux.
Rounding off the Festival is a double bill featuring what are regarded as two of the most exciting young jazz bands around – the Gerald Clayton Trio and Kendrick Scott Oracle. Downbeat says of Gerald Clayton: “In a generation of technical, and resourceful, wunderkinds, Clayton … stands out for his nuanced touch, precise articulation and the way he constructs a narrative for his solos”.
The latest album released by Kendrick Scott and his Oracle ensemble, My Conviction, has been described by NPR Music as “One of the top jazz albums to look out for in 2013”.
The Festival program notes leave no doubt about what to expect from these closing performances: “If you are curious what the state of the art of modern jazz looks like, this is it!”.
The 31st Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival runs at the SFJAZZ Center, 201 Franklin Street, from June 12 to 23. For further information and ticketing, visit www.sfjazz.org