The Spring of Jazz Blossoms World Wide

It is Spring 2012 and music is breaking out all over.
It is Monday and it is International Jazz Day, an event put together by Herbie Hancock and the United Nations.

The career of Herbie Hancock is an example of greatness and his music is suddenly everywhere. Not only is he a brilliant, creative, and all around amazing artist, but he constantly pushes himself to create something new. An example recently is the PBS Television Special in which Herbie plays Gershwin’s American in Paris with Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic. If you are at all interested in the sheer explosion of brilliance in music that Herbie exhibits here, you should not miss this. Then there is the beautiful job Sirius Satellite radio is doing, running many hours of Herbie’s music on their “Real Jazz Station”. From bebop, to funk, to electro-hip hop, Herbie is constantly probing, pushing and spreading his wings. Now with International Jazz Day, Herbie Hancock has emerged as the spokesman for the music itself, and someone who can bring together the entire world to celebrate this original art form. Herbie Hancock is our national treasure, the leader and creative force that marks the turning point in improvised music to a new level of accomplishment and power across the planet. And through listening to this force of nature, we can understand how art can lead us to joy and understanding that brings all of us on the world together. Especially in these times, Herbie Hancock is our ambassador of American greatness and accomplishment.

And to celebrate this time of international celebration, we traveled to the San Francisco Jewish Community Center to see the first Israeli Jazz Festival, sponsored by SF Jazz. This festival within a festival, as it is called, ran over the weekend and ended Sunday with the Gilad Hekselman Trio and the band call the Three Cohen’s. This event is really about the emergence of some new artists coming out of Israel, and if this event was any indication, there is certainly something to celebrate. Set in the intimate concert hall at the JCC, with an excellent sound system and a very enthusiastic audience, this show was one of the best SF Jazz events this listener has seen in years. Gilad led off with a stunning demonstration of Pat Metheny like playing, but with a lot more groove and swing. What pulled this trio together was the tour de force drumming of Obed Calvaire. This American drummer from Miami has perfomed with major jazz artists such as Steve Turre, singer Liz Wright and Stefon Harris and I had never heard him before. But at this festival he was a major reason for the success of these two groups. Obed’s power and swing demonstrates why great drummers are often the key to great jazz.

After a brief intermission, brother and sister Anat, Yuval and Avishai Cohen proved that they are one of the most exciting and entertaining groups of young musicians around. All the playing was great, but special mention has to be given to Anat’s clarinet playing which is on another level. Not only does she play with a complete command of a difficult instrument, she sustains a smooth and flowing swing that it an accomplishment well beyond her years. Let’s hope this festival continues and that Anat Cohen and crew keep participating.

Not only is this Spring a wonderful time for serious music listeners, it is proving that the Bay Area is slowly becoming a key music center, especially for the development of young artists just starting their careers. Let’s help them grow and celebrate this flowering of music and joy. Their time is now, and as the generation of Herbie Hancock passes the torch while they continue to give us their best, we can only marvel how this music that we call jazz continues to grow. From Tel Aviv, to Japan to the SF Bay, one world is swinging. With your support, this flame will keep on burning.

Ken Vermes writes about jazz, photographs musicians, and promotes great music whenever he can. Follow Ken on Facebook and e-mail him at zken@comcast.net.

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Ken V