San Jose Jazz Summer Fest Review

On the first night of Jazz Fest thousands gathered anxiously on a warm night, to see the leader of the mother ship and Funk god Bootsy Collins, perform. The rock legend, whose melodies have inspired modern day’s greatest rap artists (Eazy E, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg), came out in all his glittering, shiny funkalicious glory.

The crowd sprung onto their feet to dance as he played several Parliament classics such as “Give Up the Funk” and of course his most famous track, “I’d Rather Be With You.”  This rock legend’s bass was shaped into a glowing star; his grin wide, welcoming and mischievous as ever, and his signature voice- the crowd sang along loudly.

“ Bootsy can hold an audience in the palm of his hand, and make you glad that you came,” Matt Bryant – Bootsy Collins fan.

He wore sequined zebra, and his signature star-shaped sunglasses. He then changed into a hot pink, feathered, glittered ensemble (complete with an Earthquakes jersey). His back up dancers and singers wore glittery jump suits and afros. Cezar Chavez’s Plaza’s lawn was taken back to the 70s and you could see the nostalgic smiles spread across people’s faces.

At the end of his set, Bootsy told us he wanted to go out into the audience and commanded the crowd to “part like the Red Sea.” He said he, “Didn’t need security, because San Jose was his security.” Some got to hug and kiss him as he walked through the crowd. A perfect way to kick off Jazz Fest weekend.

There were a dozen stages at Jazz Fest and events at cafes, restaurants, hotels, and clubs throughout downtown San Jose. Hosted acts and special scheduled events for Jazz Fest carried well into the late night hours. It was hard to choose what to see and do because there we so many choices. All you could do is carry your festival guide in hand, sling your fold up chair over your shoulder, and keep moving- as thousands did.

Walking up to Cafe Stritch on Saturday afternoon to see Michael O’Neill Quintet with Kenny Washington- the line was long and the venue was already at capacity. Venues hosting jazz acts were overflowing all day and night.

“Anyone can go to the festival and find something that they like. It’s like a menu at a restaurant,” Dorothy Knox- festival goer, “We had friends from Half Moon Bay and Las Vegas staying at the Fairmont just for the festival. People that lived on the same floor had come from all over the country.”

Walking from stage to stage was easy and the weather was warm and idyllic all weekend. The crowd was laid back and relaxed and calm. The food and vendors were as diverse as the people attending. People were eating chilli powder- covered Mangos on sticks (Mexican style), drinking cold beer to cool off in the warm afternoon, and gnawing on massive barbequed turkey legs. They were buying hats, jewelry, cd’s and t-shirts.

“I don’t like crowds or festivals, but I look forward to this every year. There is no stereotypical jazz fan. There was such a range of folks- elderly, young, people with children, every ethnicity, and culture- it draws from the diversity of the Bay Area.” Claire Wagner-  San Jose resident.   “Every year I come home with a big pile of CD’s that I listen to all year long.”

This electric energy and diversity was felt and seen at the Salsa Stage as dozens of couples- of all ages and ethnicities- danced as people gathered around them and watched the spins and intricate steps. People danced and moved to the seductive drums and sexy Latino lyrics of meringue, cha cha, and salsa songs.  Edgardo Cambon y Su Conjunto LaTiDo  was addictive, and the lead singer’s Edgardo Cambón’s,  conga drum was mesmerizing. Even as the sun got hotter and the sweat ran down people’s faces- people cheered and  begged for an encore. He sang Puerto Rican, Colombian and Mexican songs.

I have been attending the SJ Jazz Festival since its first year,” Antonio Duque- San Jose resident,  “What I always enjoy the most is the time I get with my friends and dancing to all the live salsa music. All the salsa bands were equally great. It was an exhilarating 3 days of salsa music and dancing.”

Post Street transformed into a party from the bayou. This narrow street, lined with restaurants, with the Big Easy Stage at the helm- produced the closest thing I have ever seen of New Orleans. On Saturday, CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Lousiana Band were incredible- their unique zydeco instruments enveloped the crowed. People danced and clapped in a fury.  CJ Chenier’s (otherwise known as the “heir to the zydeco throne”) velvety voice and blood-red accordion was incredible. His rendition of Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” had the narrow Post Street crowd gyrating and singing.   His band mate’s washboard playing (washboard made into a wearable breastplate mind you) was a performance in and of itself.

The southern sounds mixed with the warm air and for an hour or so we were in Louisiana. The Post Street crowd was also mesmerized the next day by Andre Thierry (a Bay Area born zydeco musician). “Post Street was the best street party ever! People were dancing, eating, and sitting with strangers,” Claire Wagner- San Jose resident, “People were brought together by music. Zydeco is the best party music ever.”

Dancing of a slower variety was seen on Saturday’s Blues Stage when Alex Hahn and the Blue Riders, an Australian group, performed.  They were closing their California tour at the Festival. Ms. Hahn’s vocal range was incredible- her voice reminded me of a mix of Etta James, Amy Winehouse and Nikka Costa.

People danced and cheered as she hit high notes and let out a few Donna Summer-like moans and groans- her voice was a soothing mix of gritty and soft. It was a beautiful combination with her band’s brilliant bass player. It was a delight to hear her do her rendition of, “You Can Leave Your Heart On.”

This San Jose Jazz Festival- celebrating its 25th anniversary was a great success. If one word were to describe it, it would be- quality. The lineup was impressive. The musicians- well known or newly discovered, were excellent and brought so much joy to San Jose. It was an event you could truly relax and escape from your day-to-day busy life. You could go with your friends and sip on beer one day, and sit with your grandparents the next day.

There was a sense of lighthearted happiness in the air. It was invigorating walking in San Jose’s gorgeous downtown, palm trees swaying in the warm wind,  bars and restaurants buzzing with live music, and cheering crowds coming from every direction.

The sight of so many smiling faces from so many walks of life and cultures- dancing, eating together and meeting one another, celebrating life and the things they love with their friends and family- was a very special thing to see, especially at a time when so many sad and terrible things are going in the world. You felt lucky to be there. I can’t wait for next year.

These artists were also highly recommended by festival attendees we spoke to. Please support them by listening, liking their Facebook pages, and going to their shows locally:

Review and Photos by Anna Bagirov









San Jose Jazz Summer Fest



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