Jazz band rising

SFJAZZ Collective makes Stanford debut

When the SFJAZZ Collective makes its Stanford debut at Bing Concert Hall this Wednesday, its members may feel right at home.

Bing opened its doors in January 2013, the same month the Collective's own SFJAZZ Center opened in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood. The world's first-ever freestanding building devoted to jazz, the center has understandably garnered international attention. But the 11-year-old Collective's considerable accomplishments, which helped establish its reputation beyond the region, are equally impressive.

Conceived by Founder and Executive/Artistic Director Randall Kline and saxophonist and Berkeley native Joshua Redman, the all-star band launched in 2004 and boasted Redman on tenor and soprano saxes, vibraphonist/marimbist Bobby Hutcherson, alto saxophonist/flautist Miguel Zenón, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, trombonist Josh Roseman, pianist Renee Rosnes, double bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Brian Blade.

Each season, the work of a different legendary composer -- or, in the case of Stevie Wonder, a songwriter -- is featured. Members are also tasked with writing a new piece for the octet, and each season to come up with an original arrangement of one of the honoree's compositions.

Maverick alto saxophonist/trumpeter/violinist Ornette Coleman got the SFJAZZ nod in 2004. This season, they're exploring the songbook of the late tenor saxophonist and former Bay Area resident Joe Henderson. With some input from upper management, the Collective's members decide on who will be spotlighted and offers candidates for replacement and substitute players. (The goal is for newcomers to stay on board for at least two years.)

All eight Collective musicians partake in a multi-week residency in San Francisco before each short season to rehearse, fine-tune arrangements and interact with the community. The group's current roster is Zenón, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Edward Simon, double bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire.

After Berkeley resident Redman and longtime Montara denizen Hutcherson both left the Collective in 2007, the group lacked a local presence; most associates were coming in from New York City. That changed last August, when six-year Collective veteran Simon moved from central Florida to Emeryville with his family.

Meeting for a mid-afternoon interview at a chic bar and grill a block from his new home, Simon explained, "We would always get this question wherever we went -- we still do, actually: 'Why are you called the SFJAZZ Collective and no one is from or lives in San Francisco?' So now at least I am living here."

A native of Punta Cardón in coastal Venezuela, Simon graduated from the Philadelphia Performing Arts School at 15 and was peers with another City of Brotherly Love prodigy, bassist/bandleader/media personality Christian McBride.

After studying classical piano at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and jazz at the Manhattan School of Music, Simon stayed in New York and began gigging with the likes of clarinet maestro Paquito D'Rivera, alto saxophonist giant Bobby Watson and multifaceted trumpeter Terence Blanchard. He went on to lead his own groups, participate in various cooperative bands and win a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010.

Simon's wife found an employment opportunity in San Francisco, which the family used as an impetus for relocation. Their son, who is interested in digital media, attends the Oakland School for the Arts, while Simon himself has taught an Afro-Venezuelan course at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley and is an Artist in Residence at the Brubeck Institute on the University of Pacific campus in Stockton.

"To be honest with you, I wasn't that familiar with the group," Simon replied when asked about his initial impressions of the Collective. "I had only heard of it at the time. I hadn't really even heard the group itself."

The Collective grew its profile with a national tour in 2005, a European one in 2006 and a trek through Asia in 2007. With the opening of the Center, where the Collective now rehearses, SFJAZZ has fortified its place as one of the nation's preeminent jazz organizations.

"(The Collective) has had a great lineup from the very beginning," Simon declared between bites of flourless chocolate cake. "And the music is on the highest level, both in terms of composition and playing. So it has been a tremendous opportunity ... to develop as a composer and as a player."

As for Joe Henderson, Simon said he continues to be inspired by the saxophonist's writing: "His compositions were really very contemporary for his time. They were very modern and continue to sound so."

The Collective's unique instrumentation allows for flexibility with arranging and approach. Falling right in between a large combo and a small big band, its secret weapon is the vibraphone, which can be grouped with the horns on the front line or play with the piano, bass and drums as part of an augmented rhythm section.

"It provides for a lot of different colors and textures," Simon said of this flexible system. "Randall and Joshua did a great job in coming up with the concept.

"And beyond instrumentation, the idea that each year the group is going to write new arrangements of a contemporary jazz composer, that is a great idea, too," he added. "It gives a new perspective on pre-existing repertoire. And it's a forward-thinking perspective."

What: SFJAZZ Collective

Where: Bing Concert Hall, 327 Lasuen St., Stanford

When: Wednesday, April 22, 7:30 p.m. Pre-performance discussion with Loren Schoenberg, artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $30-$65

Info: Go to live.stanford.edu or call 650-724-2464.

A jazz perspective

Historian/tenor saxophonist/educator Loren Schoenberg has been visiting the Peninsula several times a year since 2009 to speak at Stanford and to work with local students. He also hosts pre-performance discussions at jazz concerts presented by Stanford Live and will take part in a free discussion about jazz and modern art at noon on Wednesday, April 22, at Stanford's Anderson art collection.

That same evening, the artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem will join in conversation with members of the SFJAZZ Collective at Bing Concert Hall at 6:30 p.m., just prior to the show.

A few months back, Schoenberg chatted with Palo Alto Weekly and shared his thoughts about the Peninsula, SFJAZZ and Joe Henderson.

On jazz and youth: "I've been mentoring the high school jazz band at Gunn High School for several years now. I've also done some stuff at Paly. It's just such a breath of fresh air just to see kids playing all this great music. They're really wonderful."

On Joe Henderson: "The (1944 short) film, 'Jammin' the Blues,' features Lester Young, who really brought something abstract ... to jazz saxophone. Joe Henderson is (one) of the very few who was able to extract, almost, the more esoteric elements of Lester Young's style."

On SFJAZZ: "It's very important that there be successful performing-arts entities that present jazz. And they're involved in education, of course. That's very, very important as well."

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