Best jazz concerts in San Diego in 2019: Anat, Cohen, Chick Corea, Diana Krall, Mark Dresser and more

The San Diego jazz scene has had a number of major anniversaries – and some debuts – worthy of celebration in 2019.

The La Jolla Athenaeum Music and Art Library celebrated its 30th anniversary of jazz concerts, making it the region’s oldest jazz series to showcase national and international talent throughout the year. The second oldest series, it’s no coincidence, is Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI, which marked its 23rd year in 2019.

Both are expertly curated by Daniel Atkinson, who since 1989 has brought here legends and emerging young talent and is also the 16-year-old founder of UC San Diego Jazz Camp. Some of these emerging talents, such as pianist Brad Mehldau and drum dynamo Antonio Sanchez, made their San Diego debut under the auspices of the Athenaeum. Now they seem poised to become legends themselves.

In February, the TSRI series hosted the 80th anniversary concert of San Diego-based great alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, who was joined in August by his trio and string ensemble for a concert broadcast live by KSDS Jazz 88 Jazz. at City College. KSDS, one of only four full-time jazz stations in the country, celebrated its 48th anniversary of 24-hour jazz programming this year.

The KSDS is eight years older than the San Diego Jazz Fest & Swing Extravaganza, which held its 40th edition in November. The Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine also celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, which has served as an invaluable incubator for local musicians. Meanwhile, Bonnie Wright’s fearless Fresh Sound concert series has concluded its 22nd season.

The San Diego Symphony’s Jazz at the Jacobs and Bayside Summer Nights jazz series each completed their fifth year in 2019. Both are hosted by acclaimed trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, who also directs the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory in San Diego and the Four year-old Young Lions Jam Session at Panama 66 at Balboa Park. It’s a testament to Castellanos that the November 27 Jazz at the Jacobs’ Billie Holiday tribute concert at Copley Symphony Hall drew 1,700 listeners, despite the fact that its headliner – singer-pianist Champian Fulton – is under the radar. even for many jazz fans. Attracting so many people to hear from such a relatively unknown artist is a feat that jazz series in other cities would surely love to achieve.

Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos was once again a major force on the San Diego jazz scene, as a performer, educator, curator and all-round champion of music. He is shown here playing with lead bassist Rob Thorsen.

Speaking of trumpeters, Athenaeum and jazz mastermind TSRI Atkinson this year teamed up with trumpet innovator and UCSD music teacher Steph Richards for the inaugural Festival of New Trumpet Music West, which featured 8 musical events in the city during a busy week at the end of January. .

Stemming from the New York Festival of New Trumpet Music, created 16 years ago, of which Richards has played a key role in curating since 2012, the San Diego event has been such a success that it will return in 2020, this times for a week in early February. The lineup includes three artists who performed at the 2019 festival in New York City – Ivan Trujillo, Hugh Ragin and Alexandria Smith – as well as the American debut of Ensenada’s La Covacha Big Band, which will perform compositions by Trujillo in a free concert downtown on February 2 with fellow dynamo trumpet Curtis Taylor and his quartet.

In Mission Valley, Handlery Hotel’s 950 Lounge continued to offer one of the best deals in town with its free weekly concerts on Sunday afternoons. They are reserved by (and sometimes featured) superb flautist Holly Hofmann, who has been a force here for decades as a performer and presenter. On April 28, the Jazz Journalists of America presented their annual Jazz Hero Award to Hofmann and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulkner issued a Holly Hofmann Day proclamation.

And, in Normal Heights, popular bar Rosie O ‘Grady’s acquired a 70-year-old Hammond C-3 organ this year. The vintage instrument provided an additional sonic spark at the bar’s weekly “Adams Goes Funky” soul-jazz jazz sessions, led by local keyboardist Tim Felten, a mainstay of the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble in San Diego.

Le Jai, the cabaret-sized concert hall at the $ 82 million La Jolla Music Society’s new Conrad Prebys performing arts center, also debuted this year. . Although not intended as a jazz venue per se, in 2019 the Jai hosted some very memorable concerts by clarinet master Anat Cohen and rising singer Jazzmeia Horn, with more jazz concerts in the pipeline. in 2020.

Without further ado, these are my favorite gigs of the year, although the list easily could have been twice as long. (My favorite pop concerts will appear next Thursday in Night & Day.)

