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All That Jazz

Andrew Gilbert | July 2, 2018 | Lifestyle Story Culture National

The indelible association of jazz with blue skies, sparkling surf and warm weather traces back to the classic documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, which captured sun-kissed audiences grooving ecstatically at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. In the Eisenhower era, presenting jazz in a seaside redoubt of Gilded Age wealth created a striking frisson of class and racial contrasts. As Silicon Valley experiences its own Gilded Age, the summer jazz season doesn’t provide a counterpoint to the boom as much as a countermelody that embodies the fluid creativity and insistent inventiveness that fuels the region’s innovation.

While decidedly low-key and unpretentious, the Stanford Jazz Festival ranks among the best on the West Coast, running from June 22 to Aug. 4 in various campus venues. The festival kicked into high gear with the all-star quartet of Berkeley saxophone powerhouse Joshua Redman. Upcoming highlights include violinist and MacArthur Genius fellow Regina Carter, alto sax great Charles McPherson and Menlo Park-raised piano virtuoso Taylor Eigsti.

Where the Stanford festival offers an expansive run of concerts over the leisurely course of six weeks, San Jose Jazz Summer Fest delivers an adrenaline rush of a street party over a single weekend. With a dozen stages arrayed around the Plaza de Cesar Chavez, Summer Fest presents a diverse roster of acts representing R&B, salsa, funk, blues and zydeco, in addition to a deep pool of jazz talent. Among the highlights are San Jose drummer Jemal Ramirez’s group with vibraphone master Warren Wolf; San Jose-reared, New York drummer Sylvia Cuenca’s quartet with tenor saxophone/bassoon maestro Paul Hanson; the fiery young New York trumpeter Theo Croker; and rising Cuban drummer Yissy García’s Bandancha.

Many cities offer free summer concerts to foster a sense of community, and Los Gatos has been doing it right for decades. Focusing on vocalists, the Wednesday evening Jazz on the Plazz series runs from June 13 to Aug. 22 on Los Gatos Town Plaza, showcasing some of the music’s finest singers, like San Francisco star Paula West. In Woodside, the Sunday afternoon Jazz at Fioli is another excellent long-running program, with six shows between June 17 and Sept. 16. Costing considerably more than free—from $75 for an individual ticket to $3,500 for a VIP table—the concerts feature a smart range of acts, including Peninsula-raised saxophonist Henry Solomon’s quartet with drum great Roy McCurdy. And SFJAZZ presents a free weekly series Thursdays at Stanford Shopping Center from June 21 to Aug. 23, focusing on Bay Area stalwarts such as sensuous Brazilian jazz of Russian-born vocalist Masha Campagne. Summer has never sounded so good.

Originally published in the July issue of Silicon Valley

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