Best San Diego Jazz Concerts of 2018: From Luciana Souza and Chano Dominguez to Pat Metheny and Dee Dee Bridgewater


The live jazz scene in San Diego has grown steadily in recent years, so much so that some musicians have moved here from New York and Detroit in search of greater opportunities.

The La Jolla Athenaeum Music and Art Library celebrated its 29th anniversary of jazz concerts while the nearby Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI series turned 22. In 2018, the two – which are the longest-running and second-largest San Diego jazz series, respectively – featured their mix of legends, near-legends and rising stars.

The Fresh Sound concert series, which features cutting-edge performers, has completed its 21st year and has announced that the 2019 season will be held at a new location in Liberty Station. Dizzy’s, meanwhile, celebrated its 18th birthday. The older KSDS Jazz 88 FM monthly “Jazz Live” concert series, which has been running for 41 years, is limited to KSDS members only.

The San Diego Symphony’s Jazz at the Jacobs jazz series and Bayside Summer Nights have both completed their fourth year, while the Handlery Hotel’s 950 Lounge series and Panama 66’s Young Lions Jam Session – both weekly and free – each have completed their third year. The icing on the cake of a rich musical pie has been provided by several high-caliber La Jolla Music Society jazz concerts, also an annual event.

Here are my 10 favorite jazz concerts of 2018. What are yours?

1. Luciana Souza, December 2, Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI

Few trios can match this Brazilian-born vocal wonder and his band mates – guitarist Chico Pinheiro and bassist Scott Colley – in artistic sensibility and almost telepathic interaction. Their hushed musical adaptations of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti and Souza herself were simply exquisite.

2. Fandango at the Wall, May 26, Friendship Park on the US-Mexico border

This free outdoor concert, conducted by Grammy-winning pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill, brought together more than two dozen musicians from several continents. The result was a two-CD set, “Fandango at the Wall: A Soundtrack for The United States, Mexico and Beyond,” which vividly demonstrates the ability of music to transcend boundaries, figuratively and literally. .

3. Chano Dominguez, May 29, Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI

The decades-old marriage of jazz and flamenco has rarely sounded fresher or more exciting than in the hands of Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez and his ensemble, whose superb drummer, Henry Cole, took the music even higher.

4. Pat Metheny, October 27, Copley Symphony Hall

Speaking of elevating the music, guitar icon, Metheny’s Grammy-winning drum wonder, Antonio Sanchez, performed with such skill and creativity that his drums were a gig in themselves. Bassist Linda May Han Oh shone as an accompanist and soloist.

5. Circuit Rider Trio, October 24, Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI

Led by trumpeter Ron Miles, this finely honed group has given equal prominence to six-string master Bill Frisell and supreme drummer Brian Blade. Their three-way dialogues were a delight.

6. Chick Corea and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, March 24, Copley Symphony Hall

Big band concerts are unusual for keyboard colossus Chick Corea. He clearly thrived performing new arrangements of his classics on his very first tour with the JALC Orchestra, which was a rare road trip without its founder and leader, Wynton Marsalis.

7. John Scofield Combo 66, October 19, Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI

Like Corea, guitarist John Scofield is a former member of the Miles Davis band. His latest group, anchored by propulsive drummer Bill Stewart, mixes jazz, blues, funk and country in an intoxicating mix.

7. Mingus Dynasty, January 22, Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI

A day after making his decades-long awaited debut in Tijuana, Mingus Dynasty paid tribute to his late namesake, Charles Mingus, by performing his 1962 flagship album, “Tijuana Moods”, live in its entirety.

8. Dee Dee Bridgewater, August 23, Bayside Summer Nights

This Tony and Grammy Award-winning vocal treasure injects every note she sings with undeniable passion. The accompanying specially formed quintet, conducted by pianist Helen Sung, was an added treat.

9. Thomas Strønen & Time Is A Blind Guide, June 21, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library and

10. Ches Smith Trio, October 6, Bread and Salt

Norwegian drummer Strønen and San Diego drummer Smith have led two very different chamber jazz groups, but their ingenious compositions and selfless percussion work set an equally high standard.

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Willie J. Johnson