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Best Of The Fest: San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

In Music
CANADIAN GIRLFRIEND: Tia Brazda is sure to mix up her set at the Jade Leaf Stage with a multigenerational sound. Photo by Shayne Gray.

CANADIAN GIRLFRIEND: Tia Brazda is sure to mix up her set at the Jade Leaf Stage with a multigenerational sound. Photo by Shayne Gray.

From classic jazz to the cutting edge, there’s so much to see at San Jose Jazz Summer Fest. Here is a round-up of great performers taking stages all over downtown San Jose this weekend.

Tia Brazda
Sat, 2:30pm
Jade Leaf Stage
A popular fixture on the festival circuit, the Canadian jazz vocalist has a sultry, kittenish voice that floats above the big-band arrangements found on her debut EP (2012’s Cabin Fever) and her thrilling 2015 full-length, Bandshell. That album presents a variety of jazz styles, positioning the Toronto-based singer as a kind of walking musical catalog of 20th century jazz styles. Overall, Brazda’s approach has one foot in the tradition of postwar big-band jazz, with the other planted firmly in a modern sensibility; the result is music that should please fans of old-school jazz as well as those who prefer a less retro-minded musical aesthetic. (BK)

Pedrito Martinez
Sat, 3pm
Hammer Theatre Stage
The music of Cuban expatriate Pedrito Martinez is built around percussion. Martinez was the recipient of the 2000 Thelonious Monk Award for Afro-Latin Hand Percussion, and he was a founding member of Yerba Buena. In 2005 he started his own group. The Pedrito Martinez Group released its self-titled debut album in 2013; it was nominated for  a Grammy Award. Habana Dreams followed in 2016, earning raves from critics and soaring to the No. 1 Latin Albums spot on NPR’s Jazz Critics Top Jazz Albums poll. His band brings together some of the finest players in the Americas. (BK)

Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio
Sat, 5pm
Hammer Theatre Stage
The “Doctor” may be an honorific title, and the turban is a fashion accessory, but when it comes to soulful jazz, Dr. Lonnie Smith is as real as it gets. A master of the Hammond B-3 organ, Smith plays with inventiveness, nuance and style. He co-led a jazz quartet in the 1960s with guitarist George Benson, and began his solo career in 1967. With more than two dozen albums in a funky, soulful vein, he’s one of the most expressive exponents of the B-3. His most recent release—2016’s Evolution—is an exemplar of his kinetic, engaging musical approach, but Smith and his trio truly deserve to be experienced live. Keep an eye on that walking cane of his: it’s more than it appears. (BK)

Samantha Fish
Sat, 5:15pm
Blues/Big Easy Stage
Though the Kansas City native came to fame as a fiery electric guitar-slinging blueser, in recent years Fish has expanded her musical vision. Earlier this year she released Chills & Fever, a garage and R&B collection featuring members of the Detroit Cobras. And her upcoming album—described by those who’ve heard it as “a swampy mofo”—moves in an Americana direction, with production from Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars. But no matter what style the 28-year-old singer-guitarist pursues, she does it with authenticity and enthusiasm. And she never, ever leaves behind her blues roots nor her sizzling guitar work. (BK)

Jackie Gage
Sat, 10pm
Jade Leaf Stage
Vocalist Jackie Gage got her start as a jazz singer in San Jose before relocating to New York to pursue her dream. While she’s remained true to her jazz roots, she has expanded her repertoire, showing her ability to apply her talents to electronica and hip-hop. Gage’s debut album, 2016’s Siren Songs is a collection of original songs and new interpretations of standards. And it’s a concept album, one centered around the legend of the siren who lures sailors to their rocky demise. Siren Songs displays Gage’s command of soul, rhythm and blues, and—most notably—the torchy jazz with which she began her career. (BK)

Peanut Butter Wolf
Sat, 10:30pm
Blues/Big Easy Stage, San Jose
This won’t be Peanut Butter Wolf’s first show in San Jose. Not even close. The beatmaker and Stones Throw label head actually got his start here. In fact, one of his first gigs was spinning for KSJS, San Jose State’s college radio station. Decades later a lot has changed, but the music hasn’t. Though he hasn’t been producing as much lately, Wolf—a.k.a. Chris Manak—is still an expert selector with a penchant for spinning up great mixes full of off-kilter beats and classic deep cuts. As one of the earliest fans and promoters of J. Dilla’s music, his set is certain to be jazzy. (YK)

