.San Jose Jazz Summerfest Returns as a Total Success

This Jazz festival draws in massive crowds for fun and festivities

The 2022 San Jose Jazz Summerfest erupted last weekend, turning the neighborhood into an urban party with theaters, bars, restaurants and streets all hosting coordinated gigs. 

The weekend proved that people wanted, needed, to re-emerge for a full-blown festival again. Normally on opening night, one chooses from the main stage and maybe a couple other events. This year, much more exploded right out of the gate. The neighborhood was alive. Larger throngs of people were on the street and bouncing around. Downtown San Jose actually felt like an urban place for once. And the vibe didn’t stop. 

You know it’s a successful festival when you’re recapping the event by scratching your head and saying to yourself, “OK, wait, now was that particular gig on Saturday or Sunday?” Yes, it was that kind of weekend.

In Plaza de Cesar Chavez, all the usual suspects hawked their wares—sun hats, jewelry, essential oils, African statuary, tons of visual art and shirts—yet it still seemed bigger than normal. The VIP area was jammed, not only with attendees, but with volunteers. 

However, just getting into the park was more of an ordeal than usual. Almost every single person had to empty their pockets and remove their belts while going through metal detectors—obnoxious and irritating for anyone that wanted to migrate in and out all weekend.

Once inside, though, a microcosm unfolded via the Blues/Big Easy Stage in the grove of trees near the south end, which at times sounded better than the main stage. Everyone on the Blues Stage tore it up. There was nothing left. 

As always, one could either plan or not plan. From the park it was easy to segue anywhere else: Tony Monaco provided serene Hammond organ madness in the Montgomery Theater. Locals Amy D. and Dillon Vado did a great job in the “Hammer4” stage, an upstairs breakout space. Downstairs, the Brubeck Brothers sounded excellent on the main Hammer Theatre stage, as did a tribute to Dr. Lonnie Smith, who I actually saw twice on that same stage over the years. Additional tributes included gigs dedicated to Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and others. Even the musicians bounced from gig to gig. What emerged was a grand historic trans-generational community. Everybody seemed connected.

Then the Jazz Mafia did Paint it Black inside the Hilton. They were among many who illuminated the Club Regent space. Later in that room was Roy Obiedo and Pete Michael Escovedo. The newly reflagged property seemed staffed to the gills, as if it were really trying to make an impression now that the building is no longer the Fairmont. For many of us, it will always be the Fairmont. No other Fairmont in the world went bankrupt. Only the San Jose one. Go figure.

But I digress. Jazz people like digression.

Another microcosm emerged in the SoFA District. South First buzzed with activity from the Latin Stage. Sweaty crowds moved their bodies. Another slew of vendors flanked the street. The BoomBox truck stage activated the adjacent alley. All of which cemented a literal connection to clubs like Mama Kin and the Continental, as well as the San Jose Jazz offices that served as the Break Room Stage. This lively microcosm, now in SoFA, became a blood-pumping tentacle of the festival rather than an amputated limb way out at San Fernando and 87, where it used to be.

The Break Room seemed to max out at around 100 people, I’m guessing, but sheer genius unfolded. Vibraphonist Joel Ross took the crowd through a colorful improvised set. Trumpeters Takuya Kuroda and Keyon Harrold likewise killed it. Just killed it. All of these guys could have filled much larger venues. In each case, the room pushed toward capacity with people leaning against Xerox machines or stretching to look over cubicle partitions. It was a smashing counterpart to the vibrant street scene outside. 

In the end, what better way to follow up a jazz festival than with a film festival? At least this time around, the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest provided an ideal segue into Cinequest, which started two days later and will continue to unfold as you read this. 

Jazz. Cinema. Summer. It all just goes together.

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.

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