Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a lot of different jazz flavors to create a satisfying festival. You can ask Yvonne Ervin, the founder, chief cook and bottle washer for the HSL Properties Tucson Jazz Festival, introducing its fourth annual frolic on Jan.11 with the Chicago-based septet Hypnotic Brass pumping up the Rialto Theatre as the “Bad Boys of Jazz.’
“They’re kind of like your Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but funkier,” said Ervin.
These seven players come by their funky spirit genuinely enough. All are the sons of the late Phil Cohran, noted lead trumpeter for Sun Ra’s Arkestra and an early mentor to Earth Wind and Fire. Since 1999 the uniquely fun sound by this band of brothers has earned them a diverse spread of gigs that includes California’s Coachella Valley Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House.
Additional jazz flavors at this 11-day event staged mostly in downtown Tucson are provided by Latin percussionist and singer Sheila E (Jan. 14), the daughter of Latin drumming legend Pete Escovedo; the Mingus Dynasty (Jan. 19), continuing the importance of bassist Charles Mingus’ compositions by performing music from his seminal work “Tijuana Moods,” and Spyro Gyra (Jan.20), a contemporary jazz group that has stayed evergreen since their recording “Morning Dance” hit the charts in 1979.
“I always want to include a big crossover name at every festival” said Ervin. “This year it’s Spyro Gyra.”
A name with proven local appeal is the Hot Sardines (Jan. 12), a vintage jazz group of young New York players who appeared in the first TJF. Ervin calls them “Dixieland on steroids. They were the first sold out show at the festival.”
This year’s booking is also selling fast, enhanced by Tucson multi-instrumentalist Robbie Lee opening for the Hot Sardines. Lee is in his final year of undergraduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music.
Collaboration is another word Ervin likes. The festival’s collaborators include UA Presents bringing in the Hypnotic Brass and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra inviting Cuban trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval (Jan. 13-Jan.14) for two concerts with strings. Pianist and vocalist Diane Schuur’s quartet (Jan. 18) featuring saxophonist Ernie Watts along with pianist Bill Charlap’s trio will be appearing as part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival.
Back in the summer of 2014 there was plenty of skepticism when Mayor Jonathan Rothschild announced the city would help encourage an annual jazz festival with Ervin in charge and make it a national destination event. But history shows the festival never lost money and now stands on its own with solid sponsor supports and an expanding reputation.
“Exactly half of our ticket sales are from out of town, which we define as more than 50 miles away,” said Ervin. “Our research also shows the majority these visitors stay five or more nights.
“We are starting to get our list of regulars who come for the whole 10-day festival, making it their vacation. Like now we have these three couples who are friends that come down from Cambridge, Massachusetts, every year.”
The most popular TJF tradition is the full day Downtown Jazz Fiesta on Monday, Jan. 15, where admission is free to see 11 local bands fill four stages with the city’s own players getting their own showcase from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.