Jazz will flow in a broad river of diverse flavors during the 11-day HSL Properties Tucson Jazz Festival opening Jan. 12 at the Rialto Theater with the barrier-busting difference-maker saxophonist Kamasi Washington accompanied by seven musicians from his own Los Angeles collective, the West Coast Get Down.
The young festival already has a national presence, featuring a dozen headline acts that include jazz masters George Benson and Dee Dee Bridgewater, diverse viewpoints stretching from Storm Large (formerly of Pink Martini) and her band Le Bonheur to fabled Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen working with the Hollywood-connected Howard Alden on guitar —plus a 12-hour downtown showcase of Tucson’s hottest players on Martin Luther King Day.
“Ticket sales are way ahead of last year,” said festival director Yvonne Ervin, who loves to make friends on every social media platform she can find. “Last year we had 5,000 friends on Facebook. This year it’s almost 9,000.”
From the TJF’s first days, Ervin has emphasized booking many different kinds of jazz. Just to prove it, this year she added funky jazzy Tower of Power to the mix. That show sold out a couple of weeks ago.
Bringing in names from jazz’s future is also an Ervin specialty. Washington is this year’s defiant headline grabber, following rule-breakers Robert Glasper and Snarky Puppy from festivals past.
Washington exploded on the scene last year following his release of the eponymous three-disc 172-minute recording, “The Epic.”
“The spirit of jazz is very much connected to human nature,” Washington said on the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “There is lots more to jazz than chords and rhythm. There is an openness to this spirit, and once people feel that openness, they always want it.”
Asked which artist Ervin would recommend if a person could only see one show, she quickly said “Dee Dee Bridgewater, because she has such a deep history in jazz, and she’s so versatile... singing everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday.”
Another artist deeply rooted in family tradition, earning respect for “reinvigorating the Great American Songbook” is John Pizzarelli, son of guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli. John is down for two shows with his classic cool combo accompanied by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Jan. 13 and 14, in the Tucson Music Hall.
The festival’s instantly popular day of free jazz featuring the city’s hottest players, always held on Martin Luther King Day, is now called the Downtown Jazz Fiesta with Rio Nuevo as its sponsor. The main outdoor stage will showcase all the Old Pueblo’s Latin jazz groups.
Tucson impresario and trumpet player Tony Frank will enhance this free spirit by leading a jam for local and national musicians who happen by at a different venue each night of the festival. The schedules for the downtown fiesta and Frank’s jams are listed on tucsonjazzfestival.org
If you go
What: Tucson Jazz Festival.
When: Jan. 12-22.
Where: Various venues.
Details and ticket purchase: tucsonjazzfestival.org