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All That Jazz

Overshadowed USC Fest Deserves a Closer Look

The annual event begins Monday with a week of intriguing offerings.

April 13, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The jazz festival at USC is not one of the Southland's high-profile musical events. And it's a bit hard to understand why it hasn't received more attention, or better attendance over the course of its eight annual events. This year's program, LA Jazz 2001, offers a set of programs that deserves far more careful consideration.

The festival begins Monday with an unusually intriguing offering: alto saxophonist Charles McPherson with the USC Thornton Jazz Strings, conducted by Shelly Berg, performing music from the classic Charlie Parker recordings with strings. It would be hard to find an alto saxophonist more thoroughly tapped into the bebop style than McPherson, who has developed the bop method in a direction that suggests where Parker may have gone, had he lived beyond the mid-'50s. It will be fascinating to hear his take on items that have become part of the essential bop legacy.

On Tuesday, singer Nnenna Freelon performs with her quartet. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, with a guest appearance by Australian James Morrison, an amazing multi-instrumentalist, appears on Wednesday. Thursday's bill opens with the gifted South African bassist/singer Richard Bona, followed by contemporary jazz saxophonist Eric Marienthal's group. Another contemporary/crossover-style ensemble, Steps Ahead, arrives Friday, and the festival concludes Saturday with the "Cannonball Adderley Suite," featuring Cecil Bridgewater, Vanessa Rubin and James Williams.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 17, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Bona's nationality--The All That Jazz column in Friday's Calendar mistakenly reported the nationality of bassist Richard Bona. He is from Cameroon.

That schedule alone should draw crowds to Bovard Auditorium, but LA Jazz 2001 has even more to offer. Noon concerts will be offered Monday through Saturday in Alumni Park showcasing students from the highly regarded USC jazz studies program with such guest artists as Justo Almario, Bill Watrous, Brian Bromberg and Alan Pasqua.

"One of the things we've tried to do with the festival is bring our student ensembles together with first-rate professional talent and see how each affects the other," says Craig Springer, LA Jazz 2001 executive producer. "We think this is something that adds a special quality to our programs, something that isn't often found in other jazz festivals."

Further enhancing that approach, the Saturday-afternoon program will feature in Alumni Park as many as 10 big-band jazz ensembles from area high schools. At the end of the afternoon, one of the ensembles will be chosen by Berg, USC jazz studies program director, to open the Saturday-night concert.

* LA Jazz 2001 at USC's Bovard Auditorium, April 16-21, noon and 7 p.m. Alumni Park programs are free. Evening concerts are $15, general public; $10, seniors. Three-day passes: $35; four-day passes: $45; six-day passes: $70. Information from Spectrum Student Affairs Office, (213) 740-2167, or on the Web at http://www.usc.edu/student-affairs/spectrum.

Festival Track: It's a big step from the relatively low visibility of USC's LA Jazz 2001 to the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival, now celebrating its 44th installment. The festival, Sept. 21-23, has just announced its lineup for this year's program. And although there's always a lot of jazz from which to pick over the event's three nights, two days and seven stages of entertainment, the schedule is a winner, even by Monterey's high standards.

Among the many showcase presentations:

* "Directions in Music," a celebration of the 75th birthdays of Miles Davis and John Coltrane (the two jazz icons were born four months apart in 1926), featuring Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove; the debut of Gunther Schuller's "Birth of the Cool," a rearrangement of the classic 1949 small group sessions, performed by the Joe Lovano Nonet; a joint appearance by Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner, his trio and Branford Marsalis.

* Marsalis will be present throughout the festival as this year's "Showcase Monterey" artist. In addition to the Tyner performance, he appears in a duo with pianist Billy Childs and with his own quartet.

* The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis, performing throughout the weekend as the festival's artists-in-residence.

* Bassist-bandleader Dave Holland, who has been granted the festival's annual commission to write a new work, will premiere his piece with the Dave Holland Big Band.

* The blues voltage traditionally associated with the Saturday-afternoon Monterey program will spark even more than usual this year with appearances by Taj Mahal and Jimmy Smith & the Dot-Com Blues Band.

* Sunday afternoon's program should match the Saturday voltage in a far different but equally energetic fashion with the performance of Brazilian singing and dancing star Daniela Mercury, a hit at the Hollywood Bowl last summer.

Beyond the obvious highlights, there will be performances by, among numerous others, Chris Potter, Jane Monheit, the Kenny Barron/Regina Carter Duo, a baritone saxophone summit honoring Cecil Payne, the Russell Malone Quartet, Claudia Acuna, Rachel Z, David Sanchez, Ann Dyer and Danilo Perez & the Motherland Project.

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