Sunday, July 30, 2006

North Beach Jazz Fest: Where is the Jazz?

It was hard to find some Jazz at the North Beach Jazz festival this weekend. I realize that in this Bonaroo generation, there is power in combining musical styles and showcasing them together, without boundaries. But starting on Thursday Night on Grant Street and riding throughout the weekend, there was a lack of the core style and wayyyyy too much Jam Band bah-foo. In general (with the odd exception in the crevices): no hard bop, no dixiland, no big band swing, no free-form cutting edge…nothing (and if there was, it was sure hard to find, and definitely not in the headlining spots, and most definitely not for free).

The festival boasted some mighty names: Will Bernard (who I worked with at the WB), New Monsoon, the wonderful Rondo Brothers, Lee Cleary and the Stooges Brass Band from New Orleans. But none of these artists were playing a signature style of Jazz—the Stooges came the closest (ripping off last year’s headliner The Rebirth Brass Band), until they broke into their hip-hop crowd pandering shout-outs while covering Jackson 5 and the Commodores. YUCK!!!!!

In Washington Square Park, the DJs in between the sets more often played rap and dance music. There was no Jazz to be found. In a town that boasts the likes of Ben Goldberg, the Broun Fellinis, Joshua Redman, Weasel Walter and Graham Connah, there is no reason not to infuse some Jazz into a Jazz event. Hell, bring back Charlie Hunter!!

The Fillmore Street Jazz Fest a few months back, while not as prestigious, embraced the music style advertised on the Marquee. Example…main stage: the Junior Jazzers, the band from the Berkeley’s Young Musician’s Program, were amazing, covering Monk and Ellington in a youthful, yet stylistically grounded way.

Luckily, San Francisco being the musical city that it is screams of Jazz most weekends, even though the performers are often unknown. There is the duo-sometimes-trio-sometimes-quartet that play underneath the bridge across from the Conservatory Of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. They stun passers by with their grooves and solos (the guitarist and saxist are killer)—I need find out their names. The Park also boasts at times a lonely but alive sax player underneath the freeway that connects the Richmond and the Sunset. There is the drum circle on hippie hill that has regularly attracted horn players and other instrumentalists, transforming the pack into an extension of the Sun Ra Arkestra’s alien bliss. And never forget the Church Of John Coltrane in it’s new residence on Fillmore. Come noon on Sundays, it is a treat.

Either change the name of the North Beach Jazz Festival to the North Beach World Music Pillow Fest or start programming the style of music that is supposed to be featured in the first place (which would then allow the showcasing of other styles). It makes sense and, believe it or not, the youthful audience that is so desired will still come and drink in the sun.


Meanwhile, Stern Grove was alive with Opera Music this afternoon featuring prize soloists Stephanie Blythe and Lawrence Brownlee. The sun sparkled on the orchestra which sounded absolutely amazing through the still new two year old sound-system. Highlights included a piece from Verdi’s Un Ballo In Maschera and a rarely heard omitted piece from the original Barber Of Seville by Rossini. It has been an amazing season at the grove thus far.


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