SAN DIEGO — The Jazz at the Lyceum series opens Wednesday with a concert by vibraphonist Lionel Hampton at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.
Why at a theater and why downtown? "Bringing jazz to the Lyceum Theatre is part of the San Diego Repertory Theatre's continuing commitment to making this space available to local arts organizations," said Lyceum booking manager David Lipton.
"Our philosophy is to have the Lyceum act as sort of an old town hall, where the various arts organizations in this city can have a centrally located focal point."
Promoter Rob Hagey has put together this mini-series under the auspices of the San Diego Jazz Festival. "When two arts organizations like the San Diego Jazz Festival and the Rep work together, you automatically have the chance to enlarge your audience," Hagey said.
"A lot of the people who regularly go to the theater are also the kind of people who enjoy the type of jazz we're presenting.
"And equally important is the theater itself. Acoustically, it's one of the best facilities in town. The backstage area is ideally suited for our purposes, and so is the theater's location.
"Most of the businesses that are part of the new downtown, including Horton Plaza, are directed toward the young professional market. And that's precisely the market that likes the type of jazz that we're presenting."
The series in the 535-seat theater continues with appearances by the Chico Freeman Quartet Feb. 25; the Paquito D'Rivera Quintet March 10, and the Timeless All-Stars March 17.
Among other festivals Hagey has produced under the San Diego Jazz Festival name are last year's "Legends of Jazz," which featured such notable veterans as the Modern Jazz Quartet and saxophonist Stan Getz, and "Jazz in Progress," which spotlighted such esoteric innovators as pianist McCoy Tyner and avant-garde saxophonist-composer Ornette Coleman.
Hagey's upcoming series differs from the previous ones in that, instead of having a theme, it celebrates the opening of a new jazz facility that until now has been used solely by the San Diego Repertory Theatre.
Series opener Lionel Hampton--who will perform at 7 and 9 p.m.--is a pioneering vibraphonist who has played with virtually every big name in jazz, including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Nat (King) Cole, Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Mingus. Along with his 17-piece orchestra, Hampton recalls the Swing Era through inspired jam sessions and a propensity for dance rhythms.
The Chico Freeman Quartet revolves around tenor saxophonist Freeman. His innovative style of play is rooted in the be-bop traditions that his father, Bud, helped establish, yet at the same time reaches into the experimental sphere of the avant-garde as defined by John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy.
The Paquito D'Rivera Quintet, which plays March 10, is led by Cuban exile D'Rivera. Considered to be one of the most gifted alto saxophonists in modern jazz, D'Rivera injects a sizzling Latin flavor into a music that is characterized by complex rhythms and dynamic arrangements.
The Timeless All-Stars, six jazz greats who joined forces in 1981 to create an exciting and unpredictable ensemble, will appear later. Trombonist Curtis Fuller has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Lester Young, and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Drummer Billy Higgins was a charter member of Ornette Coleman's group in the 1950s and has since become a favorite sideman with Pat Metheny, Chico Freeman and James Newton.
Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson routinely tops critics' polls around the country for his work with Archie Shepp and Eric Dolphy. Tenor saxophonist Harold Land, a former San Diegan, is a veteran of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.
Pianist Cedar Walton, like Fuller, is a former member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and, more recently, has played with Ron Carter. And bassist Buster Williams, after stints with Sarah Vaughan and Miles Davis, joined the Jazz Crusaders in the 1970s and continues to be one of the most sought-after jazz bassists in the business.
"If this series succeeds, we would like to produce more shows at the Lyceum," Hagey said. "We have had a good relationship with the San Diego Repertory since 1984, when they were the liquor license holders for our Michelob Street Scene.
"By working together over the years, we have repeatedly been able to help each other--and I would like to see that continue."