27th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival
Justifiably, Ornette Coleman has garnered numerous awards for his powerful and unique contributions to jazz. His performance at the elegant Davies Symphony Hall was remarkable, cementing his reputation as an innovator whose stature is towering in the jazz world. He launched into an opening original tune, playing equal parts on saxophone, trumpet, and violin, hitting rollercoaster scales with the power of a musician forty years younger than his actual age. Coleman and his fine quartet (Anthony Falanga and Al MacDowell bookending the master on acoustic and electric bass, respectively, and his son Denardo Coleman on drums) played many of his classic harmolodic originals and free bluesy compositions ("Tone Dialing," "Sex Mob," "Human Being," etc.). The venerable giant and his musicians hit all the marks, submitting a performance of the highest order. In particular, Denardo silenced the critics from his early days (when he played and recorded in his teens as a member of Prime Time), playing with fire and passion in a steady and confident manner. One of the highlights of the set was "When Will the Blues Leave," which left the crowd visibly moved. Coleman's spiritual persona shone through on this number.
The audience demanded an encore, and the beloved jazz icon did not disappoint, finishing the evening with a haunting version of his classic "Lonely Woman," ending by a few fast exchanges with all members of his stellar band.
Many other performances dotted the festival, from Esperanza Spalding to Dee Dee Bridgewater to a lifetime achievement award to John Handy. We could not attend all of the shows due to time constraints, but the diversity, authenticity and setting in a great city where Tony Bennett left his heart proves that the San Francisco Jazz Festival is one of the best around. Hop on a cable car and check it out next year.