It’s all about the music

Jai Uttal is world music artist in residence at the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

THE LINEUP | Jason Olaine

It’s that time of year again, when San Francisco’s swingingest, bluesiest and funkiest street party comes alive. The 2012 Fillmore Jazz Festival is July 7 and 8.

This is the 28th year of the festival, which was created in 1984 to celebrate Fillmore’s jazz heritage at a time when much of the music had stopped. I had the honor of programming the music on the Sutter and California Street stages again this year and I can honestly say: If you had fun and were turned on by the eclectic and energetic music last year, then you’ll surely want to get to the Fillmore early this year. We have some amazing talent lined up. [Schedule of entertainment]

And if the diversity of music isn’t enough to get you up and out, the myriad food and arts vendors and the participating restaurants and merchants up and down the strip should be. The more than 200,000 people who attended last year can’t be wrong.

For the second year in a row we have both an artist-in-residence for the California Street stage (a jazz artist) and the Sutter Street stage (a world music artist), both of whom will be performing Saturday and Sunday.

Our jazz artist is a longtime Fillmore favorite and proud San Franciscan: the dynamic and virtuosic vocalist Kim Nalley, who’s an amazing talent and treasure. Find out for yourself as she closes the stage both days. But I suggest you arrive early if you want a seat; last year, the area was jam-packed. Kim will be dedicating part of her sets to another neighborhood icon, the great blues and jazz legend Etta James, who died in January.

Our world music artist is the immensely inspiring, Grammy-nominated vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jai Uttal. A longtime Bay Area resident and frequent world traveler, Jai’s career has spanned more than two decades with treks into multi-cultural world music, avant garde jazz, electronic rock and traditional Indian kirtan, or sacred chants. I had the pleasure of booking him at Yoshi’s since the early 1990s and he’s always delivered moving, memorable and uplifting musical experiences. I suggest you hear him and his Queen of Hearts Orchestra on Saturday as they close the Sutter Stage so you can tell your friends to catch him on Sunday. You’ll dance your way around the festival for the rest of the day, guaranteed.

Every artist on the roster this year will move you in one way or another, and it’s a shame not to be able to catch full sets of each group.

Cellist-trombonist-composer Dana Leong — "a hi-def Yo-Yo Ma"

Take, for instance, Dana Leong on the Sutter stage at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The uber-talented and genre-bending composer, cellist and trombonist fuses jazz, classical and pop to create music as poignant as it is rough and tumble. He’s been called a “hi-def Yo-Yo Ma,” thanks to his pioneering collage of musical styles and ambitious take-no-prisoners philosophy.

Another early Saturday gem, down the street at the California Street stage, is Radio Jazz, a group of young musicians grades 6 to 12 who have grown up playing symphonies, accompanying silent films, scoring sci-fi broadcasts and animation films and experimenting with electro-acoustic sounds as part of their music studies at Vacaville Christian Schools. For the festival, they’ll be undertaking what they call “Wide Jazz,” in which they visit a genre for a few minutes and then segue to something completely different. The music is continuous and tied together at the end. The result is a fascinating and spontaneous trip through many styles of jazz (world, swing, blues, avant-garde) — with a nod to the greats such as Toshiko Akiyoshi, Raymond Scott, Don Byron and Sun Ra — along with a heavy helping of original compositions.

More highlights include trumpeter Mark Rapp’s group called The Song Project, which is not strictly jazz but will be performing on the California stage as its artists embrace multiple genres, displaying virtuosity on their instruments, creating a signature sound, weaving rhythmic and textural elements of didgeridoo, guitar, trumpet and rhythm section, enhanced with raw, emotional vocals. Full disclosure: I produced a Disney Jazz record last year with such luminaries as Dave Brubeck, Esperanza Spalding, Dianne Reeves, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Regina Carter . . . and Mark Rapp. His version of “Circle of Life” was one of the album highlights, so I’m eager to hear his latest ensemble.

