Fall Jazz

Go, Man, Go!

New standard: Jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock serves it up straight.

James Minchen

Who needs watered-down wine country jazz?

By Greg Cahill

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE between pop-jazz sax phenom Kenny G and an Uzi submachine gun? An Uzi only repeats itself 50 times. Ba-da-boom! OK, I like to veg out occasionally to the smooth sounds of wine country jazz that waft over the airwaves on those Sunday morning specialty radio shows. And I admit that I’ve diced my share of zucchini listening in the kitchen to the easy pop-jazz offerings of KJZY, the west county station that offers mostly an updated version of the Quiet Storm format pioneered 15 years ago by Berkeley radio station KBLX (the exception being ex-KJAZ deejay Jerry Dean’s Sunday night dinner jazz show).

But as a huge fan of traditional jazz with a particular lust for fiery bebop sax solos, I’m left cold by the lineup at the 20th annual Russian River Jazz Festival–which reads like a Who’s Who of Jazz Lite. In past years, the fest has featured some of the biggest names on the Latin and traditional jazz scenes: bebop saxophonist Joe Henderson, mambo king Tito Puente, young lion Wynton Marsalis, tenor great Stan Getz, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, jazz diva Betty Carter–not to mention such mentionables as Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie.

One would think that for the 20th anniversary, the fest would have a headliner deserving of the event’s status. Like Coltrane enthusiast Kenny Garrett, vocal sprite Cassandra Wilson, or New Orleans pianoman Marcus Roberts. And, hey, let’s just pretend that the adventurous hip-hop jazz and acid jazz movements never happened.

Instead, this year’s fare is, well, uninspired. Most of the performers have been milling around the “contemporary” jazz scene for years: R&B singer Randy Crawford (a festival press release says she’s in big demand by jazz legends like Cannonball Adderley, except that he’s been dead for years); fusion guitarist Lee Ritenour, who at least has made a couple of respectable forays into trad-jazz terrain; soprano saxophonist George Howard, probably best known for his lightweight soundtracks; the Yellowjackets, whose vapid sound defined the vapid fusion genre in the early ’80s; and Tower of Power, who are funky, to be sure, if you just want to groove to ’70s East Bay grease.

Only alto saxophonist John Handy, who did a short stint with jazz innovator Charlie Mingus’ band, has any solid jazz credentials in this line-up.Of course, that doesn’t mean lovers of jazz orthodoxy can’t find fulfillment locally–they’ll just need to look elsewhere. A good place to start is the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa, which on Sept. 24 is presenting jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock–no stranger to commercial projects, but a reputable player whose recent New Standards album tackles the likes of Kurt Cobain’s “All Apologies”; the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, a night of big-band jazz on Nov. 5 led by master trumpeter Jon Fadis; and mondo mandolinist David Grisman, whose infectious dawg music swirls around a formidable jazz-bluegrass hybrid.

No word yet on Sonoma State University’s 1996-97 season, but in recent years the Evert B. Person Performing Arts Center has hosted great jazz shows by both Joe Henderson and rebop saxophonist Joshua Redman.

Meanwhile, don’t miss the final performance in the Rodney Strong Summer Music Series. The Sept. 1 event (see page 29 for details) brings the summer to a close with the good vibes of the underrated Bobby Hutcherson Quartet, the Cedar Walton Trio (performing selections from the acclaimed new Composer album and included in this year’s Monterey Jazz festival lineup), and legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, who helped launch the bossa nova craze.

Sounds like jazz heaven.

From the August 29-September 4, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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