Most jazz festivals book well-known musicians in order to attract the widest possible audience. And then there's the Eddie Moore Jazz Festival, now celebrating its 12th season and still dedicated to bringing some of jazz's most creative and imaginative improvisers to the Bay Area. What really sets the festival apart is that it's produced by Jazz in Flight, an all- volunteer organization that works to build a thriving scene by consistently presenting uncompromising musicians.
Founded in 1987, Jazz in Flight (JIF) grew out of Bay Area Loft Jazz, launched in the mid-'70s by Ken Schubert. In recent years, the organization has produced monthly Monday concerts at Yoshi's, as well as its flagship event, the annual week-long festival which pays tribute to the late drummer Eddie Moore (who died mid-solo at the old Yoshi's in 1990, during a performance with John Handy).
"Right now there's a small core of us and we're working well," says Bruce Pizzichillo, JIF's president for the past two years. "There's a lot of knowledge that's been accumulated. There are about 25 to 30 volunteers who are actively involved, and the planning meetings aren't always a pretty sight. But if you believe in something and you want to present it, you'll get to do it. That's the beauty of this type of group. You can learn how to present on a professional level."
This year's festival features a number of landmark events. The volcanic tenor saxophonist David S. Ware makes his West Coast debut on Tuesday with a high-octane quartet. The festival's centerpiece is the reunion of drummer Paul Motian's magnificent quintet on Friday and Saturday (August 17-18). Revered by music lovers for his seminal work in pianist Bill Evans' groundbreaking early-'60s trio and Keith Jarrett's powerhouse 1967-76 quartet, Motian rarely performs on the West Coast. JIF has reassembled Motian's celebrated early-'80s quintet with saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist Bill Frisell, and bassist Ed Schuller. Saxophonist Billy Drewes replaces the late Jim Pepper.
The festival also showcases the Bay Area's most creative musicians, such as Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra, which opens the festival Monday. The dazzling twelve-piece band performs a tribute to the late Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie. In an all-too-rare case of NARAS acknowledging artists without major label backing, Brown's orchestra was nominated for a Grammy last year for its AsianImprov album Far East Suite, a brilliant reinterpretation of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's classic extended work.
By presenting world-class musicians, JIF has gained an impressive national profile. In addition to ticket sales, JIF runs on contributions from members and grants by the NEA, the California Arts Council, and the city of Oakland. With free weekly workshops in African dance and song offered by JIF's Children in Flight program, the organization is helping assure that new generations will embrace the music.
"On a small level, groups like Jazz in Flight are the best form of audience development," Pizzichillo said. "It's not going to start at Monterey. Grassroots organizations like Jazz in Flight are the best opportunity in America to develop a creative community."
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