HSL Properties is in its sixth year sponsoring the Tucson Jazz Festival or ‘Jazz in January.’ The festival continues to host world-class jazz artists at multiple venues in the city. The festival culminates on Martin Luther King Day with the Downtown Jazz Fiesta that is an all-day event encompassing four outside stages providing non-stop free entertainment.
The first weekend January 10-12, proved that Jazz in January lined up stellar entertainment to draw out of town visitors as well as local fans to enjoy the great Arizona weather and music. Here is a rundown of what we experienced.
Maceo Parker and His All-Star Big Band, To Ray with Love
Parker is a legendary saxophonist and innovator of soul and funk music. He has thrilled audiences performing in bands from the James Brown Band, George Clinton, and Prince to his solo band for well over 50 years. Parker has been touring with a show dedicated to one of his idols, Ray Charles. This concert was a fitting opening show for the festival at the University of Arizona’s Centennial Hall. Parker’s big band included many former members of the Ray Charles Orchestra conducted by Steve Sigmund.
The show opened with the instrumental “One Mint Julip.” Parker sauntered on to the stage doing his best ‘Ray Charles’ wearing dark sunglasses, a silk-patterned jacket, grinning, and slapping his hand against his thigh as the band played. Parker even mimicked Charles’ characteristic shoulder-sway to the beat of the songs.
It was uncanny how Parker’s vocal renditions of “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Busted” and “Georgia On My Mind” carried the listener back to Charles’ vocals. Half-way through the show, Parker called upon the Raelettes, Karen Evans, Katrina Harper, and Elaine Woodard, to harmonize on “Hit the Road Jack” and “Unchain my Heart.”
It shouldn’t be surprising when Charles was a major influence on Parker from an early age. Parker reminisced on when he finally got to meet Charles when he was 18. He vowed that one day, Charles would know his name. Parker didn’t really play his saxophone till the later portion of the show when he leaned into his funk roots with “Soul Power.”
The show was much like traveling back to a time when Charles ruled radio airplay and one could wallow in the revere of Ray Charles’ music.
The David Sanborn Quintet
Sanborn has had a prolific musical career for well over 40 years. He has played with some of the most iconic artists from Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon to David Bowie. The list of his contributions to popular music is unending. Sanborn has earned six Grammy Awards, eight gold albums with one that is certified platinum. His 150 contributions as a sideman on other artists’ albums is nothing short of top-notch.
The concert at the Fox Theatre on Saturday night was highly anticipated and the entire quintet was brilliant. The musicians included Michael Dease on trombone and trumpet, Geoffrey Keezer on keyboards, Bob Deboo on acoustic bass, and Billy Kilson on drums in addition to Sanborn on saxophone. Each member of the band had ample opportunity to shine. It was apparent many times during the show that Sanborn enjoyed his support band as much as the audience.
On several occasions, Keezer multitasked playing piano with one hand and synth with his other hand at the same time. Dease had many trombone and trumpet solos that were incredibly impressive. He often had moments of ‘dueling’ with Sanborn as they traded phases. Both Deboo and Kilson had superb solos and never took the back seat to the other artists.
Several genres of music were covered during the set. The closest to smooth jazz was “It’s All in the Game.” Sanborn remarked that he was surprised when he learned that the song was written by Calvin Coolidge’s vice-president, Charles Dawes. Several of the songs were taken from Sanborn’s most recent album, Time and the River. Funk, Afro-beat, and R & B music were celebrated. A re-working of “Maputo” was given stellar treatment using a West African beat.
Grace Kelly and Aubrey Logan
Sunday night was time for a younger generation of artists vying for their own iconic place in jazz. Grace Kelly and Aubrey Logan had separate sets at the Rialto Theatre. Neither was an opening act as each artist performed a complete set.
Grace Kelly is a saxophonist, a singer/songwriter and an arranger. To say Kelly was born to entertain is an understatement. She was a child prodigy who wrote her first song at the age of seven. By the age of 12, she released her first of 13 CDs.
It was obvious that from the first few moments Kelly took the stage the show was going to be a high-octane jazz show. The show was a thrilling mixture of Kelly’s outstanding saxophone and her jazz vocals. It was obvious that she is a veteran of showmanship at the ripe old age of 27. The set was a mixture of her self-penned songs and musical standards.
The show started with “Unchain My Heart.” Kelly’s body movements while she is playing the saxophone is hypnotic. “You Are My Sunshine” was Kelly’s take on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” punctuated by one of her many sax solos during the night. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” were highlights of the night.
Kelly performed her single “Feels Like Home.” It was the winner of Song of the Year for the 2018 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. She shared many stories during the night. One of the most enduring was how she met her current boyfriend and how she fell in love. She has an honest approach to her writing and her performances. Kelly was able to switch from a paired down saxophone to an energetic, gritty sound. You can’t take your eyes off of the powerhouse performer. Tucson will welcome Kelly back anytime.
Aubrey Logan had the task of following up Kelly’s dynamic performance. Logan was well aware that she had her work cut out for her and she seemed to be willing to do just about anything to capture the hearts of the crowd. Logan met the challenge with aplomb. She sings, writes songs and plays a mean trombone.
Logan may be best known for her work with Postmodern Jukebox or the Dave Koz Band. She is an American Idol alumnus from 2009. She got the golden ticket pass to the finals. She does her own solo tours.
It was obvious as soon as she hit the stage that Logan has an innate ability to develop an immediate rapport with the crowd. She managed to keep this attention going throughout the entire set.
The set started with a sweet rendition of a Doobie Brothers’ cover of “Listen to the Music.” Logan’s very impressive vocal acrobatics were displayed with a jazzy operatic number “Habanera” (L’amour est un oiseau rebelle) from Bizet’s opera, Carmen. She told the story about how she wanted to be an opera singer, but got disillusioned. There was an incredible cover of Carol King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
“The Remembering Song” is an amusing self-penned song about love gone wrong. Logan just released her new album in 2019, Where the Sunshine is Expensive. Many of the original songs on the new album were a commemoration of Los Angeles.
The encore was very special with Grace Kelly joining Logan on stage with a rousing version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor.” Both entertainers played their chosen instruments and sang as the crowd sang along, clapped and danced their way to the end of the show. With entertainers like these two, you really “don’t need no doctor.”