Jazz Festival Will Get Downtown Hopping
January 8, 2015
by Brad Poole
Back in the 1980s, Tucson had a thriving jazz scene.
There were scores of shows every year, both local and drawn in from across the country, and musicians and fans had their fill of jazzy entertainment. Things have contracted considerably in the scene here since then, but the Tucson Jazz Festival – a 10-day extravaganza that includes concerts, classes and even brunch – aims to revive things, said director Yvonne Ervin.
“I think we’re definitely filling a void,” Ervin said.
Shows are scheduled from Jan. 16-28 for the Screening Room, Rialto Theater, Fox Theatre, Club Congress, and Arizona Inn. Top acts include Jimmy Cobb, the only surviving member of Miles Davis’ original band, who will turn 86 during the festival. Dianne Reeves, Burt Bacharach, and the Hot Sardines will perform.
There will be jam sessions at several local bars and restaurants after many of the shows, and plans are afoot for live jazz on the streetcar.
The festival was the brainchild of Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who contacted Ervin to help organize the event. It fits nicely between the holidays and Tucson’s busy February tourist season, which includes the Tucson Gem and Mineral Showcase and the Tucson Rodeo.
Rothschild stepped in to try to plug that January event gap.
“Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, January is a great time to explore all that Tucson has to offer, and the Tucson Jazz Festival is a wonderful addition to it,” Rothschild said in an open letter posted on the festival website.
And the festival isn’t a one-off event, because Ervin quit her job at University of Arizona to take on the effort. She’s already working on next year, and she’s giving it everything she’s got.
“It’s definitely full time,” she said.
The festival starts Jan. 16 with a Fox Theater show featuring Jimmy Cobb with the Joey DeFrancesco Quartet and ends with a Burt Bacharach show, also at the Fox.
On Jan. 19, which is Martin Luther King Day, Fifth Avenue will be closed from Broadway to Toole for a day-long bash on two stages that will include a dozen bands – everything from Dixieland jazz to pure blues. The MLK Day event is free.
Although the jazz scene in Tucson was ebbed in recent years, it never died. Ervin was executive director of the Tucson Jazz Society from the early 1980s through the late 1990s. When she moved to New York City, there were about 40 shows per year here.
Now there are only a handful, but Tucson musicians never abandoned jazz during her decade-plus absence.
“The scene of young people playing jazz flourished while I was gone,” Ervin said.
Local musician Tony Frank, who is hosting the main stage for part of the MLK Day show, backs that up. In 2012, Frank started a weekly jam session at Elliot’s on Congress. They play to a packed house every week, and there are plenty of college students and young, urban hipsters in attendance.
“The room is vibrant. It’s exciting, and the average age is under 40, so it’s not your grandma’s jazz, for sure,” Frank said. “I think jazz is the music of the people. It’s the music of the streets.”
The title sponsor for the festival is HSL Properties, and other key contributors include the Jim Click Automotive Team, Tucson Jazz Society, Nuanced Media and Norville Investment. More than two dozen other organizations, companies and individuals also got behind the effort.
For more information about the Tucson Jazz Festival, show dates, and ticket information, see TucsonJazzFestival.com of find them on Facebook. For information about the post-concert jams during the Jazz Festival, find Tony Frank on Facebook.