After being largely sidelined in 2020 and too much of 2021, jazz rebounded this year in San Diego, across the nation and around the world — but with some modifications and pandemic-era setbacks and losses.
The Monterey Jazz Festival celebrated its 65th anniversary in September but was staged entirely outdoors, while its several indoor venues remained closed. Some other festivals proceeded with similar caution.
In January, bebop piano mainstay Barry Harris died from COVID-19 in New Jersey. He was 91. In October, acclaimed saxophonist Anthony Ortega — who had rebounded from a bout of COVID — died of complications from pneumonia in Encinitas. He was 94.
Other jazz artists who passed in 2022 included saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, pianist Ramsey Lewis, trumpeter Jamie Branch, guitarist Mick Goodrick, trumpeter Ron Miles, organist Joey DeFrancesco and too many more.
There were, happily, also events worth celebrating.
They ranged from San Diego trumpeter Steph Richards’ recent tour of Europe — with a fiery band featuring El Cajon-bred piano phenom Joshua White — to saxophone legend Charles Lloyd releasing three new albums this year, with three different bands, at the age of 84. He’ll celebrate his 85th birthday with a March 17 concert at Qualcomm Hall.
One of the year’s biggest rebounds came for San Diego’s Charles McPherson, who turned 83 in July. After performing the first livestreamed and drive-in concerts in his storied career last year, the internationally celebrated alto saxophonist resumed touring in the U.S. and abroad in 2022.
In February, he was honored at a multiday event in his Missouri hometown of Joplin. Earlier that month, McPherson played two sold-out concerts here at the Mingei International Museum with top trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos and the San Diego Ballet, whose featured dancers included McPherson’s daughter, Camille, 32.
In June, McPherson joined Castellanos for a Thelonious Monk tribute concert at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, the San Diego Symphony’s year-old outdoor concert venue. McPherson was also prominently featured in the October PBS TV special “Next at the Kennedy Center: Let My Children Hear Mingus.”
It paid tribute to the late modern jazz pioneer Charles Mingus, in whose band McPherson performed between 1960 and 1972. The tireless saxophonist will perform a Feb. 14 concert at the Athenaeum as part of his first 2023 tour.
The Shell also hosted memorable concerts in September by the Wynton Marsalis-led Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, whose “Fandango at the Wall” performance featured son jarocho Mexican string-music champion Jorge Castillo. It was a potent evening of borders-blurring music.
Now in his fifth year as jazz curator for the San Diego Symphony, trumpeter Castellanos celebrated his eighth anniversary hosting concerts and weekly jam sessions at Panama 66 in Balboa Park — and the fifth of his Young Lions Jazz Academy.
In La Jolla, the Athenaeum’s renowned 33-year-old jazz series — curated since its inception by Daniel Atkinson — presented 15 well-attended concerts in 2022.
The international lineup featured leading artists from Israel (clarinetist Anat Cohen), Puerto Rico (saxophonist Miguel Zenón), Switzerland (harmonica wizard Grégoire Maret), Brazil (guitarists Romero Lubambo, Chico Pinheiro and Marcello Gonçalves) and the U.S. (drum legend Peter Erskine and San Diego-bred piano master Mike Wofford).
In October, Wofford and noted flutist Holly Hofmann, who are married, marked their first anniversary of weekly gigs at the Westgate Hotel’s Plaza Bar.
In November, Hofmann launched free weekly Sunday afternoon jazz concerts and jam sessions at Tio Leo’s in Bay Park. (Before the 2020 pandemic shutdown, her Sunday series was held at Mission Valley’s Handlery Hotel since 2015.)
Dizzy’s, which had been shuttered from March 2020 to June 2021, offered an array of talent, including pianist White, French guitar star Stephane Wrembel and Danish vocal favorite Sinne Eeg.
The Jazz Lounge, which opened in mid-2020 hosting audience-free, biweekly livestreamed performances, this July celebrated its first anniversary as a live-music venue with in-person (not online) audiences. The intimate Rolando venue is the brainchild of award-winning San Diego singer Leonard Patton, whose two January “Paul Simon Reimagined” concerts had the benefit of specific song suggestions and other input from Simon himself.
“I know you’re playing for a club audience but an unexpected song in the middle of a set, if performed right and with an audience that is tuned in, can lift a set in an unexpected way,” Simon wrote to Patton, after one of Simon’s friends sent him the Union-Tribune article previewing “Paul Simon Reimagined.”
