The 18th annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, which kicks off Wednesday (Oct. 25), will offer its traditional mix of old and new with a focus, this year, on the southern half of the Western Hemisphere.
Musicians appearing from south of the border include Buena Vista Social Club alumnus Eliades Ochoa, salsa star Celia Cruz and Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves.
"Every year we look to see what's best available, and this year there were a lot of performers from lots of countries," said Randall Kline, the festival's director. "It's very eclectic lots of legends, lots of up-and-coming and lots of everything in between."
More Latin sounds will come from Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett and her Afro-Cuban Spirits of Havana band, featuring bata master Pancho Quinto. On the bill with guitarist Ochoa will the be the 60-year-old La Orquestra Aragón, Cuba's foremost charanga band. A salsa dance party will have Cruz headlining with Oscar D'León opening, and a night of Brazilian jazz will feature Toots Theileman with Castro-Neves, Kenny Werner and Brazilian singer Márcio Faraco.
"I'm very excited about the Celia Cruz and D'León show," Kline said. "It's one of our many once-in-a-lifetime shows."
East Meets West
But the world focus doesn't stop with the Western Hemisphere. Other world musicians flying in to "Baghdad by the Bay" include the English-African members of the Trevor Watts Moiré Music Group; Germany's Barbara Dennerlein; Remember Shakti, with Indian percussion master Zakir Hussain and guitarist John McLaughlin; and several U.S. expatriates, including Paris resident Rhoda Scott, Sweden resident Eric Bibb and Lee Konitz, who resides in Cologne, Germany.
Down Beat magazine award-winning keyboardist Dennerlein will be joined by Scott and Philadelphian Trudy Pitts for an all-female Hammond B-3 summit on Nov. 2.
"This is our fifth organ summit," Kline said. "Every year we work with another local organ maven and put together these summits. It didn't intentionally start out that way [as an all-female concert], but we wanted Barbara to come from Germany, and we wanted to get Rhoda and Trudy and decided to put them all together."
Other highlights of the festival include an opening-night gala with Abbey Lincoln, Jimmy Scott and David "Fathead" Newman; solo concerts with Etta James, Lou Rawls, Joe Lovano and Greg Osby; as well as performances by pianists McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor and more.
This year also marks the inauguration of the festival's first Beacon Award, to be given to a local musician who has played a "vital role in preserving the traditions and encouraging the growth of jazz" in the San Francisco Bay Area. Drummer and longtime jazz leader Eddie Marshall will be honored with the award.
Marshall has been a part of the San Francisco jazz scene for more than three decades, having been the house drummer at the now-departed landmark venue Keystone Korner. During his career Marshall also collaborated with artists including Stan Getz, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
"When I first started going to clubs here in the mid-'70s, Eddie was a fixture on the scene," Kline said. "I cut my jazz teeth listening to a lot of Eddie, and this is a way to recognize an artist who is a beacon to steal the name of the award for Bay Area jazz."
The award will be presented to Marshall during a special tribute concert held on Nov. 2 at San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium, where Marshall will be joined by his bandmates in concert, with special guests Bobby McFerrin, Bobby Hutcherson and Freddie Hubbard.
Debuting With Festival Commission
Pianist Jason Moran not only makes his San Francisco Jazz Festival debut this year, but he is also the recipient of this year's festival commission. The twentysomething Moran has proved himself to be a versatile performer and composer, having spent time as a sideman to singer Cassandra Wilson and saxophonist Greg Osby. His first solo effort, Soundtrack to Human Motion, was released in 1999 on Blue Note. It marks the first commission for the New York performer.
The piece he's written is a complex, six-minute work that builds on Moran's own voice recorded and repeating the phrase: "San Francisco Jazz Festival commission."
"[It's] a bunch of contrasting moods based on one idea," Moran told the San Francisco Examiner. "That's what all the great composers did: string together a variety of thoughts based on one simple idea. That's a challenge for me to do something like that."
Moran will premiere his commission at the Yerba Buena Center on Tuesday with his trio and one of his mentors, Andrew Hill. Previous winners of the commission include the late Don Cherry and Toshiko Akiyoshi.
The festival runs through Nov. 5 at various venues around San Francisco.