Jazzin’ It Up
Cool nights … hot jazz!
With a lineup that includes Pink Martini, Trombone Shorty and Bobby McFerrin, the 5th Annual Tucson Jazz Festival offers something for every music fan, including those who don’t think they like jazz.
For the festival’s Artistic Director Yvonne Ervin, the diverse groups who will be performing in the Old Pueblo Jan. 11-21 represent both some of her long-time favorites and newer discoveries. The lineup also demonstrates how seamlessly this 10-day celebration combines the programs offered by multiple arts organizations to create a wonderful experience for concertgoers.
One of the biggest shows of the festival is Asleep at the Wheel, coming to the Fox Tucson Theatre on Jan. 17. For those who think of this Austin-based group as more of a country act, consider the fact that three of the band’s albums are centered around the music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Wills gets the credit for being the pioneer of country swing, infusing jazz instrumentation (including a horn section) and the soulfulness of performers like Blues legend Bessie Smith, into his toe-tapping sound. Asked about the decision to book that band, Ervin notes, “The Tucson Desert Song Festival and the TSO are bringing in Kristin Chenoweth on that day, so I was scratching my head thinking, ‘What am I going to put up against her that won’t take away audiences from either side?’ I had a little party the last time I was visiting New York City. One of my friends who attended is a journalist and into Dixieland and straight-ahead jazz. He told me that he had seen Asleep at the Wheel at the Rochester Jazz Festival and thought they were awesome. I’m like, ‘Ah! What a great idea.’”
And another awesome concert — on Jan. 16 at the Fox — is the Magos Herrera Quartet, joining forces with Jane Bunnett and Maqueque. Herrera is a singer/songwriter from Mexico City, and Maqueque is a group of Cuban all-star female jazz musicians assembled by award-winning sax/ flute/piano player Bunnett. With a decidedly Latin-influence to the music, the concert is the perfect choice to kick off this year’s Tucson Desert Song Festival.
Ervin explains that she had been trying to bring Herrera to Tucson for years. Another top act that also has long been on her wish list will be here for the festival, too, Trombone Shorty, who UA Presents is bringing to Centennial Hall on Jan. 18. Shorty (whose real name is Troy Andrews), began playing the trombone at age four, attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and has performed with everyone from Lenny Kravitz to Hall & Oates.
Contemporary jazz icons Groover Quartet (made up of keyboard player Mike LeDonne, saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth) play a show with Special EFX that will include sax player Eric Marienthal and violinist Regina Carter on Jan. 12 at the Fox. Enthuses Ervin, “The Groover Quartet is a band that I used to see in New York all the time. They played at a club that was two blocks from me. One of my favorite tenor sax players is in the band. We’re hoping to get a little tenor battle between the two Erics at the end of that concert. You never know … it’s jazz. Anything can happen!”
A big change this year is that the free, all-day concert known as the Downtown Fiesta (taking place Jan. 21 at various stages) will have a headliner. “We got a grant from Arizona Commission on the Arts, and Rio Nuevo increased their support, so we were able to pay Poncho Sanchez to come in for that. That’s pretty big. That’s going to bring even more people downtown.”
Indeed it will. Sanchez, a Mexican American singer and musician, is a Grammy winner who has worked with such notables as Hugh Masekela, Art Pepper and Tower of Power. But there are many other not-to-be-missed concerts that are part of the festival, including the return of trumpeter Terrell Stafford to perform with pianist Joey Alexander and the Tucson Jazz Institute Ellington Band (Jan. 11 at the Fox). On Jan. 14, singer Kathleen Grace teams up with pianist Larry Goldings for an intimate show at Club Congress.
Fans of Pink Martini know that this genre-spanning group mixes world music, jazz, and pop together for an irresistible concoction, and pairing them with the TSO increases the fun factor tenfold. You can hear the results at the TCC Music Hall on Jan 19 and 20. And two well-known singers will show off their distinctive styles as part of the festival. Sheila Jordan (with bassist Cameron Brown) will play the Temple of Music and Art on Jan. 19, and Bobby McFerrin, joined by a select group of a cappella singers will electrify the Fox on Jan. 20.
