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Buy one of the following Nnenna Freelon CDs from amazon.com:

'Listen' (1994)

'Shaking Free' (1996)

'Maiden Voyage' (1998)

'Soulcall' (2000)

'Tales of Wonder' (2002)


Photograph by Randee St. Nicholas

She Got the Jazz: Nnenna Freelon overcame superstition to record Stevie Wonder songs on 'Songs of Wonder.'

Double Duty

Nnenna Freelon opens (and closes) the 14th Annual San Jose Jazz Festival

By Yoshi Kato

LIKE NEIL YOUNG opening his annual Bridge School concerts solo and ending them full circle in a performance with Crazy Horse, vocalist Nnenna Freelon is performing at the front and back ends of the 14th Annual San Jose Jazz Festival.

On Thursday (Aug. 7), Nnenna (pronounced "nee-na") Freelon lends jazz cool to the opening-night gala at Santana Row with the Count Basie Orchestra. She closes the Main Stage three nights later with her own group, concluding two days and four nights of (mostly) admission-free jazz.

Among the highlights: Soul firecracker Ledisi will heat up the Main Stage on Saturday afternoon. Popular electric instrumentalists the Yellowjackets attempt to follow her set, while supreme pianist Mulgrew Miller brings his trio to the San Jose Repertory Theatre later that evening. The Snake Trio combines Afro-Cuban and Venezuelan traditions at the World Music Stage on Sunday, and always cool trombonist and local hero Wayne Wallace brings his group to the Latin Stage two hours later.

A distinct vocal stylist who combines exquisite technique with sophisticated soul and a refined elegance with gutbucket life wisdom, the Cambridge, Mass., vocalist says she's had just a bit of experience singing with big bands but holds the tradition deep in her heart.

"I came to this music through the big band, in the sense that my first exposure to it was actually Count Basie," she says by phone from her home in Durham, N.C. "My whole feeling and early, early emotions are tied to dance through big-band music, through my father's musical collection. My memories are very personal and heartfelt dancing in our living room to Count Basie's music, so it feels very warm and personal
to me."

Freelon will finish out the extended weekend with a performance by her band, which has been intact for five years. Pianist Takana Miyamoto is the musical director of the group, which includes percussionist Beverly Botsford, drummer Woody Williams and bassist Wayne Batchelor. The group recorded a live album at a Kennedy Center performance in Washington, D.C., this past February and has developed into an ongoing working unit, she reports.

Since her 1996 Shaking Free album, Freelon has recorded jazz interpretations of more-contemporary songs, including numbers by Laura Nyro, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Gerry Goffin/Carole King. After recording Stevie Wonder songs on two previous albums, Freelon's last album, 2002's Tales of Wonder: Celebrating Stevie Wonder, was devoted entirely to the Motown titan's compositions. "My Cherie Amour," "Overjoyed," "Superstition," and "Until You Come Back to Me" are given Brazilian, funk and jazz-fusion touches, supported by Freelon's nimble, feline vocal interpretations.

"It's a part of our musical fabric. There's no getting around that," she says, speaking of the Wonder songbook. The same elements that make up any good song--melody, lyrics, story and such--are abundant in Wonder's music. Expect some Wonder hits on Sunday, and knowing Freelon, much more.

"We'll mix it up. There'll be Stevie, and there might be Ellington. There might be Cole Porter, and then there might be Joni Mitchell. Who knows?" she says with a sly smile in her voice.

14th Annual Comcast San Jose Jazz Festival, presented by Comcast

All events are free unless otherwise indicated; call 408.288.7557, ext. 2328 for information and tickets.

Santana Row
Thursday, Aug. 7
Opening-Night Gala with Nnenna Freelon and the Count Basie Orchestra; gala reception 5:30pm, concert at 7pm; $40-$125
Main Stage, Plaza de Cesar Chavez
Friday, Aug. 8
5:30pm: Palenque
7:30pm: Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca
Saturday, Aug. 9
Noon: Taylor Eigsti Trio
2pm: Ledisi
4pm: Yellowjackets
6pm: ¡Cubanismo!
Sunday, Aug. 10
Noon: Julian Lage Quartet
2pm: Nestor Torres with the Bay Area Latin All Stars, featuring Orestes Vilato, John Santos and Rebeca Mauleón
4pm: Jimmy Heath and the San Jose Jazz Orchestra directed by Dennis Wilson
6pm: Nnenna Freelon