“Anyway, I wish you good luck and, I like the way you play. A lot.”
Alas, the surge in live jazz here and elsewhere doesn’t mean the pandemic is behind us.
One of the most recent setbacks came at Camarada’s sold-out Dec. 17 “Charlie Brown Jingles and Jazz” performance at La Jolla’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall. Guitarist Peter Sprague, who wrote all the concert’s musical arrangements, was unable to perform because he had contracted COVID-19.
In a Dec. 18 post on his website, Sprague announced he was canceling the rest of his gigs this week — including his 43-year-old outdoor Christmas Eve concert in Del Mar — because some of his bandmates had also tested positive.
“Feeling lousy and playing jazz just don’t go together,” wrote the guitarist, who last year was one of the first jazz musicians here to do regular livestreamed concerts.
Sprague’s most recent album, “Blue Kind of Miles,” came out last December. It featured award-winning San Diego singer Rebecca Jade, who this year released her debut solo album, “A Shade of Jade.” Other notable 2022 releases by area artists included Sue Palmer & Her Motel Swing Orchestra’s “Movin’ Along,” The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble’s “Step Down” and saxophonist Daniel Nielsen’s “You Never Know.”
Best jazz albums of 2022
Dave Douglas Quintet, “Songs of Ascent, Book 1 — Degrees” (Greenleaf Music): Deft ensemble work, real-time improvisational ingenuity and exciting instrumental solos are some of the key qualities one expects in jazz, and this eight-song album boasts them all.
But what make “Songs of Ascent” so distinctive and inspirational is not just that trumpeter Dave Douglas and his four longtime band mates each recorded their parts remotely — from different locations and at separate times — during the pandemic shutdown. It’s that, despite being apart, they sound so together, vibrant and in the moment performing such intricate, often pulsating music.
Moreover, rather than start with a bass or drum track and layer on the other instruments from there, Douglas recorded his trumpet parts first, then had his collaborators add their parts individually. Even for a band that has been together for a decade, this kind of near-telepathic interplay is exceptional. Kudos!
Cécile McLorin Salvant, “Ghost Song” (Nonesuch): No other jazz singer has opened an album with their version of Kate Bush’s twisting “Wuthering Heights” — or made it so completely their own — as Cécile McLorin Salvant does on “Ghost Song.”
She shines equally whether performing her own compositions or finding new musical riches in “The World Is Mean” from “The Threepenny Opera” and former San Diego vocal standout Gregory Porter’s “No Love Dying,” which she adroitly combines with “Optimistic Voices” from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Joel Ross, “The Parable of the Poet” (Blue Note): An album-length suite of seven compositions, vibraphonist Joel Ross’ third album as a band leader is his most accomplished and absorbing.
Together with his six-piece band, he makes music that at times seems simultaneously carefully notated and freely improvised. Where one begins and the other ends — and vice versa — can be difficult to ascertain. It is those blurring of the edges that makes Ross’ music stand out. What results is captivating and suggests that his upcoming Feb. 9 concert at The Loft at UCSD could be a highlight of the season.
Tyshawn Sorey Trio, “Mesmerism” (Yeroz7 Music): When not composing operas, orchestral works or chamber pieces, Tyshawn Sorey is a protean drummer and band leader.
On the aptly titled “Mesmerism,” he and his group extend the jazz piano tradition with grace, wit and understated daring. Their lithe interplay is a vivid reminder of how three musicians, performing and reacting to each other in real time, can make music that satisfies and surprises in equal measure.
Nduduzo Makhathini, “In the Spirit of Ntu” (Blue Note): On his tenth album as a band leader, South African pianist, composer and vocalist Nduduzo Makhathini skillfully fuses jazz with the music of his homeland and his Zulu heritage.
True to its title, “In the Spirit of Ntu” is intensely spiritual in tone. It’s also decidedly contemporary — inspired by recent political unrest in South Africa — and imbued with a sense of lamentation and cautious optimism.
Also worth cheering
Emmanuel Wilkins, “The Seventh Hand” (Blue Note)
Miguel Zenón, “Musica de las Americas” (Miel Music)
Gard Nilssen, “Acoustic Unity” (ECM)
Gilbert Castellanos, “Espérame en el Cielo” (Z Note)
Samara Joy, “Linger Awhile” (Verve)