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June 22, 2011

Stanford Jazz Festival showcases superstars with crossover recognition

Allen Toussaint, Milton Nascimento and other jazz artists bring new star power to Stanford Jazz lineup for its 40th birthday – with a big boost for attendance and workshop registration. It's all part of getting ready for the Bing Concert Hall opening in 2013.

By Cynthia Haven

Allen Toussaint opens the series at 8 p.m. Friday in Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

The Stanford Jazz Festival turns 40 this year – but rather than settle into a comfortable middle age, the prestigious jazz event is turning its face toward an even brighter future.

While the world-class festival has always offered international jazz stars, this year's June 24-Aug. 6 festival offers celebrities whose crossover recognition extends even beyond the world of jazz.

The season kicks off with a rare solo piano performance from musician, composer and record producer Allen Toussaint at 8 p.m. Friday, June 24, in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. Toussaint, one of the architects of New Orleans sound, is "a bit more than an elder statesman" in the jazz world, said Ernie Rideout, the marketing director of the festival.

Similarly, Milton Nascimento's appearances at 8 p.m. on June 30 and July 1 in Dinkelspiel Auditorium mark rare performances from the Brazilian superstar.

There's a reason for the new drive toward high-wattage names: According to Rideout, the festival is paving the way for the 2013 opening of the Bing Concert Hall on the Stanford campus. Jazz festival organizers plan to hold some shows in the new venue.

"As we prepare to move into the Bing Concert Hall in 2013, we are presenting artists who have, frankly, bigger names than usual – more oomph in the music-consuming public," he said.

The Bing Concert Hall will seat about 844 people – currently, the festival's biggest venue, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, seats 700.

The new concert hall will be an anchor in the new arts district at the "front door" of the campus, just off Palm Drive, which is the extension of University Avenue, the main artery through downtown Palo Alto. The location will provide easy access to local visitors and those coming from the nearby highways – including the roughly 15,000 jazz fans who come annually to the performances and workshops.

And the megastar voltage will certainly help ticket sales. "Allen Toussaint is a really big name – he goes beyond that, he's a TV star now," said Rideout, noting the musician's presence in the edgy HBO show about New Orleans, Treme.

London's Independent called him "the jewel in New Orleans' crown … a virtuoso piano stylist with an unparalleled knowledge of the city's musical development."

The septuagenarian Toussaint isn't settling into an armchair. In 2006, he released The River in Reverse, his collaborative album with pop icon Elvis Costello. It was recorded partly in Toussaint's native New Orleans – the first major studio session after Hurricane Katrina.

The following year, Toussaint performed a duet with another iconic figure, Paul McCartney, recording a song by fellow New Orleans musician and resident Fats Domino.  

"His music is sampled constantly by hip-hop artists. A lot of his songs are on commercials now," said Rideout.

Milton Nascimento also crosses a lot of boundaries. According to jazz scholar (and Stanford alumnus) Ted Gioia: "In a series of landmark recordings, he created a body of work that was both radical and traditional, expansive but minimalist, Brazilian yet global. His works are maddeningly difficult to categorize, and for all the influence they have had on others, Milton Nascimento still sounds like no one else."

Rideout agreed. "He is one of the biggest singer-songwriter artists in the entire world. He's bigger than the Beatles worldwide," he said, noting his enormous presence in Europe and Japan. That celebrity has not extended to the United States with quite the same thunder.

"The great thing about Milton's music is that you don't have to know a word to be able to get it," said Rideout. "He's hyper-charismatic. His music reaches out and grabs you by the heart."

Other living legends appearing at the Jazz Festival include Oscar Castro-Neves, George Cables, Ndugu Chancler, and Jimmy and Tootie Heath. Internationally known artists such as Gary Burton, Bill Frisell, Wallace Roney, Robben Ford, Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes will be at Stanford, along with younger musicians Gretchen Parlato, Anat Cohen, Claudia Acuña, Charlie Hunter, Scott Amendola, Marcus Shelby, Julian Lage, Yosvany Terry and acclaimed homegrown pianist Taylor Eigsti.

Free noon jazz concerts at Tressider Union are scheduled for July 22, 27 and 29 and Aug. 1-5. 

Ticket sales for all performances are running about 10 percent higher this year, economic hard times notwithstanding.

The Stanford Jazz Festival is affiliated with the Stanford Jazz Workshop. The workshop's Summer Jazz Camp and the Jazz Residency programs run with the festival, under the guidance of festival founder and director Jim Nadel. Festival participants teach at the workshop by day and gather to play in unique combos by night.

Stanford Jazz's steady focus on teaching, providing training and performance for the next generation of jazz artists, has been a unique aspect of the festival with long-term payoffs: "Workshop registration is through the roof," said Rideout. "Biggest turnout ever for Jazz Camp and Jazz Residency, despite the downturn. We'll have nearly 700 young jazzers at the three weeks of the workshop.

"It's new music for our community – absolutely new music," said Rideout. "I'm excited to hear it myself."

The complete schedule is at www.stanfordjazz.org.

For tickets, call 650-725-ARTS (2787) or buy online: www.stanfordjazztickets.org

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Contact

Ernie Rideout, Stanford Jazz: (650) 736-0324, erideout@stanfordjazz.org

Cynthia Haven, Stanford News Service: (650) 724-6184, cynthia.haven@stanford.edu

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