Next up on the California stage on Saturday around 2:55 will be the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. This big band, composed of some of the Bay Area’s finest musicians, is another returning festival favorite, with its high-energy swing sets.

Local favorite Kim Nalley is jazz artist in residence.

I’m also eager to catch some Bay Area rising stars on Sunday morning at the California Street stage, among them Berkeley’s Jazzschool sensation, the Michael Orenstein Group.

I’ve had some sort of relationship with most of the artists on this year’s program in one way or another over the years; however, Foxtails Brigade is not one of them. But they’re one of the bands I’m most eager to check out. I heard the lead vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and bandleader, Laura Weinbach, performing at my neighborhood farmer’s market earlier this year and was enchanted by her solo guitar and vocals. I’d like to think that if you heard her sing and play you’d want to book her, too. So, get to the California Street stage by 11:30 on Saturday morning and judge for yourself.

Cuban American vocalist Vanissa Santi is up on Sunday at 11:45 and, while not a household name yet, she is a talent to watch. The great Ruben Blades said as much: “We are going to be hearing a lot from this young lady.” Another great singer is SF’s own Sandy Cressman, slated to perform at 10 a.m. Sunday on the Sutter Street stage. Her Homenagem Brasileira Feminina features her crystalline voice and the graceful trombone of her daughter Natalie as they pay tribute to the great composers of Brasilian jazz, from Jobin and Edu Lobo to Dori Caymmi and Hermeto Pascoal.

With so much great music going on, we’ll all be busy and on the move. But maybe not as busy as New York City-based multi-saxophonist Norbert Stachel. He leads his Electric Forecast group with a cast of uber-all-stars including guitarist Ray Obiedo on Sunday on the California Stage — while also holding down duties with Jai Uttal on both Saturday and Sunday.

If you want to dance, there will be plenty of music to help you get your groove on, from The West African Hi Life Band to the Latin funk grooves of the Hip Spanic All-Stars to LoCura, as they mix flamenco with reggae and cumbia with ska.

Speaking of flamenco, be sure to catch Yaelisa Y Caminos Flamencos as they turn out the full flamenco dance party on the Sutter Street stage on Sunday afternoon.

Yaelisa Y Caminos Flamencos will perform at the 2012 Fillmore Jazz Festival.

And as always, the legendary Bobbie Webb has scheduled the best of Bay Area blues for the Eddy Street stage. On Saturday vocalist/harmonica wiz Carlos Zialcita kicks things off, then Dwight Carrier’s agile accordian and party time Zydeco flavor take over. Next Bobbie’s own incendiary group rocks the house and finally, the King Brothers, who come from blues royalty — they’re second cousins of Freddy and Albert King — promise to raise the roof, or at least the tent.

On Sunday, why not start the day at church with gospel group Consonance, followed by the funky soul of Jay’e and Friends from the Fillmore, then some southern Louisiana blues with electrifying guitarist Scary Larry and his large band the Monsters? Our neighborhood Church of St. John Coltrane will bring the jazz, and then to close the weekend is the dynamic blues and gospel vocalist Sista Monica. There’s always loads of fun and great vibes — right in front of Yoshi’s.

A PERSONAL NOTE: When I was asked to be the artistic director of the Fillmore Jazz Festival last year, I was more than happy to join the team. At the time I was already booking Yoshi’s San Francisco — in addition to the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island — and I felt a close bond to the neighborhood and its livelihood.

Now it’s July of 2012 and I’m preparing to move back east as director of programming and touring for Jazz at Lincoln Center. [“From Yoshi’s to Lincoln Center.”] As a lifelong jazz fan and ex-trumpeter, going to work for Wynton Marsalis and his organization is a dream come true and a great opportunity.

But saying goodbye to this neighborhood and especially to this great jazz festival was something I did not want to do. So it looks like I’ll remain involved. I love the Fillmore and I love the musicians and people that make up this place.

From Jazz Times: Jazz at Lincoln Center appoints Jason Olaine

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