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Festivals Report

#SJZSummerFest: Etienne Charles – World Premiere of The San Jose Suite



Etienne Charles - World Premiere of The San Jose Suite at #SJZSummerFest

Etienne Charles – World Premiere of The San Jose Suite – Photo: Tomas Peña

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2015 – Live Report by Tomas Peña

A highlight of the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest was the World Premiere of The San Jose Suite at the historic California Theatre.

Commissioned by Chamber Music America and composed by trumpeter Etienne Charles, the nine-part suite celebrates three cities that share the same name: San José, Costa Rica, St. Joseph in Trinidad, which was founded in 1592 as San Jose Oruna and San Jose, California.

The research entailed visits to each locale, where Charles met with townspeople, local historians, storytellers, medicine men and shamans among others. He also observed and participated in rituals and jammed with local musicians. Often, discovering more similarities than differences between the cultures.

Etienne Charles

Etienne Charles – Photo: Tomas Peña

Etienne Charles is an articulate speaker. Prior to playing a note and between tunes he engaged the audience with historical context and fascinating facts and stories that brought the subject matter to life.

The band opened the set with Karinya, a tune that depicts the burning down of San Jose, Trinidad in 1637, followed by Revolt, which draws from a West Indian slave uprising. Other notable tunes included Juego de Los Diablitos, where the Borucas Indians of Costa Rica employ the figure of a bull to represent the aggression of the Spanish conquerors and re-enact the battle to their advantage. One of the more fascinating tunes was Gold Rush 2.0, where Charles equates the California Gold Rush of 1849 with present day San Jose, the epicenter of Silicon Valley. Despite the suffering inherent in the stories, Charles composes tunes that speak of hope, resistance and community and sees jazz as a vehicle for spreading hope in the face of adversity.

California Theatre

California Theatre – Photo:

In the same location, on the upper mezzanine the Villalobos Brothers held court at the KCSM Music Lounge. The brothers masterfully blend elements of jazz, rock, and classical and Mexican folk music to deliver a message of love, brotherhood, and social justice.

For a taste of Etienne Charles at his best, check out his most recent recording, Creole Soul, where he explores his musical roots and draws from Haitian creole chants, blues, bebop, R&B and Rocksteady, Reggae, Belair, Kongo and Calypso.

The California Theatre is one of the best-preserved examples of the late 1920s motion picture houses in the United States and is the home of the renowned Opera San Jose and Symphony Silicon Valley. Originally, known as the Fox Theatre, the newly restored California Theatre has been refurbished and expanded to present fuller and richer productions.

The event was one of the most memorable evenings of my stay in San Jose.

The Players: Etienne Charles (trumpet, percussion), Brian Hogan (saxophone), Alex Wintz (guitar), Victor Gould (piano), Ben Williams (bass) and John Davis (drums).


Photos: Tomas Peña (click on thumbnails to enlarge)

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

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Festivals Report

TD Toronto Jazz Festival – June 24 to July 3, 2022



TD Toronto Jazz Fest 2022

10 Days of Free Shows — Say What!

My TD Toronto Jazz Festival started mid festival, Tuesday, June 28th, early evening. It was all about Juno winners and nominees. The first act, Sammy Jackson and her quartet performing at the TD Main Stage at the OLG Grove.

Sammy Jackson - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Sammy Jackson – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

Sammy Jackson won a Juno for vocal jazz album of the year. Her band, made up of Jackson on Vocals, Thomas Fleming – guitar, Chris Pruden – keys, Mark Godfrey – bass and Ian Wright playing the drums. Jackson sang songs from her award winning 5-track EP With You, featuring original compositions. Sammy Jackson added some songs from her 2016 release, the 5-track EP Take Me Back, to make for an enjoyable hour long performance. Jackson’s songs are about joy, vulnerability, long distance relationships, and love. Jackson blends jazz, R&B, soul and pop with her beautiful voice.

Sammy Jackson - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Sammy Jackson – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

Jackson covers an impressive vocal range, and her phrasing is delightful. Jackson shines on the ballads. I especially enjoyed “Bad Reception” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye”.

Sammy Jackson concluded her show with one dedicated to her son, entitled “Chuckie”, a toddler who happened to be in the audience and made a cameo at the front of the stage. This tune was upbeat and had a happy go lucky, dance groove to get everybody moving.

I spoke with Jackson after the show, I asked her if she noticed the Juno enhancing her career? She said, “I think it’s why I’m here. The Juno increased my exposure. So that’s great. Thank you Juno!”

Kellylee Evans - Photo by Danilo Navas
Kellylee Evans – Photo by Danilo Navas

Kellylee Evans performed the evening of the 28th and I was not going to miss her concert at the TD Main Stage. Kellylee Evans was in great vocal form and in accompaniment with a wonderful band made up of Joel Visentin – keyboards, Mark Godfrey – bass, Rich Grossman – guitar, and Ian Wright on drums.

Evans has suffered some serious physical setbacks in her recovery from a tragic accident in 2013. She has an injury that is effecting her ability to walk and even to stand. She performed the show from a sitting position.

Kellylee Evans - Photo by Danilo Navas
Kellylee Evans – Photo by Danilo Navas

Evans puts her heart and soul into her singing. She is a Juno winner for vocal jazz album of the year for Nina, released in 2010. One of my favourite vocal jazz albums.

This evening, Evans performed songs from her new 5-song EP Green Light as well as many others. A beautiful, dynamic, high energy performance—even from her seated position.

Alexis Baró Quintet - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Alexis Baró Quintet – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

I started off Wednesday, the 29th with the amazing trumpet playing of Alexis Baró. The Alexis Baró Quintet was performing at the TD Stage at Festival Village in Yorkville.

I really enjoy Baró’s trumpet playing. I think he is one of the most expressive players in the Afro Cuban style. Baró performed songs from his new album Ma Raiz.

Larnell Lewis Band - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Larnell Lewis Band – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

I only stuck around for a few of the songs as Joy Lapps and Larnell Lewis were performing at the TD Main Stage at the OLG Grove, a few streets south. It is most unfortunate to have these scheduling conflicts. However, It is amazing to have so much talent at one festival.

Joy Lapps and Larnell Lewis performed on the TD Main Stage Wednesday the 29th – a dynamite performance. The band, made up of Larnell Lewis – drums, Joy Lapps – steelpan, Jeremy Ledbetter – piano, Elmer Ferrer – guitar, Rob Christian – woodwinds, Andrew McAnsh – trumpet and Marc Manhertz – bass.

Larnell Lewis Band with Joy Lapps - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Larnell Lewis Band with Joy Lapps – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

“Rejoice” was the title of one of the songs performed and to hear this band is to rejoice. When I listen to Larnell Lewis play I feel the pulse through my soul. I think this is the most heartful drummer I have ever heard. His music is uplifting, powerful, dynamic, his beats, fills and rhythms, just outstanding. He shares his heart with the audience, nothing is left on the stage. 

Now to get ready for a return to Koerner Hall, after 2 years of isolation, for one of the few ticketed events, the Gregory Porter band. Excited? Yes, indeed!

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