2003 SFJAZZ Fest' Fantastic!
“ Two professionals, when they meet onstage or in a studio, they're going to make it work anyway. But when you're professionals and also very good friends, it's just so easy. ”
October 23-November 9, 2003
The 21st Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival presented by TARGET offered a dazzling array of entertainment, showcasing the Bay City's beautiful sites. What a great city. Combine that with jazz talent from McCoy Tyner to Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis, and you've got another successful season.
The San Francisco Bay Area-based non-profit organization, SFJAZZ, rocked the town thanks to the backing of TARGET, the 3,000 SFJAZZ members, the more than 100,000 annual concert patrons and the contributing Bay-area businesses. As USA Today put it, "...for three full weeks in the fall, the City by the Bay is the jazz capital of the world."
Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Mavis Staples, Dave Holland, Etta James, Ruth Brown, Cecil Taylor, Enrico Rava, Maria Muldaur...even the SFJAZZ All-Star High School Ensemble opened things wide-up this time around. And that's only a partial list. I flew in for the final amazing week.
Checking in to the Hotel Cosmo, it was a quick cab ride over to the "B-3 Summit: The Rematch" at Bimbo's 365 Club. That's right, the Joey DeFrancesco Trio and the Jimmy Smith Group were goin' at it. Joey has monster chops, but Jimmy Smith is still the godfather of the Hammond B-3. (The first album I ever bought, as a 12-yr. old growing up in Kansas City around 1967, was The Further Adventures of Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery. Weird.)
Born in 1928 outside Philadelphia, Jimmy Smith is still hammering away at the Hammond B-3 with style and grace. Coming out of a nice drum solo, Jimmy slides into a funky version of "Salt Peanuts". Other tunes included "Bring Out My Baby Now" and a crowd-pleaser "Got My Mojo Working".
After being discovered by Miles Davis, young Joey DeFrancesco helped re-popularize the B-3 in the late-80's. This night, the master Jimmy Smith and heir apparent Joey DeFrancesco jammed together to a standing ovation.
I enjoyed the streets of San Francisco the next day. There are tons of espresso shops and great sushi restaurants. The fragrances of San Francisco excite you with the fresh smell of coffee to the sweet, colorful flower stands at the streetcorners. I sat down at Union Square to sip on a double espresso and enjoy the sights.
That evening it was off to Oakland on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which is like the NY subways only much cleaner, more comfortable and no grafitti. The festival's first-ever concert at Calvin Simmons Theatre presented guitarists Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell.
The show was billed as "Intercontinental Guitar" and was truly a treat of eclectic string things. It was my first time seeing both these great guitarists. New York-based Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos had a Santana sound, with its organ, percussion, drums, bass and lyrical guitar. Latin rap and 12-string fullness finished off the refreshing 45-minute set. Ribot has backed diverse musicians including Tom Waits, Marianne Faithful and Elvis Costello.
With great acoustics surrounded by elegant crystal chandeliers, the theatre was the perfect setting for Bill Frisell & the Intercontinentals. A Fender Telecaster strapped on, (at least it looked like a Tele), wearing black and white sneakers, Frisell led his band through a wonderful sound journey. It was like a mystical dream sequence, like a movie soundtrack...almost Asian sounding.
Smiling away, Frisell moves from one special effects device to another, conjuring up a nice duet with his fiddlin' female, then off into deliberate dissonance; sounding like a machine falling apart.
The sextet included: Malian percussionist/vocalist Sidiki Camara, Brazilian guitarist/vocalist Vinicius Cantuaria, Greek-Macedonian oud (lute) player and vocalist Christos Govetas, Southern California slide and pedal steel guitarist and longtime Frisell collaborator Greg Leisz; and New York-based violinist Jenny Scheinman.
The next day I enjoyed more of this great city, including the world-famous San Francisco Museum of Modern Art , perhaps the best modern art museum in the world today. Also, I took a nice walk over to Disher Music & Sound , an awesome recording studio that exemplifies the great music and art that this city is all about.
It was Saturday night and Nancy Wilson with Ramsey Lewis were on tap. This turned out to be the best show of my brief tour. Nancy Wilson is truly a class-act, as is her tuxedo-clad friend Ramsey Lewis. It was a mere 4-blocks to Masonic Auditorium at California & Taylor. I had a quick sushi dinner at Sakana on Post and began my short walk. Or so I thought.
Looking up Taylor Street, I could see my 4-blocks were straight up! Now I know why they have cable cars. The automobiles were parked side-by-side up the street at such an angle that I have no clue how they didn't just start tumbling over and over down the steep hill.