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Live Review: 2019 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

For its 30th go-round, this California confab let the music do the celebrating

Elio Villafranca at the 2019 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest
Elio Villafranca at the 2019 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest (photo: Robert Birnbach)

Tech-subjugated San Jose, main hub of Silicon Valley, has always been somewhat iconoclastic. Its Jazz Summer Fest—anchored around downtown Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park, the refined Fairmont Hotel, and numerous palatable restaurants—started in 1990 as a two-day (one fusion and one mainstream) grass-roots event. That makes this year’s installment the 30th, a milestone you’d think someone would want to make a big deal about. But this is San Jose, and so it was barely mentioned, although there was a row of posters by the mainstage exit spotlighting major moments from each past year in chronological order, thus forming a basic narrative for the festival’s history.

Now well-established and fully operational for three days (August 9-11), the 2019 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest featured a plentiful roster of jazz artists in 12 different venues, yet notably those artists never dominated the main outdoor stage in the park. Out of 11 marquee performers that included funk, gospel, salsa, and classic R&B, only three were jazz. Gregory Porter put on a crowd-pleasing but abbreviated set; Dianne Reeves overflowed with exhilarating vocalese, mainstream, Brazilian explorations, and expressive ballads; and Carl Allen’s Art Blakey Centennial Project was a hard-bop party with stirring solos and band interactions.

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Chris J. Walker

Chris J. Walker is a music journalist based in Los Angeles who has covered the jazz and blues scene all over Southern California, and throughout the rest of California, as much as possible for over 25 years. He, however, is not totally relegated to jazz and blues, and occasionally reviews folk, rock, R&B, funk and world music events as well.