American jazz festivals with musicians playing live on stage — not virtually on a screen — have sprung back to life the past few weeks, with Monterey and Washington, D.C., among the first and Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Festival not far behind, starting Oct. 13. With COVID-19 still in mind, Earshot will offer, with a few exceptions, live concerts as well as streaming options for fans still shy of spending a crowded evening indoors. All patrons are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test within three days of a show. Masks will be required as well.
It’s a strong three-and-a-half-week program, brimming as usual with hip, up-to-the-minute acts working at the edges of the music and only a modicum of mainstream stars. The festival gives plenty of airtime to women and musicians of color as well as themes of social justice, a focus Earshot has always had but has emphasized with gusto since the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements began.
“Eighty-five percent of the acts are led by women or artists of color,” says Earshot executive director John Gilbreath, “and that’s intentional. Very.”
The most familiar performers are vocalist Dianne Reeves, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés and saxophonist Joe Lovano, who have won 12 Grammy Awards between them. They team up here for a mix ’n’ match program called Duets (Oct. 21, Town Hall). You can get a feeling for the magic that may happen by watching a marvelous pairing of the singer and pianist on a delicate “My Foolish Heart” at the 2019 SF Jazz Gala on YouTube. (This is the one festival show without a streaming option.)
At the last minute, Hurricane Ida — not COVID-19, for a change — put the kibosh on a tour planned by another headliner Earshot originally advertised — the drummer-led group Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science — but plenty of other bands will bring a similarly activist vibe. Count among those the sizzling young trumpeter/rapper Theo Croker (Oct. 13, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center) whose current album, “BLK2Life,” got a nice punch last week when he played on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Also of the activist persuasion is visionary bassist William Parker, currently enjoying a real moment, with a new biography just out, “Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker,” as well as a 10-CD box set and several other new albums. His co-conspirators are drummer Hamid Drake and Parker’s wife, dancer and poet Patricia Nicholson, who presents New York’s Vision Festival and does not mince words about “all that hate that has been bubbling up” on their new album, “No Joke” (Oct. 18, Chapel Performance Space).
Other exciting, internationally known acts include 2019 Sarah Vaughan Vocal Jazz Competition winner Samara Joy (Oct. 24, Langston Hughes) whose rich alto and no-nonsense delivery should get a spirited lift from the great pianist Sullivan Fortner, and the extraordinary flutist Jamie Baum, who brings the music from her wonderful world music project, “Bridges” (Oct. 17, Town Hall). Other visiting artists worth checking out include soulful saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins (Oct. 22, Langston Hughes) and rich-toned Bahamian trumpeter Giveton Gelin (Oct. 23, Langston Hughes), both of whom delighted crowds at Monterey last month. Virtuoso pianist Benny Green will also be on hand for a solo concert (Nov. 4, Town Hall).
The 2021 festival offers a deep bow to Seattle jazz, present and past. Three notable ex-Seattle residents return: vocalists Jay Clayton and Dee Daniels and pianist/vocalist Dawn Clement. Clayton, who covers the waterfront from experimental/electronic to straight-ahead standards, celebrates her 80th birthday in a dynamic trio with trombonist Ed Neumeister and pianist Gary Versace (Nov. 6, Royal Room). Daniels brings her acclaimed “Tribute to John Lewis” (Oct. 30, Langston Hughes). Clement plays in a trio with zany drummer and longtime cohort Matt Wilson and Seattle bass stalwart Chuck Deardorf (Oct. 26, Town Hall).
The festival’s artist in residence this year is the creative and original pianist/vibraphonist/composer Marina Albero, who plays four times, notably in a quartet with classical Indian violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan (Nov. 5, Town Hall) and with the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band, conducting her own arrangements (virtual only).
Earshot also highlights some extraordinary Seattle groups we are lucky to have in our own backyard: the young sextet Meridian Odyssey (Oct. 15, Royal Room); the quartet Scenes, with drummer John Bishop, guitarist John Stowell, bassist Jeff Johnson and saxophonist Rick Mandyck (Oct. 29, Town Hall); reed man Alex Dugdale, who celebrates the release of his new album, “The Dugout” (Oct. 28, Egan’s Ballard Jam House); and, last but not least, the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, which will play a program by composer/pianist Horace Silver (Nov. 6, Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall and Nov. 7 at Kirkland Performance Center).
That’s just a cherry-picking of a vast schedule available online at earshot.org that also includes BIMA: Within Earshot, a series on Bainbridge Island; a free livestream-only program of experimental acts, “Jazz: The Second Century Series”; and a film series at Northwest Film Forum.