1. Anat Cohen Quartet, The Jai at Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, May 16 / Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves, July 20, The Alexandria at Torrey Pines

Israeli-born clarinet star Anat Cohen has performed here in two very different settings this year, first with his genre quartet, then as a duet with Brazilian guitarist Marcello Gonçalves ace in a concert. fundraising event for the Athenaeum, under whose auspices she made her San Diego debut in 2010. Both concerts showcased Cohen’s instrumental and improvised mastery with equally stunning results.

2. Chick Corea Trio, October 2, Balboa Theater

At 78, keyboard icon Chick Corea is as busy, energetic and artistically curious as ever. His trio performance with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, two decades his junior, was a master class in skill, ingenuity, and how the art of finely honed interaction – when ‘it’s performed at such a high standard – can uplift performers and listeners.

3. Diana Krall Quartet, with Joe Lovano, August 24, Humphreys Concerts by the Bay

Diana Krall made her San Diego debut in 1995 and has returned quite a few times since. But it was her first regional show in which she and her trio were accompanied by a saxophonist. The unannounced performance of the great Joe Lovano clearly inspired Krall and took his music up a few levels during a flawless concert that rarely went beyond a finely calibrated silence. The audience listened more attentively to any other show I have seen in Humphreys’ four decades of history.

4. Mark Dresser Septet, January 22, The Loft at UC San Diego

UC San Diego’s great bassist and music teacher Mark Dresser released one of the most provocative and inspiring albums of the year, which in turn fueled the fiery concert of his multifaceted ensemble here. Rising pianist Joshua White, once a Dresser’s student, grew increasingly impressive and established himself in a talented group that also included such figures as flautist Nicole Mithcell, trombonist Michael Dessen and violinist Keir GoGwilt .

Singing star in the making, Jazzmeia Horn was spellbinding during her concert at Jai de La Jolla.

Singing star in the making, Jazzmeia Horn was spellbinding during her concert with her band at The Jai in La Jolla.

(Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff)

5. Jazzmeia Horn, June 8, The Jai at the Conrad Prebys Center for the Performing Arts Center

One of the first jazz artists to perform at the lavish new $ 82 million La Jolla Arts Center, the golden-voiced Jazzmeia Horn sang like an angel at one point and then s’ is dispersed with abandon the following. His gifted orchestra accompanied him with admirable sensitivity.

6. Rosetta Trio, February 28, Fresh Sound at Liberty Station

Led by ingenious bassist and songwriter Stephan Crump, guitarists Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox (not related to the Oscar-winning actor) performed with a combination of supple sophistication and daring adventure.

7. The Harry Pickens Trio with Holly Hofmann, July 28, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library

As absorbing as this wonderfully nuanced concert was from a musical standpoint, it was perhaps even more historically remarkable. Pianist Harry Pickens was the first musician to perform at the Athenaeum when his jazz series was launched in 1989 and flautist Holly Hofmann soon followed as a performer and key advisor.

8. “Freedom Rider: An Art Blakey Centennial Celebration”, March 20, Jazz at the Jacobs at Copley Symphony Hall

Tribute groups saluting deceased jazz pioneers can be a hit and miss affair. Fortunately, this band was a success, thanks to a lineup that included four former members of massive drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers – saxophonist Billy Pierce, former San Diego trumpeter Brian Lynch, saxophonist Bobby Watson and bassist. Peter Washington. Carl Allen drummed with the same fire and finesse that were Blakey’s hallmarks.

Allison Miller performed with fire and finesse during her June Athenaeum concert with Parlor Game, the daring group she co-directs with violinist Jenny Scheinmann.

Allison Miller performed with fire and finesse during her June Athenaeum concert with Parlor Game, the daring group she co-directs with violinist Jenny Scheinmann.

(Courtesy photo)

9. Board game by Jenny Scheinman and Allison Miller, June 7, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library

Much like on their 2019 debut album, as the leaders of the three-woman, one-man quartet Parlor Game, violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Allison Miller, the performance here with the same band was imbued with a contagious feeling of joy, wit and pleasure.

10. Amina Figarova Sextet, June 27, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library

Born and raised in Azerbaijan, New York pianist Amina Figarova and her now 20-year-old band often perform with complex precision and free spontaneity in a single act. It’s an approach that paid off several times during their concert in La Jolla.


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Willie J. Johnson

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