The sixth annual Tucson Jazz Festival will be the first without the guidance of festival artistic director Yvonne Ervin, who passed away Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. But rather than ending on a sour note, the Jazz Fest is honoring her legacy by staying strong as ever, featuring international artists, Grammy-winners, and some of the most genre-defining musicians still active today.
The whole spectacle kicks off on Friday, Jan. 10 with saxophonist Maceo Parker & His Big Band at the University of Arizona’s Centennial Hall. Parker has more than earned his recognition as embodying “the legacy of soul and funk music” by collaborating with Prince, James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. His show comes only a month before his 77th birthday, and in all those decades, he’s even jumped beyond typical jazz groups, being featured on songs from hip-hop group De La Soul, as well as Jane’s Addiction and Dave Matthews Band.
The festival’s second day, Saturday, Jan. 11, features another trailblazing saxophonist, David Sanborn, though his work is more often on rock tracks. Listeners may have heard Sanborn lending his sax to albums like David Bowie’s Young Americans, Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, a True Star, and Springsteen’s Born to Run. For the Tucson Jazz Fest, Sanborn is performing with his jazz quintet.
Sunday, Jan. 12 features a duo of Grace Kelly and Aubrey Logan performing at the Rialto Theatre. Kelly, a singer/saxophonist and Logan, a singer/trombonist, each reached acclaim at young ages by fusing traditional jazz works with contemporary flair. Logan, known as the “Queen of Sass,” often combines vocals and brass playing in the same performance, as well as performing a blend of original and cover songs.
Breaking away from the brass, Monday, Jan. 13 features pianist David Hazeltine and the “New York All Stars” at the Leo Rich Theater. Hazeltine started playing clubs as a preteen, before working with legends such as Chet Baker. Hazeltine is known for his technical balancing of improvisation and composition.
At only 25, Veronica Swift is considered one of the top jazz singers on the scene. She’s already toured the nation, performing at (and winning) numerous jazz competitions. On Tuesday, Jan. 14, she’ll bring her balance of smooth vocal jazz and bebop energy to the Leo Rich Theater.
On Wednesday, Jan. 15, Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom takes over the Fox Theatre. Miller’s eclectic drumming skills have led to her collaborating with vocalists like Natalie Merchant and Ani DiFranco. But with her Boom Tic Boom ensemble, she takes center-stage, composing pieces for violin, cornet, bass and clarinet.
Coming out from the UK for a Thursday, Jan. 16 show at the Fox Theatre, the Average White Band are anything but. Perhaps best known for their ’74 jazz/funk hit “Pick Up the Pieces,” Average White Band blend horns, handclaps and bass into a tight, occasionally wild package.
One of the largest ensembles performing at the Jazz Fest, the Afro-Cuban All Stars hit the Rialto Theatre on Friday, Jan. 17. The Afro-Cuban All Stars found success in reviving the traditional sounds of Cuba into a new energetic, rhythmic sound. Working alongside other music revolutionaries like Buena Vista Social Club, Afro-Cuban All Stars blend multiple styles and moods into an upbeat swarm of horns, percussion and keys.
On Saturday, Jan. 18, one of the most in-demand bassists of his generation comes to the Fox Theatre. Christian McBride and Inside Straight quintet combine the funky hooks of James Brown, the swagger of Herbie Hancock and the technical chops of Chick Corea. McBride says his personal mantra as a musician is “people music,” meaning he keeps the audience in mind, and doesn’t get too caught up in his own head.
The Tucson Music Hall will welcome the Queen of Soul on Sunday, Jan. 19 when the Tucson Symphony Orchestra performs Aretha, A Tribute. This celebration captures all the highlights of Franklin’s career, and features vocalists Broadway-singer Capathia Jenkins and Grammy-nominated Ryan Shaw.
On the same night, the Fox Theatre hosts one of America’s defining voices, Mavis Staples. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017, Staples combines R&B and gospel vocals for a powerful voice that set the tone for the Civil Right movement.
The Tucson Jazz Fest concludes on Monday, Jan. 20 with a bash that takes over downtown. There will be free jazz (not the avant-garde kind) shows on four different stages throughout town. One of the many performers of the Free Downtown Jazz Fiesta are the Yolo County Line, performing on the MLK Stage.