Gato Barbieri, who plays the Bacchanal on Saturday, has been something of an enigma in recent years. Now without a recording contract, he has spent part of his time since the early 1970s scoring such movies as “Last Tango in Paris” (for which he won a Grammy), “Stranger’s Kiss” and “Firepower.”
The movie music and saxophone innovator John Coltrane, who developed new sounds and systems of harmony before he died in 1967, have been among Barbieri’s prime influences. They’ve pulled his playing in two directions.
On the one hand, there’s the laid-back, romantic Barbieri, the movie Barbieri. On the other, there’s the Trane-ish Gato, his horn spraying hoarse, rasping streams of notes over the fast-moving South American rhythms set down by his bands. Though he hit a calm period in the ‘70s, his 1988 album, “The Third World Revisited,” may indicate where his horn’s at now: back on the edge, chasing the ghost of Coltrane.
Though other ‘70s jazz artists who dipped into electronic fusion have since either gone back to acoustic music or added digital electronics and computers, Barbieri has stuck to his guns. Electric piano and guitar are as high tech as the latest album gets. And it sounds great. Raw tenor over simple electrified jazz, with thick Latin percussion woven in, is all you want.
Barbieri will play two shows, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.
Promoters are generally leery of booking pure jazz into larger San Diego venues.
“I just don’t think San Diego’s a very hip marketplace in terms of mainstream jazz,” said promoter Kenny Weissberg, who just announced his spring and summer lineup for the outdoor Concerts by the Bay series at Humphrey’s on Shelter Island.
Last year, Weissberg had signed Dizzy Gillespie for the series, but canceled because only 400 tickets were sold. Sea World subsequently took on the show and reportedly lost a bundle, selling only 100 more tickets.
This year, Humphrey’s schedule includes 32 artists doing 37 shows. Only three of the musicians are from jazz’s mainstream: singer Diane Schuur, pianist Dave Brubeck and flutist Hubert Laws.
Weissberg tried to lure jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan this year, but she wasn’t willing to budge from her asking price of more than $20,000. (Schuur’s fee is less than half that.) Plus, Weissberg asks entertainers to do two shows to help him turn a profit, and stars like Vaughan aren’t always willing to oblige.
Schuur has been at Humphrey’s four seasons in a row, but last year was the first time she had her own night, instead of being paired with such commercially successful names as Dave Grusin or Lee Ritenour. Schuur did well on her own, selling 1,100 of 2,000 tickets for two shows, enough for Weissberg to make a small profit.
If San Diegans are inept at swimming in jazz’s mainstream, then Mexicans are wildly capable, with Tijuana one of the largest jazz pools of all.
“The market down there is tremendous,” said Ruben Seja, a sometimes jazz promoter and full-time artist specializing in murals. Seja, who used to book jazz at the now-defunct International Blend on 30th Street in San Diego, recently scored a major jazz success at the Centro Cultural in Tijuana.
In mid-January, the same weekend sax man Richie Cole played the tiny Diego’s Loft, Seja sold 1,400 tickets for two shows by Cole at the cultural center. Only about 200 tickets were bought by San Diegans. Seja couldn’t explain why jazz seems to go over so well south of the border.
“The main reason is they appreciate jazz,” he said. More than that, the Tijuana audience was apparently starved; no jazz had been booked at the cultural center since at least 1985, according to Seja.
Center management was so pleased it asked Seja to do a dozen more jazz shows in the next year. First up is tangy Latin percussionist Tito Puente on May 6. Concerts by Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Palmieri are tentatively scheduled for June.
Seja also plans shows in San Diego this spring, including a May 5 Cinco de Mayo concert with percussionist Poncho Sanchez at the Bacchanal and a May 13 performance by some of Brazil’s finest female musicians at the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park.
“Le Jazz Club” is the newest program added to the already-impressive lineup of shows on KSDS-FM (88.3), the San Diego City College jazz station. The new show, which airs every Sunday night at 7, offers digitally recorded live performances by French and American musicians playing Parisian clubs. The April 2 show (an exception to the Paris rule) has Martial Solal, Didier Lockwood, Joachim Kuhn and Jean Francois Jenny-Clark playing New York City’s Town Hall.
April 9, it’s a rare recording of a 1965 French date with the John Coltrane Quartet including McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Other upcoming shows: April 16, pianist Jean-Michel Machado and his trio, and April 23, a tribute to Nat King Cole by Monty Alexander, John Collins and Joe Wilder. Many cable TV systems in San Diego carry KSDS.