August 16-22, 2006

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Wally Schnalle

Wally World: Local drummer Wally Schnalle performs with and without laptop.

People Get Ready

Admission and outreach mark changes for San Jose Jazz Festival 2006

By Yoshi Kato

LIKE SEQUELS and TV show remakes at the megaplex, the San Jose Jazz Festival (SJJF) is a recurring summer event. The 17th Annual Comcast SJJF Presented by Southwest kicks off Thursday with small but notable changes.

As was announced in the springtime, a $5-a-day adult admission charge for all stages—save the Youth Stage in the Tech Museum—will be in effect. The money goes toward covering the considerable production costs of the festival and raising money for San Jose Jazz Society (SJJS) educational outreach efforts.

"I've received two or three hate emails. Outside of that, it's largely been a nonissue," says SJJS executive director Geoff Roach. Comcast increased its donation this year so that all children 12 and under are admitted for free, helping to ease the transition.

In addition to eight daytime stages and the return of the late-night Jazz Beyond festival-within-a-festival Friday and Saturday at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, three restaurants will be presenting after-hours music independently for the first time. In addition, Gordon Biersch Restaurant will host performances starting at 12:30pm both Saturday and Sunday.

As for specifics, Smoke Tiki Lounge (6pm-2am Friday and Saturday, 10am-10pm Sunday), Poor House Bistro (6pm-midnight, Friday and Saturday; noon-7pm Sunday) and Naglee Park Garage (7-10pm Friday and a special Ricardo Lemvo appearance on Saturday 6-9pm) will host bands. And in the spirit of the SJJF, SoFA Lounge will present L.A. funk machine the Rebirth on Saturday night at 9pm.

"We tried to reach out to some of the local downtown businesses and restaurants and be a little more inclusive," says Roach. "The feedback I got early on was that downtown merchants had mixed reactions about how they did during the festival. Some did well, some not well at all. So I thought, 'Let's try and get people involved and give people a place to go and hear more music and eat after the daytime activities were done.'"

Of note, drummer-bandleader Wally Schnalle is holding down two slots at this year's SJJF. He's a returning participant from last year's Jazz Beyond lineup, kicking off the Rep's Saturday with an 8pm set. He returns to the festival the following afternoon to play at Gordon Biersch at 3pm.

"On Saturday night, I'll be debuting my 'Physics and Magic' project," says Schnalle, of his latest acoustic-electronic exploration. "If I understand it, it's physics. If I don't, it's magic.

"I didn't want to do the same thing as last year's ["The Suit" Jazz Beyond project] and had some new tunes, which we'll be debuting that night," he goes on to explain. The "Physics and Magic" material will be recorded with his band, which features saxophonist Charles McNeal, guitarist Jeff Massanari and bassist Jason Muscat, with Schnalle's drumming and laptop manipulation providing the beats.

"It was wonderful," he says of his experience performing as part of last year's inaugural Jazz Beyond stage. "It was great to be able to play in such a nice venue for attentive ears that came specifically to listen. To play a full theater and get a standing ovation, how does it get any better than that?"

On Sunday, Charles McNeal will be playing in tasty bassist Jeff Chambers' group (4pm, Jazz at the Rep stage). Schnalle will bring Hammond B-3 organist/Fender Rhodes keyboardist Will Blades in and leave his laptop at home. "We'll be playing funk grooves in a jazz setting," he says. "There will be a couple of my tunes and then material from Jeff [Massanari]'s album, Groove Work."

Funk is a key component of this year's festival, with headliners the Neville Brothers and Dr. John highlighting the musical contributions of the beleaguered Crescent City. Dr. John plays Saturday at 6pm on the Main Stage and the Nevilles at 6pm on Sunday at the same spot.

The mix of internationally recognized and local artists impresses Schnalle as both a participant and a music fan. "Playing before me is a band that includes the great Tom Harrell. Speaking of trumpeters, before [guitarist Rale Micac's Quartet with Harrell] is Eddie Gale. Here's a guy who's been part of the San Jose jazz scene for many, many years. It's great to see those musicians coming to play here, but to keep jazz alive locally, you have to share the spotlight with locals who are in the trenches, playing the clubs year round. Playing a big festival increases visibility, which in turn can mean exposure and recognition for future local club dates."

Hot Picks

There are no wrong choices when it comes to deciding which acts to catch at the San Jose Jazz Festival, but here is a trio of suggestions to get the newcomer started:

Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio (2pm, Saturday, Main Stage) Organist Smith's funky and soulful unit is anchored by the excellent drummer Allison Miller, who plays with singer-songwriters such as Natalie Merchant and Toshi Reagon and local vocal treasure Kitty Margolis.

Claudia Villela featuring Richard Peixoto (7pm, Saturday, Latin Stage) Villela is both a SJJF veteran and a musician's vocalist, while guitarist Peixoto complements her instinctively in their exploration of Brazilian and jazz musical traditions.

The Rebirth (9pm, Saturday, SoFA Lounge) The soulful, Los Angeles-based septet plays cuts off its forthcoming album The Journey In, recalling the freedom of Earth, Wind & Fire, Rotary Connection and Ramp. With DJs Stay Fly, Wen Davis, Chatos 1013.

Khalil Shaheed (6pm, Sunday, Smith Dobson Tribute Stage) A flavorful and sharp trumpeter, big-hearted Shaheed is also founder of the Oaktown Jazz Workshop.

The 17th Annual Comcast San Jose Jazz Festival Presented by Southwest happens Friday through Sunday at Plaza de Cesar Chavez, San Jose. Wristbands are available for sale Friday night and Saturday and Sunday mornings starting around 8am at the Main Stage gate by the Fairmont Hotel and about an hour before the first set of the day at other stages downtown. More information at

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