Robert Glasper Experiment
Sat, 9pm
Blues/Big Easy Stage, San Jose
As the name of his current project suggests, Robert Glasper is not afraid to try something new. He and his band play a forward-thinking brand of jazz fusion with a particular focus on in the intersection between jazz, R&B and hip-hop. Glasper’s most recent album, 2016’s ArtScience, features a heavy dose of old-fashioned jazz instrumentation, guitars, keyboards, auto-tuned vocals and plenty of electronic flourishes that all sound oddly at home together. (YK)

Joomanji
Sat, 5:15pm
SJZ Boom Box Stage, San Jose
What started as three friends at UCSC messing around in their spare time between classes has bloomed into six-piece L.A. jazz and hip-hop outfit Joomanji. The group blend live instrumentation with chopped-up instrumental samples ripped from their vinyl collection. Many of the songs on their 2013 full-length, Manji, skew toward hip-hop, but no matter where you are on the tracklist you’re never far from some beautiful jazz instrumentation either. Rapper Austin Antoine and singer Lindsay Olsen will appear alongside the rest of the band for this year’s Summer Fest. (YK)

Jazz by 5
Sun, 2pm & 7pm
Main Stage & Hammer Theatre Stage
Jazz of the 1950s was often characterized by ad-hoc groupings of top-notch players; rather than establishing and maintaining a set group, players would assemble the best musicians for the project at hand. That’s the modern-day mindset of this collective, featuring some of the most respected names in jazz. Trumpeter Randy Brecker has played with everyone from Blood, Sweat & Tears to fusion pioneers Eleventh House, from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to Frank Zappa to his own Brecker Brothers band. Bassist Eddie Gomez is best known for his long tenure in the Bill Evans Trio. Drummer, former Miles Davis sideman and and NEA Jazz Masters award recipient Jimmy Cobb is a jazz legend. George Cables (piano) has released nearly three dozen albums as bandleader. The youngest of the lot, saxophonist Javon Jackson is the head of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford (Connecticut). (BK) 

Taimane
Sun, 2:30pm
Jade Leaf Stage
In recent years the ukulele has earned some long-due respect. In the hands of staggeringly accomplished players like Jake Shimabukuro, the diminutive stringed instrument has been shown to possess great expressiveness and musical versatility. Hawaiian artist Taimane Gardner is a bright star in the ukulele idiom. Unconstrained by genre classification, she is as likely to play songs typically associated with hard rock as she is to dazzle with flamenco-style musicianship, classical and jazz. And her original material—showcased on three studio albums including her latest, 2015’s thematically unified We Are Made of Stars—distills those varying styles into something the 28-year-old can truly call her own. (BK)

Maceo Parker
Sun, 4pm
Main Stage
Funk royalty, saxophonist Maceo Parker made his name as a key member of James Brown’s band. He was part of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective for a decade, and after years as a sideman, stepped out full-time as a bandleader with 1990’s Roots Revisited. Never completely forsaking his sideman status, Parker lent his talents to recordings by a wide array of artists in the ’80s onward, and supported Prince on a number of concert dates in the 2ist century. His most recent album is 2012’s Soul Classics, a live album that finds him backed by the WDR Big Band. And live onstage is where he truly shines: at 74, the indomitable Parker still maintains a packed schedule of concert dates. (BK)

Naughty Professor
Sun, 2pm
Blues/Big Easy Stage, San Jose
New Orleans soul and funk outfit Naughty Professor are having a busy 2017. Luckily for San Jose they still managed to find time to stop by and show off their rock solid groove. The band’s eclectic style has allowed them to collaborate with a diverse set of artists, including Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na and New Orleans singer songwriter Dexter Gilmore. Only a little over a year out from the release of their last album, 2016’s In the Flesh, the guys say they already have a ton of fresh material in the works. (YK)

Youth Performances
Various Times
Various Stages
A long-standing focus of the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest has been the showcasing of young talent; 2017’s schedule is no different. This year’s lineup includes two performances each by the San Jose Jazz High School All Stars, the Monterey Jazz Festival High School Honor Vocal Jazz Ensemble, the San Jose Jazz Summer Camp Combo, and Junior Dixieland Czech Republic. Also on the bill featuring up-and-coming talent are Mariachi Los Toritos, the Valley Christian Jazz Combo, Genius Wesley Quartet, Mikailo Kasha Group, Mr. Clifford’s Young Jazz All Stars, the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco, East Bay Jazz High School All-Stars, and the Mike Sanchez Septet. (BK)

—Yousif Kassab & Bill Kopp

 

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