Sponsored by Jazz Education, Inc., a Houston based nonprofit organization that is devoted to educating youth through music; the Houston International Jazz Festival serves as a mechanism of support for programs throughout the year. For 35 years, Jazz Education, Inc. has been at the forefront of music education with emphasis on a Jazz & Poetry series and the Summer Jazz Workshop. Each one in its own way has produced more than eight thousand graduates during its 35-year history. On the other hand the Summer Jazz Workshop, a five-week intensive course of study that teaches the rudiments of jazz, public speaking and the business side of the genre has produced some of the finest professional educators and musicians in the United States. These and other aspects of Jazz Education, Inc. has made the HIJF a national treasure and a viable form of entertainment. The 2006 edition of the Houston International Jazz Festival brought the talents of the Yellowjackets, Down To The Bone, Euge Groove, Maysa and the Summer Jazz Workshop to the stages of the Verizon Wireless Theater and Red Cat Jazz Café.
On Saturday, August 5th, participants from the Summer Jazz Workshop opened for Euge Groove and Down To The Bone. Whenever the children perform in the Festival, those witnessing the event are always taken aback by their style of play and professionalism. The approach of the Summer Jazz Workshop has always taken a structured approach to the teaching of jazz; as such is the case, no watered down smooth jazz instrumental music is ever apparent. Students are taught the music of Bubbha Thomas, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Don Wilkerson and that of many other legendary jazz artists. The course of study that the students embark upon is so proficient and prolific; their jazz expertise is immediately enthralling, while bordering upon the magical. By any stretch, students participating in the Summer Jazz Workshop come away from the five-week course of instruction totally transformed and their performance patterns proves it. Ultimately they sound like seasoned professionals, which makes the workshop one of the most functionally viable music education programs in the United States. Since 1971, Jazz Education, Inc. has set a standard that has been copied, mimicked and re-created by any number of institutions throughout the United States. By the time the Summer Jazz Workshop had completed their performance, the audience was more than ready for Euge Groove and the group known as Down To The Bone.
The beauty of the Houston International Jazz Festival is its ability to present a multi-faceted array of artists who play jazz in a variety of flavors. As an acid jazz-fusion group, Down To The Bone displayed an energized sonic boom of sound. For many in the audience, this was the first opportunity to see this remarkable band whose sound is etched in European influences. Their energy and charisma is remarkable and with saxophonist Paul "Shilts" Weimar at the helm, the unexpected is just waiting to happen. For more than eight years, Paul and company have displayed a style of jazz that is full of funk, vibrant and extremely enlightening. One of the high points of Down To The Bone’s performance was a tune entitled "Vinyl Junkie" that featured a funk-laden keyboard solo by Bill Steinway coupled with a rap solo by Katisse Buckingham. Another song featuring Steinway again entitled "Zodiac" was a high-octane thriller as well. But it was Paul Weimar who really thrilled the audience with his multi-layered British accent and his amazing virtuoso on saxophone. "From Manhattan to Staten" featuring "Shilts" and Buckingham again on an interactive level was one of the many highpoints during more than 90 minutes of energized jazz. With this being their first visit to Houston, Down To The Bone will definitely be welcomed back with open arms as illustrated by the audience's enthusiastic response. Another clue was the rush to purchase their latest CD entitled "Spread Love Like Widfire." (Narada Jazz)
Following the dynamics of DTTB, Euge Groove hit the ground running with his own version of energized jazz. Riding high on his latest CD entitled "Just Feels Right," another Narada Jazz Record Label release, Groove has an incredible fan base. Considered by many to be a smooth jazz saxophonist; Euge is a far cry from that description on stage and he displayed a formulated vibe during the concert that defied the norm of interpretation. Although he has been to Houston many times with "Guitars & Saxes," Euge Groove performances are highly anticipated whenever he is scheduled for a visit. His music is diverse and augmented by infused rock and pop styles of music with jazz as an under current. He and his band of merry men were all over the stage with varying extremes of toe-tapping music. This time out, one of the highpoints of Euge’s solo performance was guitarist Ray "The Weeper" Fuller. Watching the interaction between he and Euge Groove was tantamount to watching artistry at its most fervent moment. With tracks such as "Livin’ Large," ""Sneak a Peak" and Get ‘Em Goin,’" the musical magic was tremendously exciting. One of the high points was the saxophonist’s jaunt through the audience with same amount of energy he displayed on stage. Whenever he performs, Euge Groove makes it a point to connect with the crowd in this manner. The art of jazz as displayed by this fusion jazz group that was anchored by one of the most popular saxophonists on smooth jazz radio was a definite plus during the 16th Annual Houston International Jazz Festival. By show’s end, the audience was not totally satisfied, but they never are after witnessing a stupendous night of jazz. In truth it is never enough, especially in a city where jazz of this magnitude is hard to come by.
