Capital Jazz time

Frontier-pushing pianist Geri Allen will be among the int'l stars playing at the Jerusalem Jazz Festival.

Geri Allen 298 88 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Geri Allen 298 88
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Who says Tel Aviv has all the action? Hot on the heels of the Israel Festival, Jerusalem plays host this week to a new international music event, the first annual Jerusalem Jazz Festival, which runs Monday to Thursday. Sponsored in part by the Jerusalem Foundation, the Municipality of Jerusalem and the Caesarea Foundation, the event features a host of foreign and home-grown talent, with its organizers aiming to create a new Israeli festival that showcases what jazz is really all about. "It's a very wide musical field," explains artistic director Barry Davis, who also writes for the Jerusalem Post. "Louis Armstrong is jazz, and so amazingly is [free-jazz pioneer] Ornette Coleman and many things beyond. But we won't take the route that some other festivals take and include rock bands in the lineup ... we want to bring a wide spectrum of people but not sell out." It is true that most international jazz festivals, including Israel's Red Sea Jazz Festival, also feature artists who are clearly not jazz. For example, reggae star Eeek-A-Mouse is also performing at Montreux, considered the premier jazz festival in the world. Judging by the program, the organizers of the Jerusalem Jazz Festival have succeeded in creating an event that showcases a rich spectrum of jazz while staying true to the goal of presenting artists who work firmly inside this great art form. One of their other goals was to create a festive, communal environment. With four concerts each evening and a schedule that features free artists' workshops and late-night jam sessions, festival-goers can spend four days immersed until the wee hours. Because the schedule is somewhat staggered, with performances starting at 7:30, 9 and 10 p.m. each evening, it should be possible for the truly dedicated to catch two shows in the same night. Among the festival highlights is a performance by the superb American vocalist Nnenna Freelon, who just got nominated for her sixth Grammy award and who performs a traditional style of jazz singing. Also appearing is New York-based pianist Geri Allen, who has worked with a who's-who of the jazz world and will give two concerts, one solo and one with her trio. Also on the more traditional side of things is the the Louis Hayes/Curtis Fuller Rising Stars, an ensemble led by legendary drummer Hayes and trombonist Fuller, both of whom started out in the 1950's. They will also give two performances. One of the more exciting concerts promises to be that by Ignacio Berroa and his quintet. Now 53, Berroa just released his debut album as a leader on the prestigious label Blue Note. Berroa is a superb Cuban-American drummer best known for playing with Dizzy Gillespie in the 1980s, and his quartet features saxophonist David Sanchez, who won a Grammy Award last year for his album Coral. The more adventurous side of the jazz world is represented with an appearance by Kenny Wheeler and his quartet. Wheeler is a 76-year-old Canadian-born, Europea-based trumpet player who started in the bop-era and has been a champion of free jazz for decades. Also in this vein is innovative Dutch saxophonist Mete Erker and his band The Blink Too, which mixes high-energy jazz with electronics and free improvisation. Among the performing artists who live and work in Israel is the Avi Adrian Trio. Pianist Adrian is a pivotal figure in the Jerusalem jazz scene and has taught a generation of young Israeli musicians jazz piano and theory. Also appearing is Avi Lebovich and his 13-piece orchestra, considered by some to be the leading Israeli jazz composer and arranger. The festival is organized in part by the Yellow Submarine, and the club will host events each night starting at 6 p.m. with a free workshop with one of the visiting artists, continuing with a concert and finishing with a jam-session that starts around midnight. The other venues for the festival are the rooftops of Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the old train station compound and the Cinemateque. For a complete list of concerts and times, see Billboard's Popular Music listings starting on page 10 or visit the festival website at