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[whitespace] Ann Dyer Organically Grown: San Francisco jazz singer Ann Dyer is a natural choice to perform at the Grace Cathedral on Nov. 1 as her music often draws on various sacred traditions like Hindustani music.

Bay Area bands and musicians provide the San Francisco Jazz Festival with much of its texture

By Andrew Gilbert

As the san francisco Jazz Festival has grown in stature, it has cast its talent net ever wider, drawing some of the world's great musicians from Brazil, Cuba and especially New York. But the festival, now in its 16th year, has never lost its local roots.

"You've got to remember, the jazz festival started as Jazz in the City," Randall Kline, the festival's founder and director, said. "It was originally created to feature only Bay Area performers, but in those first years before we started branching out, the region's amazing pool of international locals allowed us to play with a stacked deck. We had Bobby Hutcherson, Tony Williams, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Bobby McFerrin."

Death has considerably thinned the ranks of Bay Area jazz stars, taking Getz and Williams. 1998 is a rare year without some kind of performance by Henderson. Hutcherson, fresh off a tribute at the Monterey Jazz Festival, is featured in a generation-spanning vibes concert with Milt Jackson and youngblood Stefon Harris.

While in recent years most of the big-name performers have hailed from out of town, it's the local bands and musicians who still provide the festival with much of its texture. Highlighting the diversity and depth of the Bay Area's jazz scene, just about every thematic concert draws from the local ranks, from the jazz/funk hip-hop troop Mingus Amungus in "The Legacy of Charles Mingus" concert to Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain in "Asian Concepts in Jazz."

In a perfect example of a local player transforming an interesting concert into a potentially must-see event, vocalist Claudio Villela opens on Oct. 30 for Ivan Lins, the hugely popular Brazilian singer best known in the States as the composer of tunes such as "The Island" and "Love Dance." Born in Rio de Janeiro, where she hung out with Lins as a teenager, Villela moved to the Bay Area about a decade ago.

A subtle improviser, with a clear, gently rippling voice, Villela draws deeply on her Brazilian roots, including bossa nova, samba and Tropicalism influences, though she also uses elements of jazz, rock and Afro-Caribbean music. She performs in a duo with Brazilian guitarist Ricardo Peixoto, who grew up a few blocks away from Villela in Rio, though they first met in San Francisco. (Villela and Peixoto also play a free SFJF concert at Ghirardelli Square on Oct. 17, from 1 to 3 p.m.)

"When we sit down and compose we put our memories and imaginations together," Villela said. "We wrote a song that's called 'Matriz,' which means mother or the beginning of things, but also it's a very beautiful church that's close to our homes in Rio. We go through those memories to compose our music, thinking about the colonial influence in the architecture, baroque music.

"In Brazil it's impossible not to be exposed to music," she continued. "You have the neighbor upstairs singing washing clothes. The guy selling newspapers or vegetables and calling out a melody. At lunchtime the vagabonds are playing samba with a matchbox. So how can you say what's my influence?"

Though Villela has gained a strong local following and recorded with jazz luminaries such as Michael Brecker and Toots Thielemans, finding places to play in the Bay Area hasn't been easy. With most bookers looking for either polite lounge bossa nova or samba-oriented dance music, Villela holds out for performance situations where she can stretch and improvise.

"We don't just play Brazilian music," Villela said. "We play with a drummer from Holland, a bass player from India--that's not going to come out just Brazilian music. It's just like a dish. You have a little cumin, a little bit of cardamom; you call the dish by the old name, but it's a different fire and different ingredients."

Though the Bay Area scene hasn't offered many opportunities for Villela, she has enriched the local scene with her grounded but wide-open aesthetic. She and singer Ann Dyer, one of the most inventive jazz singers in San Francisco, are talking about a collaboration--just the kind of cross-pollination that makes the Bay Area music scene so vibrant. Dyer performs at the Sacred Space concert at Grace Cathedral on Nov. 1 on the same bill as two duos--reed and flute master Yusef Lateef with percussionist Adam Rudolph and trumpeter Tom Harrell with bassist Charlie Haden.


The top five must-see Jazz Fest concerts.


Dyer, who spent much of last year exploring songs from the Beatles' Revolver album as the point of departure, is performing with bassist John Shifflet and Rob Burger on accordion.

"I've been interested in the spareness, having the bare minimum," Dyer said from a yoga retreat in Northern California. "And I thought it would be a wonderful match for Grace Cathedral, because in a way, with tones of the bass and pipe tones of the accordion, it mimics an organ."

Beyond the sound of her band, Dyer is a natural choice to perform at Grace Cathedral, as her music often draws on various sacred traditions. In particular, she has studied classical Hindustani music, and its influence often finds its way into her arrangements and improvisations.

"I'm not ever going to be a Hindustani vocalist," Dyer said. "The challenge becomes, how does this music inform my expression? For me, the secret has always been to try to figure out how to make it happen organically. But I have no ambition to be an Indo-jazz person; it's just one element of many that inspire me."

The quest to organically incorporate far-flung influences into an improvisational framework unites many of the Bay Area bands featured in the SFJF. Tin Hat Trio, whose music draws heavily on Astor Piazzolla and various Eastern European musical styles, as well as avant-garde jazz and classical music, features Rob Burger on accordion, acoustic guitarist Mark Orton and violinist Carla Kihlstedt. The trio plays Nov. 3 in the Backyard Alchemy concert, featuring such leading Bay Area bands as Broun Fellinis, Pothole, Dmitri Matheny and Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums.

"I think the point is not to emulate a tango," said violinist Carla Kihlstedt. "I don't want to be in a position where I feel like an impostor, like I'm pretending. I'm taking influences of things that have interested me and I hope we're integrating them in a way that's our own language."

"I borrow from the tradition of Bill Frisell," added guitarist Orton, who composes much of Tin Hat Trio's music. "He's able to make reference to other forms of music, including tango, and there's a certain amount of humor and play in it, like in some of Monk's music, but there's respect there and it's not a joke."

The 16th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, Oct. 29-Nov. 8; 415/788-7353.

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From the October 19-November 1, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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