The monthlong musical marathon called the Earshot Jazz Festival rolls around again Oct. 4, offering an extraordinary banquet of delights. With many new faces and multiple themes — mainstream jazz, women in jazz, avant-garde jazz, world music, local giants — it cries out for advance planning. Here are some tips.
Though Earshot’s strong suit is the avant-garde, mainstream fans will note some familiar names. Of those, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés (8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, Town Hall) is definitely one to catch. Solo, Valdés can be a showboat, but air, playfulness and spirituality waft through the music of his quartet, which just released the excellent album “Jazz Batá 2.” Another no-miss international act is the solo show by the great Brazilian guitarist and pianist Egberto Gismonti (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, Town Hall), who has not played Seattle since the ’80s. An evocative virtuoso, Gismonti weaves folkloric music, contemporary classical composition and jazz improvisation, often with his custom 10-string guitar.
Chick Corea (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, Benaroya Hall) is here to play his “Piano Concerto No. 1” and George Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece “Rhapsody in Blue” with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Go. Cecile McLorin Salvant (8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, Town Hall) is quite simply the best thing to happen to jazz vocals in a decade and 37-year-old Gerald Clayton (7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, Triple Door) is in the same league for jazz piano. Opening for Clayton are The Westerlies, a unique chamber brass quartet originally formed by four veterans of Seattle’s famed high-school jazz programs, three of whom still play in the band: Riley Mulherkar (trumpet), Willem de Koch and Andy Clausen (trombones). They are joined by Chloe Rowlands (trumpet).
Mainstream-minded fans should also check out rising star Emmett Cohen (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, Town Hall Forum), who brings to his sparkling piano the kind of crowd-pleasing charm John Pizzarelli brings to the guitar, and Canadian trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg (7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, Town Hall), whose old-school entertainment savvy is inspired by Louis Armstrong.
Skonberg is one of several female band leaders at the festival, though there are far fewer this year than last, when 40 percent of the groups were led by women. (The decline, explains an apologetic Earshot artistic director John Gilbreath, was determined by who happened to be coming West in October.) Nevertheless, past festival favorite Kris Davis is back at the piano with the innovative all-female trio Diatom Ribbons featuring the hard-hitting drummer and two-time Grammy winner Terri Lyne Carrington and the dynamic Haitian electronic artist and turntablist Val Jeanty (8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, Seattle Art Museum). Jeanty returns with an electronic duo called Turning Jewels Into Water on a double bill with the explosive pianist Myra Melford and abstract-expressionist vocalist Fay Victor (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, Town Hall Forum).
The evocative, free improvising pianist Marilyn Crispell, one of the first national artists ever presented by Earshot (in 1988), returns with a trio featuring bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Harvey Sorgen (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, Chapel Performance Space). Newcomer Sasha Berliner, an impressive 21-year-old San Francisco Bay Area vibraphonist, is here with her band Azalea (7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, Royal Room) and also in a quintet led by jazz’s most compelling conceptualist composer and drummer, Tyshawn Sorey (8 p.m. Friday Oct. 25, Town Hall Forum).
The festival welcomes back ex-Garfield High School pianist Carmen Staaf, who plays with her road- and recording-mate of late, the tricky drummer Allison Miller (7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, Town Hall). And another ex-Garfielder, drummer/MC/producer Kassa Overall, is here with pianist Sullivan Fortner, who plays on some of the best tracks on Overall’s debut full-length, “Go Get Ice Cream” (7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute).
And then there are the actual locals, two of whom you should make an extra effort to see: Jay Thomas and Kiki Valera. Thomas, who plays saxophone and trumpet, is the festival’s official resident artist. He appears on a lot of shows, but a good bet is the one with the hard-swinging East West Alliance, an ensemble of Japanese and American musicians featuring piano tyro Yuki Hirati, and the reedy, expressive vocalist Maya Hatch, a Roosevelt High School grad who enjoys a successful career in Japan (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, Town Hall).
Kiki Valera, who came up in the highly respected Cuban family band La Familia Valera Miranda, is one of the world’s greatest exponents of the cuatro, the small Cuban instrument with four pairs of strings. Valera specializes in son, the infectious call-and-answer Cuban song form, but solos like a jazz guy. His band is celebrating the release of its irresistible, pristinely produced album, “Vivencias En Clave Cubana” (8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, Town Hall).
Earshot Jazz Festival, Oct. 4-Nov. 6 at various venues in and around Seattle; individual concerts, free-$127; five- and 10-show packages, 10-15 percent discount; gold card all-festival pass (with some restrictions), $500-$550; 206-547-6763, earshot.org