In 1935, Louis Armstrong reworked a Broadway show tune and recorded one of the first jazz hits, his hugely popular version of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Fifty years later, in 1985, Miles Davis released an album that included a cover of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
So when the avant-garde clarinetist Don Byron whipped out a spirited tribute to ’60s soul star Junior Walker at last year’s San Jose Jazz Festival, blazing through hits like “Shotgun” and “What Does It Take,” it was no big shock. Nor is the fact that funk master George Clinton and the timeless Tower of Power are headlining this year’s fest.
According to the festival’s organizers: “Jazz is the basis for most of the popular music of today, and the AT&T San Jose Jazz Festival showcases that breadth.”
Throughout its history, more than almost any other big jazz festival, that has always been San Jose Jazz fest’s mission. As the nation’s biggest multivenue free jazz event (ticket prices were introduced last year), San Jose sought to present something for every taste. That tradition continues in 2010. Nevertheless, for some of us, the hottest attractions are the edgier, more obscure (I hesitate to say) “jazzier” sets. Here are some worth checking out.
Vijay Iyer Trio
Widely acclaimed as one of the most important young pianists and composers working today, Vijay Iyer brings unique dimensions to his music. Adept in Indo-Asian classical music, there is a hypnotic, ragalike quality to some of his extended improvised vamps. And because he’s a gifted physicist (with a BS from Yale and a Ph.D. from Berkeley), it’s impossible not to hear some kind of mathematical voodoo in his complex rhythms and melodies.
Not to say his music is entirely cerebral—to my ear, his innovative approach produces a kind of anarchistic, free-ranging joy. Given the year he’s having, Iyer was an impressive get for San Jose. His newest album, Historicity, was selected by the jazz Bible Downbeat magazine as the Album of the Year, and the Jazz Journalists Association named him Musician of the Year.
Saturday, Aug. 14, at 4pm at San Jose Rep.
John Ellis and Double Wide
A North Carolina–born, New Orleans–educated and Brooklyn-based saxophonist, Ellis built this band around the tuba and sousaphone of his friend and colleague Matt Perrine. Most every cut of this outfit’s LP virtually bounces, with the flexible bottom provided by Perrine’s supple playing: The album is appropriately titled Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow.
Rounding out the quartet are Gary Versace on Hammond B3 (and occasional harmonica) and Jason Marsalis, a savant drummer (and, yes, a member of that uniquely gifted New Orleans family).
Saturday, Aug. 14, at noon on the Mainstage.
The Tamburr/Vitchev Project
Another of the broadly gifted talents one finds in the jazz world, Christian Tamburr is a pianist, percussionist and vibraphonist, as well as a gifted arranger and bandleader. Since 1997, he has served as pianist and musical director for the legendary singer Julio Inglesias (!), but his real voice comes through on the vibraphone.
For this project, Tamburr teams with Hristo Vitchev, a Bulgarian guitarist and composer, and Vitchev’s sometime band, which includes Weber Iago, a fine pianist based out of Monterey, and the young Santa Cruz bassist Dan Robbins. The result is almost too pretty. Almost. Saturday, Aug. 14, at 6pm on the Smith Dobson Tribute Stage at the Fairmont Hotel.
Aaron Lington Quintet
Aaron Lington, who heads up the jazz program at San Jose State University, is a throwback. His quintet, which has recorded a couple of albums, including 2005’s muscular-yet-lovely Cape Breton, recalls the acoustic combos of the ’50s and ’60s and, various moments, both the hard-bop and the sophisticated cool of that era.
At this gig, Lington and band will play cuts from their new CD, Bi-Coastal Collective: Chapter Two. For anyone who has not experienced the baritone saxophone live, it’s something to behold, and Lington is a master of the instrument. Saturday, Aug. 14, at 4pm on the Smith Dobson Tribute Stage at the Fairmont Hotel.
With more than 70 performers and bands scheduled to appear, there will be too many don’t-miss shows to catch. Among them are performances by a couple of legends: the brilliant saxophonist and vocalist John Handy and the Latin-jazz pioneer Harvey Wainapel. Don’t miss them. And don’t miss the awesome Nnenna Freelon, a six-time Grammy-winning vocalist who does things no pop singer would ever dare risk. It’s all jazz, but this is the real thing.