A cavalcade of stars at the SFJAZZ Festival

The SFJAZZ Festival opens tomorrow! A highlight of the San Francisco entertainment calendar, the Festival showcases 41 performances, over 13 days, in the city’s Hayes Valley district.

Following the traditional free, open-air Block Party this evening, the Festival gets underway in earnest on Wednesday in the Miner Auditorium, with vocalist Jazzmeia Horn whose 2017 debut album, A Social Call, was nominated for a 2018 GRAMMY Award and voted best jazz vocal debut in the 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.

The Festival line-up is as impressive as ever, continuing with a double bill featuring pianist and composer Fabian Almazon – voted #1 Rising Piano Star on the Downbeat Magazine Critics 2014 Poll, and granted the Chamber Music America 2014 NEW Jazz Works commission – and bassist Linda May Han Oh – a recent recipient of the Jerome Foundation Fellowship, and a member of Pat Metheny’s most recent quartet project. Almazon appears with his seven-member group Rhizome – of which the star bassist is a member – and Linda MayHan Oh with her quartet, in which Almazon is the pianist.

The Matson 2 -Identical twins Jared and Jonathan – play numbers from their 2018 release, Play A Love Supreme – their re-interpretation of the 1964 John Coltrane masterwork. They’re joined by jazz guitarist Calvin Keys who’s enjoyed partnerships with luminaries such as Ray Charles, Ahmad Jamal, John Handy, Bobby Hutcherson and Pharoah Sanders.

Cuban vocalist Bobi Céspedes – she of the deep, rich and distinctive voice – is joined by John Santos – seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist, US Artists Fontanals Fellow, and 2013-2014 SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director – considered to be one of the foremost exponents of Afro-Latin music in the world today. Celebrating a 25-year collaboration with Santos, Céspedes presents a world premiere performance of a selection of brand new songs.

From Cuba comes Orquesta Akokán, a 16-piece ensemble led by vocalist José ‘Pepito’ Gómes, featuring “…. some of the island’s greatest instrumentalists” (The New York Times). Orquesta Akokán made its US debut last year, already has an appearance at Lincoln Center under its collective belt, and will continue to tour the US for the remainder of this year.

The music of Antônio Carlos Jobim will have the JAZZ Center swaying once more as Claudia Villela – the “Brazilian-born genius with a blistering voice” (JazzTimes) – returns to SFJAZZ, to present an evening of some of Jobim’s finest songs. She’s accompanied by special guest Chico Pinheiro – guitarist, pianist and arranger – and regarded as a leading exponent of modern jazz in Brazil.

The Cookers – a seven-member ensemble of jazz giants – is described by the Detroit Metro Times as “ …. the greatest jazz super-band working”. Founded by trumpeter David Weiss, this septet comprises tenor saxophonists Billy Harper and Donald Harrison, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart, and each of them has an association with at least one among some of the greatest names in jazz – names such as Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Sanders, Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis and Stan Getz.

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – originally founded by Caterina ‘Rina’ Durante in the mid-1970s – has been introducing the music of Southern Italy to audiences ever since. Originating in Puglia’s Salento region, the ensemble – now led by Durante’s son, Daniele – has successfully combined the ancient folk music of the region (pizzica tarantata) with a contemporary style, most recently taking the title of Best Group at the 2018 Songlines Music Awards in London. Described by The New Yorker as a band that “has few peers in contemporary world music”, the group has frequently collaborated with Ludovico Einaudi, most recently on his highly-acclaimed 2015 Taranta Project.

Referred to as the “Godfather of Neo Soul”, vibraphonist, composer and band-leader, Roy Ayers – among the most respected artists in contemporary R&B, hip-hop and soul today – returns to SFJAZZ. Still in great demand, he’ll be a popular attraction at the Festival, with the feel-good, funky sound with which he’s been associated for over four decades.

Zakir Hussain – winner of the 2017 SFJAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award and former SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director – presents a an evening of solo tabla, raga, and the rarely heard music of Natya Sangeet – which translates literally as ‘drama music’ and is a unique kind of musical theatre that combines Natya-drama and Sangeet-music. This musical theatre originated in the Maharashtra state of India, and developed over the centuries under the guidance of the singers, poets and actors for which this region is known. For this unique presentation, Zakir Hussain will be joined by violinist Kala Ramnath – described by Songline magazine as one of the 50 world’s best instrumentalists – and special guest vocalist Mahesh Kale – winner of the Best Playback Singer award at the 63rd National Film Awards in India.

Legendary soul singer and songwriter William Bell pays tribute to the soul music of Memphis and the Stax Records sound in an evening of some of his most memorable songs. His early hit for the label You Don’t Miss Your Water (Until Your Well Runs Dry) is now considered one of the finest early examples of soul music, as well as being one of the most covered songs in blues/rock music history. Apart from releasing an amazing succession of soul hits, Bell has also been recognized with honors such as the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s R&B Pioneer Award, the W C Handy Heritage Award from the Memphis Music Foundation, and the BMI Songwriter’s Award. A member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Bell features prominently in the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and in 2017 received the Epitome of Soul Award, which was presented to him by Stevie Wonder, the 2016 honoree.

The 2019 SFJAZZ Festival runs from June 11 to 23. For all details and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Information sourced from SFJAZZ program notes

Artists’ websites

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