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Summer Fest Preview: Jeff Hamilton Trio

In Music
Jeff Hamilton (center) brings his trio to San Jose Jazz's Summer Fest Sunday at 7pm.

Jeff Hamilton (center) brings his trio to San Jose Jazz's Summer Fest Sunday at 7pm.

Jeff Hamilton thinks it’s kind of funny that musical diversity at jazz festivals is getting so much attention in the last few years. He’s been playing them for longer than most of the artists at this year’s Summer Fest—both as bandleader of his own trio and as drummer for jazz legend Oscar Peterson, as well as Diana Krall and Ray Brown.

Hamilton, who plays Summer Fest in downtown San Jose Sunday, remembers rock singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones following him at the Montreux Jazz Festival three decades ago. He remembers Kool Cigarettes getting into the jazz game in the early ’80s and bringing an influx of R&B acts into jazz festivals.

“I think this has been going on for quite a long time,” says Hamilton.

He’s never minded, except for one thing. “They continue to use the four-letter word,” he says. “I don’t think you can do that.”

That word, of course, is jazz, and that is exactly what Hamilton plays. He doesn’t know why many events even bother to call themselves a “jazz festival” any more, and he prefers that they shift to something like what San Jose Jazz does with its rechristened “Summer Fest.”

In fact, he likes very much how San Jose Jazz has handled the sometimes challenging question of how to program other genres alongside traditional jazz, which is why he’s back for a second time. When he first brought his trio here two years ago, Tower of Power was playing their set outside, while they played in an intimate venue that had just the right acoustics for the group. That’s the only way he’ll do it anymore.

“I don’t play a lot of festivals,” he says. “The festivals I play have a listening room, like San Jose. I could flick a finger on the bell of a cymbal, and you’d hear it in the back of the room.”

His experiences with the kind of intimate, acoustic jazz played by his group—which also features Christoph Luty on bass and pianist Tamir Hendelman—haven’t always been so great. Back when he was touring with Ray Brown, he recalls being drowned out completely while trying to follow an electric band at the Playboy Festival.
“The rotating stage came around, and nobody knew we were playing,” he says. “We caught the sound engineer by surprise.”

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