One show with a very strong local connection is Tucson Swings Brightly: The Music of Nelson Riddle (Jan. 13 at the Fox). The enormously talented composer and arranger, who worked with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Tucson native Linda Ronstadt, will be paid tribute in a show featuring Ann Hampton Callaway, Katherine Byrnes, Joe Bourne and Jeff Haskell. Riddle, who passed away in 1985, developed a special connection with Tucson while collaborating with Ronstadt, and Riddle’s family established an endowed chair and library at the UA Fred Fox School of Music.
Ervin marvels at not only the contributions of Riddle to the jazz world (he is credited by many for reviving Frank Sinatra’s career in the 1960s), but also what a huge undertaking the concert utilizing his classic arrangements will be. “It’s quite a production,” she sums up. “We have a full orchestra and a full big band on the stage. I’m still not sure how we’re going to get the singers in. I was teasing Ann that we’re going to drop her in on a swing. That concert is going to be something else.” For more information visit www.tucsonjazzfestival.org.
“My dad was a journalist and a writer, and my mom was a singer, pianist and a voice teacher,” reflects Ann Hampton Callaway. “I really feel that I’m such an amalgam of both of their passions.”
Passion definitely describes how Callaway approaches her many projects, which over the years have included everything for writing music for previously unreleased Cole Porter lyrics, to writing and recording the theme for the TV show The Nanny, to collaborating with such industry icons as Barbra Streisand.
As a composer and singer who is very in-tune with arrangements, she is a perfect choice for headlining a show featuring Nelson Riddle’s work. She laughs about her response when Yvonne Ervin approached her to be part of it. “My reaction was, ‘What part of yes don’t you understand?’ First of all, I’m a huge fan. Every time I hear a great arrangement, I think, ‘Oh
Ann my gosh, who did that? It’s Nelson Riddle!’ Because he studied French composers such as Debussy and Ravel, and had a tremendously rich harmonic sense, along with a beautiful understanding of how to layer instruments, nobody else could do what he did. So many of my favorite records by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Linda Ronstadt and many others feature his arrangements.”
She can point to a number of works that illustrate her point. “One of my favorite arrangements of his was for ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.’ I think he did it overnight. Sinatra was told he should have three more songs for his record. So Nelson said to him, ‘What do you want to have happen in I’ve Got You Under My Skin? And Frank said, ‘Just put a crescendo in there.’ And the excitement in that recording — the sense of when you’re in love with somebody and you can’t wait to be close to them — is just unbelievable to me. Every time I hear it I get excited. I just wish I could have been there at the recording because it must have been such a thrill.”
Her latest album, Jazz Goes to the Movies, features a direct connection to Riddle. “One of the songs was inspired by Peggy Lee’s gorgeous recording of Nelson Riddle’s arrangement of ‘The Folks Who Live on the Hill,’” she reveals. “For Peggy, Sinatra was in the studio conducting the recording. It’s so wistful, and I think it expresses how she felt about the song. It made such an impact on me that my emotional reading of the song is completely based on imagining what Peggy was feeling when she was in the studio.”
As a singer, Callaway marvels at Riddle’s restraint. “Another skill he had, which even some of the best arrangers don’t have a clue how to do, is knowing when to have the orchestra loud, full and rich, and when to get out of the way of the singer so that they can tell the story. So often when I’ve been doing a big band show, the arrangements overpower me, and I have a really powerful voice.”
The concert will mark a reunion of sorts. Callaway will be performing with pianist/conductor Jeff Haskell, whom she has worked with before. “He’s a wonderful pianist, and I’m really excited to be reunited with him,” she says. Another thing that generates waves of enthusiasm for her is continuing to explore Tucson, which she and her wife Kari now call home. “It’s so beautiful here. I’m so happy living in Tucson,” she observes. “Every night I look at the sunset and think, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to write songs based on what I’m seeing.’ It’s so powerful. It’s funny how a place can give you new horizons musically.” For more information on Ann Hampton Callaway visit her website: www.annhamptoncallaway.com. TL