With its magnificent building and cornucopia of programming, SFJAZZ demands the lion’s share of attention when it comes to Bay Area jazz. But down in the South Bay, a region where an overweaning work ethic seems to leave little time for the arts, the scrappy nonprofit San Jose Jazz has long toiled to build a healthy scene.
The organization’s flagship summer jazz festival, which takes place in August, marked its 25th anniversary last August. The much newer Winter Fest has turned into an opportunity to reprise the summer’s most exciting acts, while reaching out to new audiences with a jazz-and-beyond sensibility -- including an opening-night concert with electronic artist Taylor McFerrin. (The late cancellation of A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad on Mar. 5 put a dent in the strategy.)
Most of the festival takes place Mar. 5-8 downtown around South First Street. Here are seven Winter Fest gigs well worth checking out.
Mads Tolling Quartet with Tierney Sutton
Mar. 5, Café Stritch, 7:30pm–9pm
In a felicitous pairing of fire and ice, turbo-charged East Bay violinist Mads Tolling joins forces with the cool-toned Los Angeles vocalist Tierney Sutton, a Grammy-nominated singer with a supple sense of swing and a less-is-more aesthetic. Tolling, on the other hand, is perfectly comfortable with more. Conservatory trained as a young'un, the Danish violinist earned a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music, after which jazz violin star Jean-Luc Ponty’s recommendation led to several years of touring and recording with bass master and film composer Stanley Clarke. Tolling landed in the Bay Area when Turtle Island Quartet recruited him, and he contributed to two consecutive Grammy-winning albums, 2005’s 4+Four and 2007’s A Love Supreme - The Legacy of John Coltrane (both on Telarc). He’s been focusing on leading his own bands in recent years, including this dynamic quartet with pianist Colin Hogan, bassist Sam Bevan, and drummer Eric Garland.
Les Yeux Noirs
Mar. 6, Café Stritch, 8pm–10pm
Led by a pair of speed-demon fiddlers, French-Jewish brothers Olivier and Eric Slabiak, the Paris band Les Yeux Noirs has found common ground between the party music of the Roma and Eastern European Jewry. Combining breakneck instrumental passages with lusty vocals in Yiddish, Russian and Roma, the sextet has honed an expansive repertoire of love songs, laments, lullabies and Balkan blues. Inhabiting the same countries -- and often facing similar prejudice -- Romanis and Jews often traded musical ideas, common ground that has proven extremely fertile for Les Yeux Noirs. Founded in 1992, the band takes its name (which translates as "The Dark Eyes") from a Russian tune immortalized by gypsy-jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt. Steeped in traditional forms, the sextet is powered by a muscular rhythm section with drum set, electric bass and guitar. Serbian accordionist Dario Ivkovic, who also tours with the Bucovina Club Orkesta, ensures that those dark eyes keep blazing. The band also performs at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz on Thursday, Mar. 5.
Mar. 6, San Jose Stage Company, 9pm–10:30pm
Kris Bowers, age 25, delivered one of the most memorable sets at San Jose Jazz’s Summer Fest last August, playing a solo Yamaha keyboard recital that flowed from luxuriant balladry to stuttering hip-hop. The Juilliard graduate returns for a concert co-presented by Universal Grammar with his working band powered by protean drummer/producer Jamire Williams, whose recording credits range from Jason Moran and Robert Glasper to Corrine Bailey Rae and DJ Logic. A Los Angeles native, Bowers gained widespread attention after his 2011 triumph at the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, and enhanced his reputation touring with Blue Note recording artist José James. At the same time, he contributed to 2011's Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration Watch the Throne. Since last year’s release of his impressive debut album Heroes and Misfits (Concord Jazz), he’s been concentrating on writing for his stylistically encompassing band.
Edgardo Cambon y LaTiDo
Mar. 7, Lobby Lounge at the Fairmont, 9pm-Midnight
Compact but mighty, Edgardo Cambon y LaTiDo is a highly flexible Bay Area sextet led by the veteran Uruguayan-born percussionist/vocalist Cambon. Trafficking in an array of Latin dance styles, from son and mambo to salsa and timba, the group packs a wallop with propulsive vocal harmonies and surprisingly thick arrangements abetted by the multi-instrumental chops of several players. Featuring Camilo Landau on tres and electric guitar, Ayla Davila on bass, Charlie Gurke and saxophone and hand percussion, Julio Areas on timbales, and Marco Diaz on piano and trumpet, LaTiDo can transform just about any gathering into a fiesta.
Marc Cary Focus Trio
Mar. 7, Café Stritch, 8:30pm–10pm
New York pianist/keyboardist Marc Cary has never lived in the Bay Area, but over the past dozen or so years it’s often felt like he was part of the local scene. He launched his long-running Focus Trio around 2002 after meeting Berkeley bassist David Ewell and Bay Area percussionist Sameer Gupta, and together they've developed a sound encompassing North Indian classical rhythmic cycles, post-bop harmonies and hip-hop. The latest Focus edition features Gupta, now based in Brooklyn, bassist Rashaan Carter, and a deliriously energetic, go-go–inflected sound captured on the just-released Rhodes Ahead, Vol. 2 (Motéma). As a young musician, Cary soaked up musical wisdom in the bands of jazz legends such as Betty Carter, Arthur Taylor, and Jackie McLean, and he’s been putting it to savvy use ever since. Cary also plays Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Mar. 5.
Kendrick Scott Oracle
Mar. 8, Café Stritch, 5pm–6:30pm
A product of Houston’s vaunted High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (Beyoncé is counted among its alumni), 34-year-old drummer/composer Kendrick Scott made his name in trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s band. Sought out by some of the most inventive players on the New York scene (like vocalist Gretchen Parlato and saxophonist Myron Walden), he’s turned into a prodigious bandleader in his own right. The quintet he’s touring with bristles with New York talent, including saxophonist Walter Smith III, guitarist Mike Moreno, and bassist Joe Sanders. Peninsula-raised piano star Taylor Eisgti was originally part of the package until Chris Botti called; Scott found an estimable replacement in Aaron Goldberg, a tremendously resourceful player best known in these parts for the years he spent touring and recording with Joshua Redman. The Kendrick Scott Oracle also performs at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa on Mar. 9 and at Yoshi’s on Mar. 10.
Denise Perrier Trio with Houston Person
Mar. 8, Café Stritch, 7pm–8:30pm
A jazz singer of the old school, East Bay-raised Denise Perrier is a suave and sophisticated song stylist who can deliver blues with earthy authority and ballads with clear-eyed emotional conviction. Championed by Louis Armstrong in the early 1960s, she spent much of her career performing overseas, but she’s a Bay Area treasure who can often be found performing with Swing Fever and the Junius Courtney Big Band. She’s backed by a trio led by irrepressibly swinging Tammy Hall, here with special guest Houston Person, a tenor saxophonist of soulful authority who has long specialized in collaborating with vocalists.