10 Jazz and Classical Performances to Catch in the Bay Area This Summer

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They say that jazz is best as a cool, late-night experience, and classical concerts are often a nighttime affair. But don’t let that notion get in the way of enjoying the season where both genres hang a little loose, and let their formal suit buttons out. Here’s a solid list of picks for the club, concert hall and outdoor setting this summer.

Video game composer Andy Brock conducts ‘Game On!’ (Courtesy Andy Brick)

Game On!

May 26 and 27
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts

Like trap music or TikTok, video game music is a generational divider: younger people who came of age playing Super Mario Bros. recognize it as high art, and a certain older generation dismisses it as commercial decoration. While not all video game scores rise to the brilliant level of, say, Final Fantasy VII, there’s enough craft in the canon at this point that symphonic concerts of video game music have become frequent — and popular. In Game On!, game composer Andy Brick conducts the San Jose Symphony in an evening of music from titles like World of Warcraft, Diablo, Assassin’s Creed, League of Legends, Until Dawn and more.

The Navaye Azadi Ensemble sings of the ‘women, life, freedom’ movement in Iran. (SFIAF)

Navaye Azadi Ensemble

June 11
Brava Theater, San Francisco

As inspiring as the Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran may be, it’s important to remember that the opposition of the country’s morality police is strong, deadly, and not waning. To keep the movement in the public eye, and to express the issues of women’s rights and democracy through song, the Navaya Azadi Ensemble sings contemporary texts in Farsi, accompanied by violin and piano. The concert is part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, itself a cornucopia of socially conscious performances over an 11-day span.

Guadalupe Paz and Alfredo Daza in the San Diego Opera world premiere of ‘El ultimo sueño de Frida y Diego.’ (Karli Cadel / San Diego Opera)

El último sueño de Frida y Diego

June 13–30
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco


In this summer’s most anticipated new work, the story of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s rollercoaster romance gets a creative treatment by Boonville-based composer Gabriela Lena Frank and librettist Nilo Cruz. Set three years after Kahlo’s death, and weeks before Rivera’s own, the opera imagines Rivera (Alfredo Daza) pining to see his wife Frida (Daniela Mack) one last time. Since it happens to be Día de los Muertos, his wish becomes an absorbing journey for both of them. With a relatively short run time of just over two hours, consider Frida y Diego a perfect option for introducing first-timers to the opera.

Terry Riley with the Kronos Quartet’s David Harrington at the SFJAZZ Center. (Evan Neff)

Kronos Festival

June 22–24
SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco

Put the classical canon in an air fryer, send it 50 years into the future, and play it at 1.5x speed, and you’d get something close to the atmospheres created by the Kronos Quartet. The Bay Area institution’s annual festival is always thrilling, with guest performers and daring works. This year’s lineup includes pieces by West African singer Angélique Kidjo, Pulitzer winner Henry Threadgill, Bay Area composer Gullermo Galindo, jazz-thrash polyglot Trey Spruance, and even some reliable standbys like Terry Riley (above) and Philip Glass. With Aizuri Quartet, Attacca Quartet and Friction Quartet joining Kronos, check your preconceptions at the door.

Isaiah Collier. (Tiffany Smith)

Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few

June 22–25
The Black Cat, San Francisco

If you’ve ever wanted to travel back in time to see John Coltrane recording his landmark album A Love Supreme, Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few have a deal for you. For the saxophonist’s 2021 album Cosmic Transitions, he brought his group to the same recording studio where A Love Supreme was made, and on John Coltrane’s birthday, no less. This quaint anecdote could have ended there — if the results weren’t so vital and stunning. Live, Collier is always on his game, and in the classic confines of this Tenderloin basement club, his sets are bound to be a transporting experience.

Willie Colón. (Artist photo)

Willie Colón

July 15
Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View

Willie Colón’s name is near-synonymous with the New York Salsa renaissance of the early 1970s. In a series of underworld-themed albums on the Fania label, the trombonist, vocalist and bandleader worked with Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades and many others. The Latin music legend headlines this package tour with Los Hermanos Rosario, Hector Acosta, Los Hermanos Flores and Fulanito. Pro tip: For a free concert of New York Latin music without the snarled traffic into and out of the parking lot, the Latin soul legend Joe Bataan plays with Mission District favorite La Doña at Yerba Buena Gardens on the same day, July 15.

Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra Arkestra performs on stage in the United Kingdom in 2012. (Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns via Getty Images)

Sun Ra Arkestra

July 20–23
SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco

The music and mystique of Sun Ra just keep growing, and while Ra himself left this Earth to travel the outer spaceways in 1993, his mission is, thankfully, kept alive by 99-year-old saxophonist and bandleader Marshall Allen. (Note: Allen, 99, is no longer performing on the road with the band, and will not appear at these shows.) Cunningly, the group’s residency is split in half: two nights of Ra’s more borderless, avant-garde music, and two nights of his singular take on big-band swing. Attendees are advised to be ready for a journey — no one who experiences the music of Sun Ra in a live setting leaves unchanged.

Tchaikovsky and… Drake?

Tchaikovsky x Drake

July 29
Davis Symphony Hall, San Francisco

Dude, I don’t know either. The classical establishment is always looking for ways to make classical music more enticing to younger people, and this seems to be its latest attempt: a touring production that blends the symphonies of Tchaikovsky with the half-melodic melodies and incel-adjacent bars of the famous Canadian rapper Drake. For a more local spin on this experiment, San Francisco rap icon Andre Nickatina hosts a “reimagining” of his music with a classical ensemble just one block away from Davies on June 24. Attention, NBA Youngboy and Yo-Yo Ma: your move!

Ahya Simone. (Artist photo)

Expansive: A Showcase of Transgender and Non-Binary Classical Artists

Aug. 3 and 4
Strand Theater, San Francisco

San Francisco’s first-of-its-kind Transgender District was founded in 2017, and in 2022, it partnered with Opera Parallèle to celebrate trans and nonbinary classical musicians. The series returns in a year that’s seen increased attacks on trans rights, both in distant state legislatures and on San Francisco’s own streets. Performing this year are singer Katherine Goforth, harpist Ahya Simone (above) and mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz. With host Afrika America, expect poignancy, humor and artistry of high order.

Patrice Rushen. (San Jose Jazz)

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

Aug. 11-13
Various venues, downtown San Jose

It’s remarkably common for small festivals to lose their steam and peter out after a couple years. Rare is the festival, like San Jose Summerfest, that just gets bigger and better each year. This year’s fun comes in the form of headliners like bassist extraordinaire Marcus Miller, experimentalists The Bad Plus, Zambian rock band W.I.T.C.H., soulful vocalist Gregory Porter and jazz phenomenon Veronica Swift. Spread out over central San Jose, the festival offers the sublime opportunity to listen to Patrice Rushen (above) on a Sunday afternoon, laying on a blanket in Plaza de César Chávez. Does summertime get much better?

Correction: This story previously stated that San Jose Jazz Summer Fest takes place Aug. 3 and 4. The correct dates are Aug. 11-13. 


This story has also been updated to reflect that Marshall Allen is not performing with the Sun Ra Arkestra in Sam Francisco.