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Rochester International Jazz Festival 2005

'Some nice music'


500 musicians. 100 acts. Nine days. Feel confused? You're far from alone.

It actually struck us last year, as we wandered between sets from Max of Eastman Place to Montage Grille while distant brass and percussion bounced off the Eastman Theatre and down Gibbs Street: The Rochester International Jazz Festival, now in its fourth year, is jazz.

Moving about the city catching swatches of sound, making serendipitous discoveries, witnessing ad-hoc collaborations.... Doing the RIJF is like life as jazz. Or jazz as life. Much like the form, RIJF lives and breathes and evolves. Certainly from one year to the next, but sometimes within mere minutes.

And like most jazz, RIJF is often best enjoyed without a map. Slipping on a Club Pass and just allowing yourself to really listen and be surprised --- to truly take it all in --- is an immensely rewarding experience.

Still, we understand the need for some explanation here. While there are plenty of household names in this year's festival (Chaka Khan, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea) there are even more you've never heard of and would be foolish to miss.

That's why we enlisted our long-time jazz critic (now also a Down Beat contributor) Ron Netsky to join some of our music writers in making sense of all this.

There's really no summing up of this year's offerings. But in our interviews with performers one notion continued to arise: the need to discard all labels. Many of the acts in this year's lineup don't fall tidily into the jazz bin. In fact, several of them don't make sense in any category.And that's just fine with us. In our interview with Ravi Coltrane, the saxophonist sums it up best when describing the state of contemporary sound simply as "some nice music."

At the conclusion of last year's festival, we made a few modest suggestions to RIJF Artistic Director John Nugent. We wanted him to continue pushing the envelope by offering invitations to deeply creative musicians like Argentina's Juana Molina and just about any representatives from Chicago's thriving jazz scene, particularly the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Our requests were answered handily with not only two sets by Molina (see our interview), but two sets from Chicago's widely influential Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (interviewed).

Nugent also sought booking advice from Bop Shop owner Tom Kohn, who for years now has organized the most forward-minded jazz shows ever to come to town. And we're willing to bet Kohn played some hand in the RIJF appearance of Holland's mind-bending Willem Breuker Kollektief and local trumpet experimentalist Paul Smoker, not to mention Ethnic Heritage. And who knows where the inspiration came for sets by the utterly unclassifiable Bad Plus, Bill Frisell, and autorickshaw.

In the following pages, which we hope you'll read slowly and save for the duration of the festival, you'll find everything you need to know to navigate these colorful waters. Our schedule grid is your nuts-and-bolts guide. To learn who all these musicians are, consult our capsule descriptions or our in-depth interviews. Lost? Consult the logistics --- ticket, parking, and venue information.

And don't forget: A piece on the Swing 'n Jazz Festival --- pros playing golf and jamming for a worthy cause --- can be found in this package as well. Finally, next week we promise to bring you coverage of CounterFitFest, even more experimental and international music slated for June 11 and 12 at A\V Space in the Public Market.

We hope we've established that you don't have to be a jazz freak to take a ton away from RIJF. In case you're still wondering, consider the following pointers from our own Ron Netsky:

• Rock fans: Much of what you love is derived from jazz. That catchy bass line from Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose that Number" was cribbed from Horace Silver's "Song for My Father." And other rock greats like The Doors and Carlos Santana --- known for long dream-like improvisations --- were directly influenced by the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others.

• Classical fans: The titans of your world --- Bach, Beethoven, Mozart --- were renowned for their improvisational skills. Even after music was written down, when a concerto was played in a concert, the cadenza was often improvised.

• Humans: All of us improvise every day, in ways large and small, reacting to situations ranging from life-changing decisions to ordering food in a restaurant. We're all making it up as we go along. So, when you come to the festival and hear the pianists, saxophonists, guitarists, and trumpet players brilliantly winding their way around chord structures, appreciate their journey. You're on one too.

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In This Guide...

  • In her dreams

    Juana Molina’s nighttime missives have been keeping us happily awake
    Juana Molina’s nighttime missives have been keeping us happily awake

  • Giant footsteps

    Ravi Coltrane forges his own path on the saxophone
    Ravi Coltrane forges his own path on the saxophone

  • Music from the first voice

    Kahil El'Zabar takes percussion from Africa to America
    Kahil El'Zabar takes percussion from Africa to America

  • On screen: 'Miles Electric'

    The jazz film makes a welcome reappearance in the RIJF lineup this year. On Wednesday, June 15, at the Eastman Theatre, you can relive the great plugged-in controversy as it related to Davis, not Dylan, during a free 8 p.m. screening of Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue.

  • Roll call

    Our guide to picking and choosing
    To take full advantage of all RIJF has to offer, you have some planning to do. Read this section for short descriptions of almost every act in the festival.

  • Get your jazz on

    The Rochester International Jazz Festival's fourth year is its biggest so far, and seeing your favorite acts may take a little planning. Three concert series

  • Bending chords

    Bill Frisell re-invents the jazz guitar
    Bill Frisell re-invents the jazz guitar

  • Bass ambitions

    Jay Leonhart strokes at Swing 'n Jazz
    Jay Leonhart strokes at Swing 'n Jazz