On August 6th, the Festival switched gears in a manner of speaking with performances inside the Red Cat Jazz Café with the Yellowjackets and vocalist Maysa Leak. First up, the capacity crowd experienced the talents of one of contemporary jazz’s most successful groups. Celebrating 25 successful years together, keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip, drummer William Kennedy and saxophonist Eric Marienthal made an infrequent stopover through Houston. Although the Yellowjackets have transitioned themselves many times over and have survived the rigors of ever-changing trends in jazz, the band continues as a sound activated energy ray of contemporary stylized music. Anchored by Ferrante and Haslip, the last two original members of the group, the Yellowjackets carried the audience through 25 years of originally conceived contemporary jazz. Their latest CD/DVD entitled ‘Twenty Five’ (Heads Up) pushes the point even further. For a musician or a group to claim a quarter century as one of jazz’s most popular offerings is a definite testament to their viability and lasting appeal. Because the group is seldom seen in Houston, there was a high level of intrigue and anticipation attached to the Yellowjackets’ visit. Their brand of jazz in Houston is not the most popular due to the popularized emphasis of smooth jazz, but the voice of reason spoke out during the group’s performance. By show’s end, the Yellowjackets had increased their fan base considerably with music sorely missed by today's standards.
Maysa Leak's appearance added music with a twist to the 16th Annual Houston International Jazz Festival. Having made her way onto the jazz scene with Incognito, Maysa has presided over a solo career for over 5 years. Her music is etched in soul and blues, while carrying an incomparable quality that sets her apart from her contemporaries. Most of her music makes all kinds of statements pertaining to love, politics and everyday life; however, her latest CD entitled "Sweet Classic Soul" (Shanachie Records) makes another observation altogether. It is an album chock full of cover songs, all of which are devoted to the incurable impact of love experienced with someone special. On the night of August 6th at the Red Cat Jazz Café, Maysa made the art of love even more powerful. The close intimate surroundings of the venue allowed the crowd to get thoroughly involved with her music, as she immersed her rich vibrant voice into song. By most standards, Maysa has always been a standout vocalist, as noted during her days with Incognito; however by night’s end, she had pushed the point home even further. Her visit to the Festival was a Houston first and again, many in the crowd were unfamiliar with her talents as a singer. No matter how her performance is conveyed, she was worth the opportunity for all to see and all would agree that she was truly amazing.
2006 marked another milestone for the Houston International Jazz Festival. For the first time in its impeccable history, The Red Cat Jazz Café played host to one of the longest running music Festivals in Texas; which also added a level of intimacy to the event. The venue had successfully partnered with the Festival in 2004 by becoming a major club sponsor, another first, so this year it was deemed appropriate to include the Red Cat Jazz Café as a featured venue. In the early days of jazz, most of the music that was heard could be found in clubs, jook joints and back alleys. Many artists prefer this type of setting because it allows them to connect with the crowd and be more personable. In the end, the 16th Annual Houston International Jazz Festival was a rousing success and had the look and feel of jazz in both a large and small field of entertainment. Just as jazz comes in a variety of colors, so does the opportunity to view "America’s only original art form."