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[whitespace] Nnenna Freelon Recline to Answer: Vocalist Nnenna Freelon performs Sunday at the San Jose Jazz Festival.

One man's plan for navigating the sites and sounds at the Jazz Festival

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

THE FUN OF simultaneous multi-venue events like the AT&T San Jose Jazz Festival (Aug. 13-15, on 10 stages surrounding César Chavez Plaza) is choosing between groups you've never seen before or maybe never even heard of. The free spirits wander around with their plates of food until they find a sound they like. The more anal-retentive among us plot out a program to catch everybody they want to see. This year, for a change, I'm trying the organized route. Below is my plan. Follow it if you want, or make up your own.


11am: If I can get an early start, I'm beginning with SoVoSó (Main Stage), graduates of Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra choir. A cappella music can take your breath away when it's done right. McFerrin calls them "right, soulful and a whole lotta fun," but in case he's wrong, I'm still in a good position to beat the crowds to the food booths for lunch.

Noon: I'm a sucker for old-school jazz/blues songs, so vocalist/pianist Dena DeRose (Xilinx Women in Jazz Stage) got my attention as soon as I saw her two CDs, which listed such standards as "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." If she can pull them off onstage, she'll win my heart.

1pm: The LA Times describes the Edmund Velasco Quintet (Museum of Art Stage) as "hearken[ing] back to the '50s and '60s period of soulful bop blowing." Sounds like a high-energy set. The Times also says that "[t]he group's compositions are free-like, but not the kind of free jazz that can lose an audience." Solid. Nothing worse than loud music you can't understand.

4pm: Time to cross the water. The official program calls Habibe Koité and Bamada (Xilinx Tech Museum Stage) "the roots of American blues," which is accurate but misleading. This group from Mali mixes African music with Western instruments. Nice change of pace. Maybe it'll get everybody partying on the grass.

6pm: I'm going to pass on Chuck Mangione at the Main Stage and try Los Hombres Calientes at the Ford Motor Co. Latin Jazz and Salsa Stage (also see story on page 60). This is an Afro-Cuban, Latin jazz and Louisiana-style trio which includes one of the umpteen Marsalis boys (Jason) as drummer. Cyril Neville cut a song on their debut CD, so these guys are traveling in high-cotton company. And besides, what's a jazz festival without checking out at least one New Orleans-based group?

7pm: I've only heard the Johnny Nocturne Band (KICU 36 Blues 'n' BBQ Stage) on CD and that was with their since-gone-solo diva-vocalist Brenda Boykin. They've got swing down, and they had me rocking in my chair. If new singer Kim Nalley is anything close to the dynamic Ms. Boykin, this night-ending set should send everybody out looking for a dance club to keep it going. And if Johnny N doesn't work, I'm going to samba on over to the Gordon Biersch Courtyard Stage for the Brazilian sounds of Sandy Cressman & Brasileira. Cressman is described as a sultry songstress who offers up both love ballads and dance tunes (and who has dancier tunes than the Brazilians?), all in Portuguese. Hope to shake my hips till the sweat drips, and then maybe find someone in the crowd to fall in love with.


Noon: If nothing else, I'm going to see the Black Market Jazz Orchestra (Starbucks/Forest City Big Band Stage) because I've never seen a big band live. The SF Bay Guardian calls them a band with "Ellingtonian class," which they'd better have, because they're taking on the elegant old songs: "A Foggy Day," "All of Me," "As Time Goes By," "Autumn Leaves." Sounds like a mellow way to start off the day.

2pm: How can you pass up a set including anybody named Escovedo (the Ray Vega Latin Jazz Quintet featuring Pete Escovedo; Latin Jazz and Salsa Stage)? Pete is legendary, pretty much synonymous with Latin jazz, pop and salsa in the Bay Area since the '60s. Trumpeter Ray Vega has run with the big boys, playing with such legends themselves as Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria. If this stage doesn't rock, I'm going to be disappointed.

3pm: This is the first year that the Jazz Festival has put on an entire stage of gospel, so I've got to take in at least one act. Joyfull Noize gets my attention on name alone. Besides, their sound is described as a cappella gospel blended with jazz, bebop and rap.

6pm: I'm definitely checking out jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon with Ernie Watts (Main Stage). Critics say her voice is along the line of Sarah Vaughan's. Plus, any singer who dares to cut an album (Maiden Voyage, 1998) with material written by Nina Simone, Sippie Wallace, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Laura Nyro is worth a shot, just to see how (or if) she pulls it off. And Grammy-winning saxophonist Watts ain't supposed to be no slouch, neither.

7pm: And of course I can't pass up local treasure Chris Cain (Blues 'n' BBQ Stage). Think I'll get myself a plate of ribs and potato salad, stretch out on a blanket in the dusk and let Chris' smooth blues crooning slip me out of this West Coast valley and back into the hills of his father's Tennessee. If there's a better way to end a weekend of music, I can't think of it.

The AT&T San Jose Jazz Festival takes place Fri.-Sun., Aug. 13-15. Admission is free. For details, call 888-SAN-JOSE.

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From the August 12-18, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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