World-renowned saxophonist Bill Evans once said, “Jazz is a mental attitude rather than a style. It uses a certain process of the mind expressed spontaneously through some musical instrument. I’m concerned with retaining that process.” UCSB Arts & Lectures also happens to be dedicated to keeping jazz alive and well, which is why it will soon play host to a whole series of eclectic jazz acts.
Despite all of its irreducible influence on more popular genres of music like rock ‘n’ roll or soul, jazz tends to remain in its own quiet corner of the musical universe. It exists this way out of necessity, as a form of sonic experimentation that isn’t necessarily easy to listen to. Does this make it reserved only for the hip or the stodgy elite? No, it just requires a group of listeners who are willing to listen to creation as it happens, and feel their own thoughts ebb and flow with those of the musicians. Sometimes this process manifests itself in exaltation – maybe in the older yet triumphant Big Band sound of Count Basie and his orchestra. Other times it delves into brooding, bittersweet introspection similar to the Miles Davis classic “In a Silent Way.” No matter what the variation on these themes though, Arts & Lectures will have a performer to fit the bill coming to UCSB this fall. First, the banjo-toting Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – featuring Victor Lemonte Wooten, Future Man and Jeff Coffin – are set to play Campbell Hall on Oct. 9. Fleck and the Flecktones constantly redefine the boundaries of traditional bluegrass harmonies and pacing by artfully mixing them with the spontaneity that is the heart of all good jazz music. You might not catch another show as unique and memorable as this all year.
If you’re in the mood for a more traditional jazz experience in the vein of legendary crooners like Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, you must check out Steve Tyrell on Oct. 11. Tyrell not only belts out romantic jazz classics with a perfect cabaret style, he’s also worked on modern projects as diverse as LL Cool J and Rod Stewart albums, along with the soundtrack for the Tom Hanks movie “That Thing You Do.” Clearly, he is a cool cat not to be missed.
Speaking of cool cats, Arts & Lectures has thankfully managed to land one of the most influential musicians of the last fifty years, and his performances are often an annual event here in Santa Barbara. His name is Herbie Hancock and he is a true jazz original. His innovation, creativity and effortless shifting and melding of styles from all genres of music remains unrivalled by most performers, unless they happen to be named Miles Davis. He will play selections from his most recent studio project that is titled Possibilities, which features popular artists John Mayer, Angélique Kidjo and Paul Simon. A few standards like “Cantaloupe Island” and “Headhunters” might find their way into the set as well.
Speaking of originals, in an unexpected performance, the actress and Grammy-nominated singer Queen Latifah will make her Santa Barbara debut with a Big Band of her own on Nov. 15. Hopefully, Latifah will explore a full array of songs from her discography, like new songs from her acclaimed album The Dana Owens Album or perhaps even a couple songs from her turn as Matron Mama Morton in 2002’s “Chicago.” Only time will tell, but the cushy environs of Arlington Theatre should be a perfect compliment to her grand style and this highly anticipated show.
Finally, a bit farther down the road on April 15, 2008, three more jazz masters will visit the Granada Theatre downtown. Grammy-winning vocalist Bobby McFerrin, keyboard deity Chick Corea, and world-renowned drummer Jack DeJohnette will play together for the first time. Each man garners more than a little respect in his respective field, and their collaboration will surely result in pure jazz improv at its finest.
For ticket info and times, check out artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu and look for the Jazz Event Series. Then, open your mind and let the music flow in. Your mental instrument – and the eardrums to which it is hopefully connected – will undoubtedly thank you for it.