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Drum Line: Akira Tana went to Gunn High School but got his education in the New York jazz scene.

Beat Surrender

Stanford Jazz Festival 2004 highlights include the Heath Brothers, Satoro Oda and an older, wiser Akira Tana

By Yoshi Kato

TO CONSCRIPT a cliché, some jazz festivals are sprints while others are marathons. The 2004 Stanford Jazz Festival and Workshop is a three-month steady climb that builds through the summer months on the hallowed university campus. Twenty-three concerts remain between this weekend and Aug. 7, with everything from a piano tribute to an unheralded master to an all-star jam to Brazilian sounds to the blues.

Ask Stanford Jazz Workshop founder and director Jim Nadel for concert highlights of the next two months, and he'll give the standard festival programmer answer that choosing favorite shows is like designating favorite offspring. But with a little more prodding and a few well-placed questions, he remarks on a few particular shows:

Akira Tana (July 10, 8pm. Campbell Recital Hall)

An artist who has the distinction of doing a SJW hat trick this year is drummer Akira Tana. He opened the festival on the bandstand with Ruth Brown, having performed and recorded with the blues great up until she suffered a stroke in 2000. This Saturday night at Campbell Recital Hall, Tana plays in Junior Mance's trio. The sinfully soulful 75-year-old pianist doesn't make it out this way as often as one would like, Nadel points out. On Aug. 4, Tana will play his third show in as many months with saxophonist Dave Liebman's quartet.

"Here we've got someone who's playing in a blues style at the front end of the festival and then toward the end with Dave Liebman, who is on the cutting edge of jazz, 2004 style, and needs a high energy drummer who can also play interactively," says Nadel, of Tana.

"That's why Akira's one of my favorite drummers. He's so musical, and I think that's because he's such a great listener," he continues. "Akira always has his musical radar going and is ready to interact and converse with musicians.

Chatting before the "Everything You Wanted to Know About Jazz but Were Afraid to Ask" performance and demonstration two Sundays ago, Tana awaits yet another 2004 SJW performance. Sporting a wisp of a pony tail and a look of unpracticed, yet kind, coolness, he shares his present pursuits while reflecting on the events that got him there.

"I'm flattered Jimmy would say that. I guess it's all just music to me, regardless of what type it is," Tana says. "Over the years, I've had the opportunity to play a lot of different styles of music."

Born in San Jose and raised in Palo Alto, the Gunn High School alumnus enjoyed playing music growing up but didn't have the formal jazz educational opportunities that his middle school son does now. The Belmont resident says he was introduced to jazz through his oldest brother, who had recordings by the Modern Jazz Quartet and also by pianist and Concord native Dave Brubeck.

"I remember getting into jazz, and there were like two or three kids in high school," he says. "It was almost like this cult. 'Oh, man! I got this Miles Davis record. Let's go listen to it!'"

The second-generation Japanese-American would go on to Harvard for East Asian studies and New England Conservatory to study jazz. He played in rock & roll and R&B bands in high school and in college but, ironically, didn't make the Harvard jazz band because he couldn't read big-band charts. After academic life, he was in demand on the New York scene and would eventually found TanaReid, a group he co-led with bassist Rufus Reid for 10 years.

Returning to the Bay Area six years ago for family reasons, he continues to do session and gig work as well as touring nationally and overseas with his own groups. He's some 35 years older than when he first left to go east at age 18. "I had a quintet up at Pearl's in San Francisco a couple of months ago with a bunch of young guys," he recalls. "I'm playing, and suddenly I realize, 'Here I am, the oldest guy of the bunch!'"

Satoro Oda & the Vince Lateano Trio (July 17, 8pm. Dinkelspiel Auditorium)

Drummer Lateano is a Bay Area treasure and favorite. Less known is the Japanese saxophonist Oda. "There are so many great musicians in Japan, but only the very best get to come and play over here," he says. "Satoro has a very warm sound and plays in that Lester Young style." As for any transpacific divide, it's all about that most universal of languages—the one that's not love, that is: "The music is the point of greatest communication," Nadel observes. "His English is not great, but he's understandable. And when the music starts, it makes great sense."

The Heath Brothers (July 24, 8pm. Campbell Recital Hall)

Saxophonist Jimmy, bassist Percy and drummer Albert (a.k.a. Tootie) hail from, appropriately enough, the City of Brotherly Love and have been active and contributing members of the jazz community for some 60 years. "They are the greatest and will be teaching [at the Stanford Jazz Workshop] and playing the concert," says Nadel "They're all masters. Percy is the surviving member of the Modern Jazz Quartet and recorded his first album as a leader last year!

"And Jimmy is a superb player. His ideas have such clarity," says the fellow saxophonist. "There are no grey areas. Just beautiful stories he tells."

Phineas Newborn Piano Tribute (Aug. 1, 8pm. Kresge Auditorium)

The Tennessee native passed on in 1989 and was blessed with a fierce faculty on the 88 keys. He never had his time in the spotlight and has been acknowledged in more recent years. Pianists Harold Mabern, James Williams and Geoffrey Keezer pay tribute to Newborn, as they did (along with pianist Mulgrew Miller) on the Four Pianos for Phineas album released domestically in 1989. Mabern and Keezer also released the piano-duo For Phineas album in 1996. The group is rounded out by a two other all-stars.

A first-call bassist, Ray Drummond has an MBA from the Stanford Business School and was living in the Monterey area before heading to New York in the mid-'70s. Casual jazz fans will know drummer Jimmy Cobb's work with the "first" great Miles Davis Quintet. Cobb also leads his sizzling Mob quartet at Kresge Auditorium on Aug. 3. "Newborn, Mabern and Williams are all from Memphis, so they have that spirit and background in common. And Keezer is a young devotee," says Nadel. "Phineas Newborn is kind of a musician's musician but is still important to other fans. So I'm glad we can present this show."

Tickets to the 2004 Stanford Jazz Festival are available through Ticketweb or by calling 650.725.ARTS. For more information, go to www.stanfordjazz.com.

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From the July 7-13, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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