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SJ Jazz Summer Fest Samples the Globe

In Music
HOMETOWN HERO: South Bay native Jackie Gage moved to New York to pursue a career in music. She comes home for SJZ Summer Fest.

HOMETOWN HERO: South Bay native Jackie Gage moved to New York to pursue a career in music. She comes home for SJZ Summer Fest.

It’s buried deep in the heart of every boom-bap beat; it’s churning hot at the center of every rip-roaring rock & roll riff; and it’s slyly creeping in the smoky shadows of every soulful R&B jam. As we argued last week, jazz, and the music from which it sprang—the blues—are the purest American art forms. And they are both rolling into town this weekend with the 27th annual San Jose Jazz Summer Fest.

With so many amazing acts to check out in such little time, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to … um … catch ’em all. Make the most of your time with this guide of festival picks.

Sun, 3pm, California Theatre Stage
Clad in the traditional fur hats of Ukraine, DakhaBrakha seeks to elevate the international recognition of their homeland by blending their folk stylings with nearly every other genre on the planet. On “Karpatsky Rap,” they deploy a twangy mouth harp, a huffing accordion and a dreamy cello riff before Nina Harenetska unleashes a nasty flow in her native tongue. On the other end of the spectrum, they deploy animalistic yips and howls on “Vensa,” and on “Baby,” they lay an infectious pop chorus in the middle of tribal drums and looping chants. They blend the global and the intensely local into a stunning, singular sound.

Aki Kumar
Sat, 9pm, Blues Stage
Born in Mumbai, Aki Kumar came to the United States at the age of 18 to study software engineering at San Jose State and maybe play a little harmonica on the side. Three years ago, he quit his day job and began pursuing music full-time after becoming a regular at blues spots like The Smoking Pig in Fremont. Following an impressive debut, Kumar crafted a uniquely American record by combining blues with Indian music, two genres dominated by rabid purists. On Aki Goes to Bollywood—especially on “Eena Meena Deeka”—he zips and bounces through the peppy track like a Hindi-speaking Louis Prima. 

John Blues Boyd
Sat, 9pm, Blues Stage
Boyd released his fittingly titled debut album, The Real Deal, at the ripe age of 71. Born in Mississippi, he started working in the cotton fields at the age of 7, then moved onto hot tar roofing, which he did for 35 years. He sang his whole life, whether in the church choir or during his work or in some small clubs. After the death of his wife, he became a man possessed by the spirit of the blues, penning up to eight songs a day.

Jackie Gage
Sat, 10pm, Café Stritch Stage
This South Bay-bred singer possesses a timeless voice. Cooing over brushed drums, jazzy horns and a plodding stand-up bass, her voice flows like molasses and lands on the ear with a velvet touch. On her debut album, Siren Songs, she channels those mythical singing temptresses, putting a fresh twist on classic sounds and drawing the listener in like a doomed sailor. Though rooted in jazz, she’s branched into the modern realm as well, slowing Rhianna’s “Umbrella” into a dusty ballad and collaborating with electro-disco DJ Captain Supernova.

Aaron Lington
Sat, 5pm, Silicon Valley Stage
Grammy-winner Aaron Lington ranks among the most important artists in the area. He has played and composed for The San Francisco Symphony, Bo Diddley and the Pacific Mambo Orchestra. He’s been frequently recognized by the readers and critics of Downbeat magazine while also earning “Jazz Educator of the Year” in 2011 from California Music Educators Association for his work at San Jose State and with the San Jose High School All-Stars. The baritone saxophonist will lead his sextet in a rousing tribute to the essential cuts of Ray Charles, a follow-up to their spectacular medley in 2013 honoring Stevie Wonder.

John L. Worley Jr.
Sun, 3pm, Silicon Valley Stage
A world-class talent, Worley chose to remain a local artist and educate the next generation of performers. He is a Stanford faculty member, a featured recording artist on over 70 works and a collaborator with artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to the Asian American Orchestra. He plays both the trumpet and the flugelhorn with warmth and panache. The past few years, he’s taken a special interest in resurrecting the brilliance of Miles Davis, putting his own stamp on the divine creations of one of jazz’s iconic geniuses. And he’ll do that this year with his “Birth of the Cool Showcase.”

Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band
Sun, 6pm, Gordon Biersch Stage
Before Chicago and New York, there was New Orleans—the birthplace of jazz music. But unlike the cooler, smokier stylings of those northern cities, the bayou brand of the genre lolls along with a bouncy, brassy vibe, perfectly suited for the parades that march up and down Bourbon Street. Baker leads his band generously, deferring often to his talented accompanying artists before taking his turn and unleashing whimsically executed notes on his cornet, or a bluesy refrain in his soulful voice, or digging into the trove of other instruments he can play, including the trombone, alto sax, guitar, banjo, bass, tuba and drums.

Mark De Clive-Lowe
Fri, Midnight, Cafe Stritch Stage
After mastering straight-ahead jazz, MdCL took his compositional sensibilities and applied them on the ones and twos. He honed his skills as a DJ on London’s broken beat scene—a genre that prizes intricate, hiccupping percussion. Now, equal parts jazz, neo-soul and electro, he’s on the speed dial for major artists like Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott. He recently released his 11th studio album, Church, a kickstarter-funded project that returns to his sonic roots, but repackages it in electronic psychedelia. A dizzyingly talented artist, he creates live samples by playing his drum machine and keyboard during his sets, spawning an original mix at each show. 

Sat, 7pm, Post Street Stage
This precocious 23-year-old makes whatever will come after hip-hop. A multi-talented artist, Masego raps, sings, produces and plays saxophone, keyboard and marimba. He combines the raw performing skills of a first-chair phenom, the intricate beatmaking of Flying Lotus and the joyful blend of hard-spitting and tender crooning of fellow youngin’ D.R.A.M. On “Send Yo’ Rita,” he starts out riding a swaying dancehall beat, then staccato raps through erratic snares and bulbous, hard-smacking bass, before unfurling a glorious sax solo. He classifies his brand of sounds as “trap house jazz” and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

Adrian Younge
Fri, 9:30pm, San Fernando Stage
Adrian Younge possesses a diverse range of skills—he teaches entertainment law, he scored the blaxploitation send-up Black Dynamite and produced “Untitled 06” with Ali Shaheed Muhammad for Kendrick Lamar. A specialist in the jazzier, funkier side of hip-hop, he produced Twelve Reasons To Die II, a throwback project for Ghostface Killah. His most recent solo project Something about April II, leans heavily on samples from the early ’70s era of funk. His hip-hop influences and prowess on a multitude of keyboards imbue the soul-drenched project with a caramel-smooth, timeless listenability.

Freddie Joachim
Sat, Midnight, Cafe Stritch Stage
This Filipino-born DJ started practicing his craft in the mid-’90s, but has found a way to keep his turntable skills modern. He specializes in the dusty, soul-sampled boom-bap of yore that’s cut with electro influences and a jazzy sway. He builds his beats slowly, meditating on meandering horn or piano riffs that give way infectious beat breaks. Boasting a well-rounded repertoire, he excels equally at producing beats for Joey Bada$$, remixing the hits of others like his subdued drum n’ bass rendition of Razor-N-Tape’s “Outta Sight” and crafting his own tracks, like the loopy and organic “On and On.”

Aireene Espiritu
Sat, 9pm, Blues Stage
After immigrating to America as a 10-year-old, Espiritu began distilling the folk music of her adopted nation into a distinct brand of her own. The singer-songwriter plays an evergreen brand of old-timey tunes, strumming melodies on her ukelele or guitar backed by stomping and swaying rhythms. Mixing the vibe of a rural front porch and a gospel church choirstand, she weaves yarns that celebrate the struggle and joy of the dustier regions of America. She travels the country living out of her Toyota Prius, a rather fitting situation for a modern practitioner of humble tradition.

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