Some 20 jazz bands and solo artists will light up Tucson stages with swinging sounds, celebrating the life of the executive director of the Tucson Jazz Festival.
Yvonne Ervin, who founded the event, now in its fifth year, passed away Dec. 26 at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.
“This show is all hers,” said TJF board President Elliot Glicksman. “She’s the one who hired all the acts, booked all the venues, paid the performers’ deposits. Set up the promotion. Everything.”
From Friday, Jan. 11, to Monday, Jan. 21, the acts will grace Tucson stages, representing a kaleidoscope of tastes that range from Bobby McFerrin’s imaginative vocal gymnastics to the driving Latin rhythms of Magos Herrera, from the New Orleans funk of Trombone Shorty with Orleans Avenue, to the full-on orchestral styling of Pink Martini backed by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.
But for Glicksman, the real story is how so many of the city’s jazz fans have pitched in to help, wanting to provide whatever is needed to keep the festival going.
“The outpouring of support has been so heartwarming,” Glicksman continued. “From the mayor and the festival’s sponsors to the board members and volunteers from everywhere. They are all working hard, just as if they were actually being paid.
“During the festival Yvonne will be recognized at every show. Then once the festival is over there will be a memorial service, a celebration of Yvonne’s life with lots of music. Her husband Alan (Hershowitz) didn’t want her passing to be a distraction from the festival itself.”
Tickets sales have been strong, as they have every year, says Glicksman. The festival has always made money. Last year, seven of the nine concerts sold out. This year McFerrin, the western swing band Asleep at the Wheel and 15-year-old international piano jazz prodigy Joey Alexander are attracting the most attention from ticket buyers.
As this burgeoning festival continues to shape its personality on the national scene, the most identifying element has been to showcase the widest possible spectrum of jazz flavors.
Appearing a few days after Alexander the Boy Wonder comes the consummately experienced Sheila Jordan, honored by the National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master. Born in Detroit in 1928 she was among the first generation to be directly influenced by the bebop icon Charlie Parker, the first vocalist to be recorded by Blue Note Records, releasing “Portrait of Sheila” in 1963.
Each year the Tucson festival has featured one of the nation’s NEA Jazz Masters. Past honorees have included drummer Jimmy Cobb and saxophonist Jimmy Heath.
“The show Yvonne was most excited about this year is Magos Herrera’s quartet and Jane Bunnett with Maqueque,” said Glicksman. “All the musicians are women. Jane Bunnett, playing sax and flute, was a part of the Primavera festivals Yvonne started here in the 1980s to celebrate women in jazz.”
Both groups play with a strong Latin flavor. Herrera is a jazz vocalist based in New York who grew up in Mexico. She sings in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Maqueque is a quintet described on YouTube as “an assembly of all-star Cuban musicians.”
Unlike previous years, when the Downtown Jazz Fiesta showcasing local musicians in free concerts on Martin Luther King Day occurred in the middle of the festival, this year’s Downtown Jazz Fiesta will close the festival on Monday, Jan. 21.
Also new is the free concert by longtime Tucson favorite Poncho Sanchez playing Latin and Afro-Cuban party music on the main stage outdoors near the Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 2 p.m.
Everything else about the Downtown Fiesta will be the same, with a trio of outdoor stages hosting bands from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The stages are at the Playground complex, 278 E. Congress St., the Connect Coworking office space, 33 S. Fifth Ave., and the main stage, just west of the Hotel Congress.