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San Jose Gets Jazzed

Come Blow Your Horn: Stanley Turrentine plays the Main Stage at this week's San Jose Jazz Festival, taking place at eight stages downtown.

Scores of artists take the stage for Jazz Festival

By Nicky Baxter

THERE'S A very good reason the music of Stanley Turrentine, one of the headliners at this weekend's San Jose Jazz Festival, simply oozes the blues. During the 1950s, the tenor saxophonist apprenticed with Lowell Fulson, one of the idiom's most influential figures. Though the association didn't last long (Turrentine left to pursue a college degree), by the time Turrentine departed, he'd picked a few vital pointers about the roots of improvisational music, the tenor player's eventual occupational choice.

In fact, Turrentine has never really ceased playing the blues. Hard-bop, the genre with which he came to be closely associated, is as good a tag as any to slap onto what Turrentine does with his horn. Categorize him as you will, just make sure the blues are somewhere in the mix; it's doubtful you'll get much of an argument from the saxophonist.

Complete schedule for the San Jose Jazz Festival.

His years with the Blue Note label in the early '60s were fertile ones for Turrentine. Seemingly unmoved by the forward thrust of the New Black Music movement, which noisily announced its presence in those years, Turrentine recorded albums like Look Out, Coming Your Way and the very fine Up at Minton's volumes, all of which reveal a musician reaching back to his bebop roots. On the other hand, like Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley and a host of other horn players, consciously or not, Turrentine was a stalwart defender of improvisational music's integrity in the face of so-called progressive music's rapid ascent.

Those initial recordings under his own name show a prodigiously gifted saxophonist already well on his way to setting things off in a big way. Then as now, Turrentine possesses a capacious tone; the holy ghosts of Gene Ammons and Lucky Thompson had almost certainly laid hands on him.

By the mid '60s, Turrentine was a highly regarded stylist with a back-catalog of steady sellers to his credit. Steady but not spectacular. It may be that at a certain point, Turrentine got fed up scraping by while pop stars were making mint. At any rate, by 1970 the saxophonist had jumped ship, deserting Blue Note for schlockmeister CTI, making inroads with the black petite bourgeoisie sophisticates. Lo and behold: the dollars began rolling in.

In all fairness, Turrentine was hardly alone when he decided to go for the gold. Grover Washington, another talented tenor player, shed his bop skin for a shiny and profitable pop sheen. Ditto the Jazz Crusaders, who in the early 1970s dropped the "Jazz" half of their name like a bad habit in pursuit of poppier climes. And then, in the following decade, a funny thing began to happen: it became cool to be boppish again.

Wynton Marsalis' efforts to return bop to the forefront very likely cleared the way for old-school musicians. In any case, it is significant to note that the period witnessed a resurgence of purist bop art by the likes of Washington and, yes, Turrentine. 1989's La Place finds the musician renewing his commitment to soul music.

Turrentine's punchy hornwork is as compelling as ever. Mood could be seen as a sly retort to jazz's neoconservatives. In the end, it doesn't matter; the important thing is that Turrentine is back.

TURRENTINE MAY be one of the most notable acts appearing on the main stage, but there's a lengthy shopping list of jazz titans slated to perform, among them Brother Jack McDuff, who will appear as singer Marlena Shaw's special guest; the Jazz Crusaders, Poncho Sanchez and Straight Ahead.

Of the acts performing this year, some of the groooviest can be found on Gordon Biersch's Courtyard stage. B Sharp, the Broun Fellinis and Wally Schnalle will appear Saturday, while on Sunday, Teodross Avery, Black/Note and Claudia Gomez perform.

Of the aforementioned ensembles, Avery's is the perhaps the most accomplished, yoking together elements of the "old" with the New Thing. Funky, smart and serving up some highwire action, Avery and his boys are somewhat reminiscent of Henry Threadgill's very, very consciousness-expanding circuses or one of Ronald Shannon Jackson's old Decoding Societies. My Generation, Avery's sophomore disc, is by no means definitional, but it is a giant step forward for the 23-year-old reed player. If for whatever emergency you miss his performance, don't fret; he's been penciled in to return on Aug. 17.

Drummer Wally Schnalle is nothing if not tenacious. He's a real hustler, donning different hats to see how they might fit into what he's about. He's sat in with quasi-rap group 10Bass T and jammed with outside musician Francis Wong, all the while maintaining his own gig as bandleader.

Leave it to Wally to find a way to perform twice in two different musical contexts. On Saturday, the Wally Schnalle Band will flip it on the classic bop quintet along the lines of Art Blakey's great groups but with '90s sensibilities. The newly formed Thick brings together some of the area's finest players. In a brief phone talk from his East Bay home, Schnalle describes his latest project. "Thick is funk, jazz--heavy on the groove. We've rearranged jazz standards and come up with original compositions."

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From the August 8-14, 1996 issue of Metro

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