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Jazz Review

Sacramento Jubilee Offers Widening Spectrum


SACRAMENTO — This city's annual Memorial Day weekend Jazz Jubilee ended Monday afternoon in a glorious, raucous mix of blues, rags, stomps, R&B and Latin rhythms. Now in its 27th year, the jubilee has become one of the largest cultural events in California and is one of the two or three largest jazz festivals in the United States.

More than 100,000 enthusiasts, abetted by 3,800 volunteers, took in the sights and sounds of Old Sacramento, with its cobbled streets and board sidewalks, to listen to more than 125 bands and 1,000-plus musicians tootling away there and at other venues around the city.

The sound of trad, a.k.a. Dixieland, prevailed, and groups with large followings--such as Night-Blooming Jazzmen and more than two dozen others--were wildly cheered.

It was a somewhat limited jazz spectrum, with few intimations of the post-bebop world. But the spectrum is widening, and Louis Thomas' Pieces of Eight, with its hard-riffing tribute to the rock 'n' roll '60s, and the Latin jazz of Pete Escovedo and his big Latin Jazz Orchestra found very enthusiastic listeners.

From the beginning, the jubilee has addressed the crucial problem in jazz: how to expand both its players and its hearers after the present generations have left to join Bix and Armstrong. The jubilee sponsors a summer camp for young players to study with great jazz pros like Los Angeles clarinetist Abe Most and Detroit cornetist Tommy Saunders and many others.

The youth bands formed by the players are an annual highlight of the festival. Down on the wharf, alongside the tethered paddle-wheeler the Delta King, some of the holiday's sprightliest sounds are provided by these groups, some still in school, others that have stayed together and now play commercially and even sell their own CDs.

As always, the linking charm of all the music was virtuoso improvisation, a strong beat and sometimes a cool beauty, never more so than in the music of the Quintet of the Hot Club of San Francisco, with its unique instrumentation of three guitars, bass and violin playing charming homage to the gentle Gypsy swing of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.

The jazz scene is changing. Clubs grow scarce; more and more, jazz is heard on campuses, in concert halls, on cruises and at festivals like this one. If jazz is far from imperiled as an art form, it needs all the help it can get, and Sacramento provides a lot of it.

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