Ahmad Jamal opens the SFJAZZ 36th Annual Jazz Festival

Legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal – © Jean Marc Lubrano – courtesy SFJAZZ

If it’s June at SFJAZZ, it’s Festival time – and this year no less a celebrity than Ahmad Jamal will be on stage at Davies Symphony Hall to launch the celebrations. NEA Jazz Master, Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend and hugely inspirational figure in the world of jazz, Jamal has made an indelible impression on many jazz musicians – Miles Davis is quoted as saying: “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal” – and at 87, Jamal hasn’t lost his touch.

Still performing – on “special occasions”, he says – he’s also still recording. His latest release, Marseille, has been described on stereofile.com as “ ….. one of the most inspired and well-recorded studio recordings of his entire illustrious career. …..  Absolutely sublime.” He’s also still composing, and exploring new avenues of harmony, sound and approaches to his music.

Among Jamal’s impressive awards is an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the New England Conservatory, conferred on him in 2015 with a citation which included the words: “Renowned for his exquisite touch, profound grace, and mercurial improvisational choices. For seven decades he’s been sharing his inimitable and unique voice with jazz lovers the world over.”

Ahmad Jamal opens the Jazz Festival with drummer Herlin Riley, bassist James Cammack and percussionist Manolo Badrena, on Wednesday, June 6th.

This is a festival vibrant with fabulous music and great performances, details of which can all be found on the SFJAZZ website. Here’s a preview of  just some of the highlights.

The Hot Club of San Francisco – led by Paul Mehling – and the San Francisco String Trio – featuring jazz guitarist Mimi Fox, GRAMMY-winning violinist Mads Tolling and bassist Jeff Denson – present a double bill entitled Music of the Beatles.

In the Great American Songbook series, Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers with Bobby Black, pay tribute to country music singer and exponent of the Nashville sound, Patsy Cline.

There’s also a tribute to the man whom the New York Times describes as “One of the greatest virtuosos in jazz” – pianist Oscar Peterson. Peterson’s legacy is celebrated by what’s described as an “historic gathering of jazz piano greats”, Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, Gerald Clayton, and Justin Kauflin, backed by a rhythm section led by drummer and former member of Peterson’s band, Jeff Hamilton.

Also part of the Great American Songbook performances is one dedicated to legendary swing-era clarinetist and big band leader Benny Goodman – by Gordon Goodwin’s GRAMMY-winning Big Phat Band, with stellar clarinetists Anat Cohen and Eddie Daniels.

Making two appearances is that legend of Brazilian music and the bossa nova sound of the 60s, Sergio Mendes, described by Billboard as “The man who put go-go boots on Brazilian music and brought it to the world”.

Husband and wife team Tuck and Patti are described by the L A Times as “…. quite simply, one of the most remarkable pairings in pop and jazz history – as musically intuitive as Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Henderson, as rhythmically intertwined as Astaire and Rogers”. They bring their distinctive brand of jazz, folk and R&B to the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ.

GRAMMY-winning drummer and composer Brian Blade and his Fellowship Band perform music from Blade’s new release Body and Shadow (Blue Note) as well as numbers from his rich repertoire. According to Downbeat, Blade is “…. widely acknowledged as one of the top drummers in jazz”, also describing the Fellowship as “….. a profoundly important band”.

Bamako-born husband and wife team Amadou & Mariam, who met at Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind, are described by the New York Times as “Among the world’s most renowned African musical acts”. They have appeared on the same bill as artists like Coldplay, U2, Alicia Keys and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, and bring to the Festival their GRAMMY-nominated blend of Malian pop and Hendrix-inspired blues-rock, with what Spin describes as “spine-tingling harmonies that make the music soar”.

In the Meeting of Masters, SFJAZZ presents Zakir Hussain, Dave Holland and Chris Potter, described as “three of the most influential musicians of the last five decades”, who appeared together at the JAZZ Center during Hussain’s Crosscurrents project in Season 5. The New York Times describes Hussain as “a living genius”, Holland is “a master bassist and bandleader” according to the Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune refers to Potter as “one of the most dynamic young players in jazz”.

The complete Festival line-up, together with information on tickets, is on the SFJAZZ website – as well as information on the June 5th Kickoff Celebration – the free Hayes Valley Block Party with Beso Negro, Howard Wiley & Extra Nappy.


Information sourced from SFJAZZ program notes

Artists’ websites (see sfjazz.org)


ArtsPreview home page

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