By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — SFJAZZ celebrated the return of one of the nation’s longest-running jazz festivals this week as the 35th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival kicked off Tuesday night. The eclectic, 13-day party hosts a wide variety of musicians for it’s first weekend.
Founded in 1983 as a two-day event that was originally called the Jazz in the City Festival, the San Francisco Jazz Festival has established itself as a globally renowned institution presenting some of the world’s greatest jazz artists including such legends as pianist McCoy Tyner, singer Tony Bennett, and saxophone greats like Sonny Rollins and the late Ornette Coleman.
Early highlights of the festival have included the free outdoor street party Tuesday with performances by the John Brothers Piano Company and North Beach Brass Band, one-man band phenom and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier and a 75th birthday concert by drumming legend Jack DeJohnette and his new super group Hudson featuring guitarist John Scofield, bass player Larry Grenadier and keyboardist John Medeski.
This weekend, SFJAZZ will host concerts at multiple venues at the Center on Franklin Street (in the main Miner Auditorium and the more intimate Joe Henderson Lab) as well as nearby Herbst Theatre and Davies Symphony Hall. On Friday night and Saturday afternoon, soulful jazz vocalist Lizz Wright brings her current band to the Miner Auditorium stage, singing songs from her most recent album and first for Bay Area jazz imprint the Concord Music Group Freedom & Surrender that includes original songs alongside covers of tunes by Nick Drake and the Bee Gees. Also on Friday, noted pianist Fred Hersch will offer a program duets at Herbst, sharing the stage with young local guitar protege Julian Lage and rising vocalist Kate McGarry.
On Saturday, the festival gets a solid dose of soul with a performance by SF R&B maestro Martin Luther (famed for his collaborations with the Roots and Cody Chestnutt) who will perform a tribute to Otis Redding with his Black Sugar Ensemble in the Joe Henderson Lab while celebrated Houston group the Suffers delivers it’s kinetic take on vintage funk and soul grooves fronted by charismatic lead singer Kam Franklin in Miner Auditorium. The Herbst Theatre hosts some more traditional big-band sounds that night with an appearance by Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
On Sunday, the festival offers up some of the biggest names scheduled for this year’s edition. Longtime SFJAZZ favorite and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro will perform at Davies Symphony Hall, demonstrating why he has been referred to as the Jimi Hendrix of his instrument. He will be joined by his touring bassist Nolan Verner, who played on his adventurous 2016 album Nashville Sessions. At Miner Auditorium, trumpet player and pioneering Latin music figure Herb Alpert — who made his name leading his mariachi-style pop outfit the Tijuana Brass in the ’60s in addition to co-founding A&M Records — will play some of his hits along with jazz, ’60s pop and Brazilian standards with his wife, former lead singer with Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 Lani Hall for a sold-out show. Ahmad Jamal protege and gifted young piano player Shahin Novrasli will play with his fiery trio in the Joe Henderson Lab Sunday night.
The festival will continue through next weekend with daily concerts through next weekend. Upcoming highlights include shows by Snarky Puppy keyboardist Cory Henry and his band the Funk Apostles, rising trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire, bass master and jazz-fusion great Stanley Clarke and a potent double bill of young modern jazz stars featuring saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his group that backed the late great David Bowie on his final album Blackstar and drummer/Birdman soundtrack composer Antonio Sánchez and his forward-thinking ensemble Migration. For a complete list of details and ticket information, please visit the SFJAZZ website.