Rob Hagey is out to save jazz purists from a fate many consider worse than death: a summer onslaught of more than 50 pop-jazz concerts.
Jazz purists, after all, want to hear “real” jazz--instead of the breezy, commercial stuff dished out by Chuck Mangione, Spyro Gyra and the other pop-jazz acts scheduled to play in three separate concert series over the coming months.
So promoter Hagey and his San Diego Jazz Festival consortium are offering “real” jazzfor the seventh straight year, in the form of two jazz concert series of their own.
The first, titled “Legends of Jazz” and held at the Atlantis Restaurant, starts Sunday with the Modern Jazz Quartet and continues through mid-June with performances by five other traditional jazz masters.
The second, titled “Jazz in Progress” and held at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art’s Sherwood Auditorium, starts May 16 with contemporary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. It runs through June with appearances by some newer, more esoteric, jazz innovators.
The two series, the 35-year-old Hagey said, “fill a void” left by the three pop-jazz series presented by rival promoters at facilities like Humphrey’s on Shelter Island and San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater.
“First of all, the San Diego Jazz Festival is a nonprofit arts organization, and promoting pop-jazz is not really what the organization is all about,” Hagey said.
“Sure, pop-jazz is an important element of jazz, especially now. But it’s by no means the only element--and our goal is to present the full spectrum of jazz, from traditional to avant-garde.”
Hagey’s promotions will give the more serious jazz fan the chance to see in concert some of jazz’s prime innovators, both past and present.
The Modern Jazz Quartet, which will open the “Legends of Jazz” series Sunday, was formed in 1951 by four ex-members of Dizzy Gillespie’s rhythm section. The group, which takes a decided classical approach to traditional jazz, has since recorded dozens of jazz standards, including “Django,” “Fontessa” and “Pyramid.”
Saxophonist Stan Getz, who will play the Atlantis on April 30, is also a traditional jazz veteran. After getting his start in the post-World War II years as a sideman to Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and Benny Goodman, Getz rose to worldwide prominence as a soloist a decade later when he helped start the “cool” be-bop jazz scene in New York. In 1964, his instrumental “Girl From Ipanema” won 11 Grammy Awards; since then, he has become a leader of the fusion movement through recordings with Chick Corea, Stanley Clark and the group Return to Forever.
Also part of the “Legends of Jazz” series are classic vocalists Joe Williams and Carmen McRae, scheduled to appear at the Atlantis on May 8 and May 15, respectively, and 79-year-old violinist Stephane Grappelli, due here June 3.
Closing the series, on June 15, will be the Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars. All six musicians in this impromptu group--bassist Slam Stewart, saxophonists Morris Turney and Harold Ashby, pianist George Wein, drummer Oliver Jackson and trumpeter Warren Vache--are veterans of the Newport Jazz Festival, which has been held in Newport, R.I., for the last 30 years. Their repertoire consists of jazz standards from the early Dixieland days up to the Big Band era of the 1940s and ‘50s.
“Many of the newer jazz fans are only familiar with the modern pop-jazz acts they hear on commercial radio,” Hagey said. “And we feel it’s important to present artists of this caliber who in many ways are the founding fathers of jazz--the original innovators whose music has influenced virtually everyone else down the line.
“Jazz is one of America’s only indigenous art forms, and these musicians are among those responsible for developing this art form and helping it grow to where it is today.”
Hagey’s second series, “Jazz in Progress,” focuses on jazz’s future rather than its past.
The McCoy Tyner Trio kicks off this series on May 16. Tyner first broke into the music scene in the 1960s as a member of the John Coltrane Quartet and has since won various critics’ awards, including “Pianist of the Year” from Downbeat magazine and “Jazzman of the Year” from Rolling Stone magazine.
Next in the “Jazz in Progress” series is blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, who has kept the Kansas City blues tradition alive for more than 30 years, Hagey said. Witherspoon and his band will play Sherwood Auditorium on June 7.
The third act in the series, appearing June 13, is yet another impromptu group called the Leaders, which consists of six leaders of avant-garde jazz: saxophonists Chico Freeman and Arthur Blythe, trumpet player Don Cherry (who regularly plays with Old and New Dreams), percussionist Don Moye (of the Art Ensemble of Chicago), bassist Cecil McBee and pianist Kirk Lightsey.
Closing the series on June 28 is Ornette Coleman, an experimental saxophonist, composer and bandleader whose “free jazz” a quarter of a century ago helped reshape the face of improvisational jazz.
“Rather than incorporate musicians who belong to a certain style, as we did with the ‘Legends of Jazz’ series, the ‘Jazz in Progress’ series consists of an eclectic mix of artists who are all innovators in their respective fields,” Hagey said.