It’s easy to be dazzled by the big-name acts at San Jose Jazz’s Summer Fest, an annual event that transforms the environs around the downtown Plaza de Cesar Chavez into a three-day street party. Running Aug. 11–13, the festival features Maceo Parker, Robert Glasper Experiment, Chris Botti, Angélique Kidjo, and a quintet of post-bop patriarchs including Miles Davis drum legend Jimmy Cobb, Bill Evans Trio bass virtuoso Eddie Gomez, piano master George Cables, and powerhouse trumpeter Randy Brecker..
Look past the big names, though, and you'll find locally sourced treasures like San Jose-reared pianist/composer Art Hirahara, a melodically inventive improviser who on Friday plays his first Bay Area set as a leader since moving to New York City in the fall of 2002. Part of a Posi-Tone Records series at Café Stritch, Hirahara plays with a trio featuring Berkeley High alum Noah Garabedian on bass and rising Richmond-raised drummer Malachi Whitson.
It’s the same format that Hirahara employed on his past two albums, though his recent release Central Line adds Santa Cruz-raised tenor sax star Donny McCaslin into the mix. Hirahara connected with McCaslin “before Bowie released Blackstar [with McCaslin's collaboration], before Donny blew up into this big star,” Hirahara says. “I’d loved his playing for years but we only had a chance to play together once before Central Line. We had a gig at this tiny Thai restaurant in the East Village, and his playing was so strong. I was psyched he was into recording together when I called him.”
Hirahara knows all about the importance of making a powerful first impression. As an electronic and computer music major at Oberlin, he convinced a skeptical jazz and composition professor, Cleveland keyboard great Neal Creque, to take him on as a student by bringing in an impressive original tune. His interest in composition brought him to the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where bass giant Charlie Haden became a mentor.