A 10th Anniversary Weekend for the SFJAZZ Center

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Six men, playing piano, horns, bass and drums, perform on a dimly lit stage.
(L–R) Kenny Barron, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, Gerald Cannon, Joe Lovano and Jeff 'Tain' Watts celebrate the music of McCoy Tyner as part of SFJAZZ's 10th anniversary weekend on Jan. 12, 2023. (Rick Swig/SFJAZZ)

“I went to the school of McCoy Tyner. I graduated from his university,” said Gary Bartz, reflecting on the celebrated pianist onstage at the SFJAZZ center Thursday night. “I miss him, but I don’t miss him, because he’s still with me.”

Later, in a searching, quick-paced solo on the composition “Hope,” Bartz, who first joined Tyner's group in 1968, showed the strength of his diploma. Bartz also proved that, at 82, age hasn’t slowed his imagination.

“Imagination” is a good starting point for both the music of McCoy Tyner, celebrated onstage Thursday night, and the SFJAZZ Center, which marks its 10-year anniversary this weekend. Performers over the next three days include Stanley Clarke, Laurie Anderson, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Mary Stallings, Miguel Zenon, Terri Lyne Carrington and more.

During the two-hour performance from Bartz, Joe Lovano, Eddie Henderson, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Kenny Barron and Gerald Cannon, I couldn’t help but reflect on the imagination I’d seen on the same stage since covering its opening week in 2013. Jason Moran performing alongside live skateboarders on a halfpipe, Herbie Hancock continuing to explore new sounds, Shabaka Hutchings pushing jazz’s boundaries and a stunning tribute to Joni Mitchell, among others.

Onstage, extended solos by Lovano and Watts reached points of no return, with Henderson providing a counterpoint of gossamer subtleties. Barron had the unenviable task of filling the McCoy Tyner role, which he did adroitly save for the fact that, unlike Tyner, he was not born with seven left hands. It was a thrill to witness the polar opposite of Barron’s ballad side — his solo on “Walk Spirit Talk Spirit” Thursday night was a fiery, prodding excursion.


Before “Contemplation” and “Fly Like the Wind” closed the main set, Bartz reflected on the changing expectations of jazz at the end of the 1960s. “We didn’t follow the Blue Note rules,” he said of recording for the famed record label. “They didn’t know what to do with it.”

After last night, I can only say: Here’s to breaking the rules.

SFJAZZ’s 10th Anniversary Weekend continues through Jan. 15 at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. Details here.