For a quarter-century, Daniel Atkinson has lived and breathed jazz. He's neither a performer nor some studious insider or manager, though he does produce an occasional album. He's just a passionate fellow who loves music and has been booking what's been one of the most respected and revered concert series in San Diego, even if some people may still not know how special it is.
"I was the one who started the program all those years ago, and I've been running it ever since," says Atkinson, the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library's jazz program coordinator. "When I first started it in the late '80s, I had just caught the jazz bug myself, and there was this opportunity to start something at the Athenaeum."
It seems fitting that this year's jazz series, staged at The Auditorium at TSRI (The Scripps Ranch Institute), is a multigenerational showcase of talent, with a group of hard-bop legends opening the series, followed by a quintet led by two established players and concluding with a more contemporary, younger sax man.
"That's what's most exciting about this particular series," Atkinson says. "Each concert represents top players from a different generation and the different ways that they approach jazz."
The series begins on Thursday, Oct. 2, with The Cookers, a septet made up of a dream team of hardbop vets (think bebop with touches of R&B) who, between them, have played with legends like Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock and others. They originally started in New York City as a tribute act to the 1965 Freddie Hubbard live album The Night of the Cookers. Trumpeter David Weiss says the group gelled and expanded their repertoire after the initial shows.
"It was initially hard to get everybody together," Weiss says. "We were all still doing other projects, but once we did, it just clicked, and we knew we had something special."
The series continues with Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Sound Prints Quintet on Wednesday, Oct. 15. Anchored by two established players (Lovano on tenor sax, Douglas on trumpet), the concert will feature interpretive and improvisational takes on the catalogue of revered jazz composer Wayne Shorter. Judging by YouTube videos, the members have a ferocious approach to playing. It's almost as if each is attacking his instrument when his respective solo comes along. It's easy to see why The New York Times said the group's "rapport seemed all but inexhaustible."
Finally, the Greg Osby Four will perform on Saturday, Oct. 25, featuring young maverick Osby on alto and soprano saxophone. Atkinson describes Osby's style as more "contemporary" and says it incorporates "a hip-hop sensibility." He'll be playing with a band that features some of the brightest young players in the business.
"I think he takes jazz in a direction that it just hasn't gone before, in terms of the influences of contemporary pop music," Atkinson says. "But again, every one of the concerts features players that are innovators. These are rare opportunities to see artists who are the top players in their respective fields."
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Four-string serenades: The Museum of Making Music's newish exhibition, The Banjo: A New Day for an Old Instrument, is cool and informative, and the companion shows are just as notable. At 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, banjoist Mark Johnson will play a show with mandolin maestro Emory Lister. And at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25, Southern Appalachian native and banjo troubadour Dan Leverson will play. museumofmakingmusic.org
Power players: We love UCSD's ArtPower's adventurous spirit when it comes to chamber music. At 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15, Tri Minh's Quartet will mix electronica, acoustic and traditional Vietnamese elements at The Loft. And St. Lawrence String Quartet, which also has a more spontaneous take on the chamber sound, will play at the Conrad Prebys Music Center at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7. artpwr.com
So fresh, so serene: The Fresh Sound series continues to be, well, fresh in its 17th season at Bread & Salt in Logan Heights. New York artist Neil Rolnick will perform mashed and sampled compositions solely on a laptop at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10. The series closes at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, with Tim Hodgkinson and Ramón Amezcua (aka Bostich of Nortec Collective fame), who'll combine electronic music with clarinet and lap-steel guitar. freshsoundmusic.com
Center stage: The California Center for the Arts in Escondido is celebrating its 20th anniversary in style with more big-name concerts than we could possibly list here, but highlights include Latin-rockers La Santa Cecilia on Friday, Oct. 10; ukulele prodigy Jake Shimabukuro on Friday, Oct. 31; country legend Merle Haggard on Wednesday, Dec. 10; and more than a dozen others. Shows start at 7:30 p.m. artcenter.org
Sing on: After all the recent drama, we're excited about the upcoming San Diego Opera season, but it doesn't start til January. Meantime, check out the free Opera Exposed, which features up-and-coming singers performing selections from Puccini, Gounod, Mozart and more, with opera educator Nicolas Reveles providing background. It happens at libraries and venues throughout the county from Oct. 5 through Jan. 10. Times vary. sdopera.com