Latin Stage: San Fernando Street at First Street
Saturday, Aug. 9
1pm: Sandy Cressman and Homenagem Brasileira
3pm: John Calloway & Diaspora
5pm: Insight
7pm: Ray Obiedo and the Urban Latin Jazz Project
Sunday, Aug. 10
1pm: Carlos Oliveira and Brazilian Origins
3pm: Rolando Morales Sextet
5pm: Rebeca Mauleón Sextet
7pm: Wayne Wallace Group

Ford Salsa Stage: San Fernando Street at Market Street
Saturday, Aug. 9
12:30pm: Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco
2:30pm: Quimbombo
4:30pm: Orquesta Surco Nuevo
6:30pm: Avance
Sunday Aug. 10
12:30pm: El Mambo Combo
2:30pm: Candela
4:30pm: Orquesta Universal
6:30pm: Azabache

World Music Stage: Post Street at San Pedro Street
Saturday, Aug. 9
1pm: Ghandaia
3pm: Reggae Angels
5pm: Liza Silva & Voz do Brasil
7pm: Larry Steen World Jazz Ensemble
Sunday, Aug. 10
1pm: James Henry and J2/Imani Trio
3pm: Alma Melodiosa
5pm: Snake Trio
7pm: Freddy Clark's Global Music Ensemble

Budweiser Blues 'n' BBQ Stage: San Fernando Street at Almaden Boulevard
Saturday, Aug. 9
12:30pm: Lara Price Band
2:30pm: Shane Dwight Blues Band
4:30pm: Shana Morrison
6:30pm: Blue Monday
Sunday, Aug. 10
12:30pm: Josh Williamson Band
2:30pm: La Micosa Blues Band
4:30pm: JC Smith Band
6:30pm: Big Belly Blues Band

Smith Dobson Tribute Stage: Club Regent, Fairmont Hotel
Saturday, Aug. 9
1pm: Clairdee
3pm: Headstock Ensemble
5pm: Anton Schwartz Quartet
7pm: Babatunde Lea Quintet
Sunday, Aug. 10
1pm: Michael Zilber Quartet
3pm: Marcos Silva Quartet
5pm: Steffen Kuehn Nonet
7pm: Dave Ellis Ensemble

Jazz at the Rep: San Jose Repertory Theatre, Third Street
Saturday, Aug. 9
12:30pm: Modesto Briseno Jazz Quintet featuring Andrew Speight
2:30pm: Ellen Rowe Quartet
4:30pm: Guitar Summit with Mimi Fox and Jackie King
6:30pm: Mulgrew Miller Trio
Sunday, Aug. 10
12:30pm: Wally Schnalle Group
2:30pm: Calvin Keys Quartet featuring Mario Guarneri
4:30pm: Greg Osby
6:30pm: Phil Wilson's Berklee Rainbow Band

Allstars Helping Kids Youth Stage: The Tech Museum
Saturday, Aug. 9
Noon: The New York and L.A. Big Bands
1pm: Rainbow Montessori Vocal Jazz Ensemble
2pm: Deuces Wild: PCH Combo
3pm: Phil Wilson Master Class
4pm: San Jose Jazz Society Youth Combo with guest appearances by Jimmy Heath and Phil Wilson
Sunday, Aug. 10
Noon: Buchser Middle School Jazz Ensemble
1pm: Jazz Camp Vocalists
2pm: Yuma Sung Trio
3pm: Babatunde Lea Master Class--Rhythms of the African Diaspora
4pm: Oaktown Jazz Workshop

Other Programs

Friday, Aug. 8
8pm-midnight: Jazz Jam at Theatre on San Pedro Square
8pm: David Ladd's Downtown Allstars, Post Street
8pm: Gypsy Cinema presents Mo' Better Blues, Circle of Palms
Saturday, Aug. 9
4:30pm: Jazz Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, Frank Jansen and Val Limar Jansen
8pm-midnight: Jazz Jam, Theatre on San Pedro Square
8pm: Jazz After Dark, Post Street (between Market and First streets)
8:30pm: Jazz on Film, Calle 54 at Camera 3 (Second and San Carlos streets), $7.50
8pm: 24-Hour Jam, Waves Smokehouse and Saloon
Noon-8pm: Arts & Crafts, Circle of Palms
Noon-8pm: Art Market, San Jose Repertory Theatre Plaza
Noon-8pm: Youth Activity Area
Sunday, Aug. 10
11:30am: Jazz Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, Frank Jansen and Val Limar Jansen
Noon-8pm: Arts & Crafts, Circle of Palms
Noon-8pm: Art Market, San Jose Repertory Theatre Plaza
Noon-8pm: Youth Activity Area

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From the July 31-August 6, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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