The festival, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop from which it evolved, were both founded in 1972 by Jim Nadel, who serves as artistic and executive director. "I was looking for a way to enrich my own jazz education, and wanted to surround myself with other players and learn different techniques," says Nadel, who plays the saxophone.
"With the workshop, we've created a performance space as well as a forum for the exchange of information and ideas."
Throughout the summer, the Stanford campus is host to a variety of jazz performances, while a jazz workshop with separate programs for young people and adults runs in parallel for three weeks starting in mid-July. Budding musicians have the opportunity to interact with and learn from leading players during the day, and attend public performances at night.
The festival truly began to expand its reach in the 1980s following a performance by Dizzy Gillespie, famous for his work in modern jazz and bebop. The event was national news, causing the festival to double in size, with the Internet later broadening its scope even farther. "Suddenly, we had students coming from outside the United States, beginning with one musician from Sri Lanka," Nadel recalls.
In 1994, the festival produced a reunion between saxophonist Joe Henderson and pianist Horace Silver, two jazz luminaries and longtime collaborators who had not seen each other in 15 years. That moment in Dinkelspiel Auditorium, captured in a photograph on Nadel's office wall, speaks volumes about the festival's mission and legacy.
"The workshop satisfies a need among musicians for exchange and collaboration," Nadel says. "And it's been nurtured by an expression of love for this music by many great musicians, who keep coming back."
This year, the festival will open with a solo piano performance on June 24 by New Orleans-based composer Allen Toussaint. Other performers will demonstrate the origins and reach of jazz, including Brazil's Milton Nascimento, whom Nadel describes as "the Paul McCartney of Brazilian jazz."
Tel Aviv-based clarinet and saxophone player Anat Cohen will perform in a quartet, while the Afro-Cuban variety of jazz will be represented by two groups, John Calloway and the Latin Collective, and the Yosvany Terry Quartet.
"Cuba is important because a lot of the rhythms we celebrate today were nurtured there," Nadel says. He explains that the sounds that gave birth to modern jazz originated in Africa, following the trade routes to make their way through Cuba to New Orleans. Since then, Afro-Cuban jazz has evolved a little differently and begun employing more clave-based rhythms.
"Jazz is a music that celebrates individual self-expression," Nadel says. "There is not just one way to approach or learn how to play jazz. Some play it intellectually, while others play much more from the heart."
Last year at the festival, one returning student gave what Nadel describes as one of the event's finest-ever performances. "Joshua Redman, one of the great young saxophonists of our time, performed in a wonderful trio with Eric Harland and Reuben Rogers," recalls Nadel. "Josh was here as a student in the '80s, and I've heard him play so many times before. But that evening was the best I've ever heard him.
"He'd spent time interacting with the students, and for whatever reason, it was a great night for him."
As Redman demonstrates, the idea of mentorship — and the potential for alumni to return as established artists — is central to the festival. Along with the jazz camp and residency programs, six promising college-age musicians are selected every two years from around the country to serve as mentors, simultaneously gaining an opportunity for intense interaction with professionals as well as learning how to teach. At the end of their paid two-year residency, the mentors perform at their own show.
"These are some of the most brilliant young players in the world," Nadel says. "You'll be hearing a lot from them one day."
What:The 40th annual Stanford Jazz Festival and Workshop, with concerts and camp
Where: Public performances are in Dinkelspiel Auditorium and Campbell Recital Hall, Stanford University.
When: The main festival schedule runs June 24 through Aug. 6. Free special events include a concert with the the S.F. Bourbon Kings and others from 2 to 6 p.m. June 18 at Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto.
Cost: Most concert tickets range from $24 to $65 for general admission and $14 to $35 for students.
Info: Go to stanfordjazz.org or call 650-725-ARTS.