When Iola Brubeck wrote the lyric “I'll take summer, that's my time of year,” for Louis Armstrong, she could have been talking about the Bay Area jazz scene. There’s never a lack of interesting gigs in the winter, fall and spring, but summer is the season for swing. Between concert series, festivals and venues that present music year-round, jazz fans can run themselves ragged chasing their favorite musicians during the summer season. Here are some recommendations of gigs not to miss, organized by venue.
For more than two decades, Yoshi’s was the Bay Area’s flagship jazz venue. In recent years, the Jack London Square club has pursued patrons with a much wider mix of music, particularly R&B, rock and blues. A close look at the calendar however can still uncover the occasional world class improviser, such as Berkeley-raised guitarist Will Bernard, who returns from New York to celebrate the release of his smart new album Out & About (Posi-tone) with saxophonist Matt Renzi, bassist John Shifflett, and powerhouse drummer Allison Miller on June 26. Mandolin master David Grisman performs July 2 with the latest talent-laden incarnation of his stylistically interbred "dawg" music ensemble featuring bassist Jim Kerwin, flutist Matt Eakle, percussionist George Marsh, guitarist George Cole, and fiddler Chad Manning. Cuban trumpet star Arturo Sandoval opens a three-night run July 28, and Bay Area percussion great John Santos draws on his sextet's deep book of original Afro-Caribbrean compositions Aug. 12, with bassist Saul Sierra, drummer David Flores, Melecio Magdaluyo on reeds and flute, Marco Diaz on piano and trumpet, and John Calloway on piano, percussion and flute (Calloway returns to Yoshi's Aug. 30 to celebrate the release of his third CD, Acere Ko).
It doesn’t take long to find the jazz acts on tap at San Jose’s Café Stritch, a spacious downtown club that’s firmly established as the South Bay’s leading jazz venue. Trombonist Mitch Butler brings in a top-shelf combo with tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley, drummer Darrell Green, bassist Marcus Shelby and vocalist Tiffany Austin on July 2. Drum maestro Akira Tana’s James Bond-inspired Secret Agent Band with Hammond B-3 ace Akiko Tsuruga performs on July 8 (Tsuruga’s trio plays on July 7). And San Jose-raised drummer Sylvia Cuenca plays on Aug 19-20 with an all-star quintet featuring New Yorkers such as trumpet legend Eddie Henderson, tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery, pianist Peter Zak and bassist Essiet Essiet.
Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society
No venue on the West Coast offers jazz in a more beautiful setting than the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society’s Douglas Beach House near Half Moon Bay, where you can hear the waves breaking during bass solos. The Sunday afternoon concerts feature jazz stars and players who should be better known. This summer’s highlights include vocalist Jane Monheit on June 26, Akira Tana and the Secret Agent Band on July 10, and the superb Canadian-American quartet Crossing Borders play on July 24.
Jazz at Filoli
Jazz at Filoli is a smartly curated concert series held in the graceful gardens of an historic Woodside mansion. The 26th season runs from June 19 through Sept. 11, and highlights include the great pianist Geoffrey Keezer’s trio with vocalist Kenny Washington (July 24) and tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz’s quintet with trumpet star Terell Stafford (Aug. 21).
Stanford Jazz Festival
A cultural treasure that tends to fly under the radar, the Stanford Jazz Festival often features the world class improvisers are on faculty at the Stanford Jazz Workshop (which produces the festival). Running from June 17 through Aug. 6, the concert series is known for bringing together musicians in untested combinations.
Whittling down the roster to a handful of recommendations is tough, but Cuban alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry is one of the major voices on his instrument, and he performs July 17 with his brother, bassist Yunior Terry, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, pianist Manuel Valera, and SFJAZZ Collective drummer Obed Calvaire. Oakland-reared trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire performs with Calvaire, Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan, and the extraordinary bassist Linda Oh on Aug. 2. And while word is circulating that Bobby McFerrin has canceled his 2016 engagements, his Aug. 6 gig closing the festival is still on. Conceived as an impromptu improvisational encounter, the Bing Concert Hall event pairs the vocal wizard with Oh and Akinmusire, pianist Taylor Eigsti, guitarist Julian Lage, and Colombian-born percussionist Tupac Mantilla.
San Francisco Jazz Festival
If Stanford Jazz is hidden in plain sight, the San Francisco Jazz Festival is easy to lose track of amidst the usual flood of SFJAZZ programming. Since moving into the Jazz Center in 2013, the organization has used the festival to offer a broader array of acts, particularly international artists. The highlights of the festival include the vivacious French/Dominican vocalist Cyrille Aimée on June 10-11, drummer and composer John Hollenbeck’s avant-chamber ensemble Claudia Quintet on June 18-19, and Bay Area piano great Larry Vuckovich celebrating the music of Berkeley composer Vince Guaraldi on June 19. Later in the summer, two of the Bay Area’s finest vocalists, Clairdee and Jamie Davis, perform Porgy and Bess with a jazz orchestra led by Aaron Lington on July 14. And a four-day series celebrates Cuban piano genius with Gonzalo Rubalcaba on Aug. 11, Fabian Almazán and Aruán Ortiz on Aug. 12, Alfredo Rodriguez and Ivan “Melon” Lewis on Aug. 13, and Harold Nussa-Lopez and Aldo López-Gavilán on Aug. 14, with conga star Pedrito Martinez appearing as a special guest at each concert.
San Jose Jazz's Summer Fest 2016
For the full festival effect, where you get to stumble onto unfamiliar artists and take in half a dozen acts or more over the course of a day, San Jose Jazz's Summer Fest is hard to beat. Running Aug. 12-14 in and around Plaza de César Chavez in downtown San Jose, Summer Fest features vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and the Aaron Diehl Trio, incandescent altoist Miguel Zenón’s quartet, pianist Alfredo Rodríguez’s trio with special guest vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy, tough tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, and soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett and her stellar all-women Cuban combo Maqueque, just for starters. Galactic, the Funky Meters, and Red Baraat will also be on hand to meet all your funk needs.
Monterey Jazz Festival
While Summer Fest turns an urban setting into a jazz oasis, the Monterey Jazz Festival turns a sylvan oasis into a three-day jazz party. Running from Sept. 16-18, the nation’s oldest uninterrupted jazz festival presents an impressive cross section of the US jazz scene, including last year’s breakout artist saxophonist Kamasi Washington, the Branford Marsalis Quartet with special guest vocalist Kurt Elling, and the brilliant but undersung pianist Stanley Cowell’s trio.
Saxophonist Wayne Shorter, one of the most influential composers in jazz history, is this year’s Monterey commission artist, and he premieres his new work “The Unfolding” with his long-running quartet and a wind ensemble conducted by Nicole Paiement. As the festival’s showcase artist, Joshua Redman will be performing in several settings, including with the supergroup Still Dreamin’ (featuring cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Brian Blade), with The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, and Redman's own quartet. It should also be noted that drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is the festival’s artist-in-residence.
Amidst all this splendor, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a shout out to venues and nightspots that serve as vital jazz outposts year round, like Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Berkeley’s California Jazz Conservatory, Oakland’s Piedmont Piano, Saratoga's Cafe Pink House, San Carlos's Savanna Jazz, Sausalito's Osterio Divino, and San Francisco’s Bird & Beckett, Red Poppy Art House, and Club Deluxe. Go ahead, get your swing on.