The annual U.S. Bank Saint Louis Jazz Festival at Shaw Park in Clayton is now historyand it's a chapter that features a few stirring musical passages, and quite a few disappointments. On Friday, Los Hombres Calientes turned in an interestingif somewhat predictableset in their St. Louis debut, and local vibes player Jonathan Whiting and his quartet were excellent. After that it was an extended trip to old school R&B with Norman Brown, Peabo Bryson and Everette Harp. Definitely not jazz (aside from a couple decent solos by Harp), but fairly entertaining.
Saturday featured a fine set by Dave Douglas, a mediocre but energetic effort by Jane Monheit and an interesting but flawed performance by Roy Hargrove and his RH band. Too bad almost no one turned out to see these sets. Actually, there were several thousand fans at the Fest each day, but combined attendance was probably half what it was last year.
A major part of the attendance drop was due to the incredibly hot, humid weather. But the real problem extends beyond the weather. There were no well-known jazz names to bring in the casual fan... and Friday's headlining R&B/smooth jazz acts like Bryson and Brown probably turned off real jazz fans.
That's a negative trifecta in anyone's book. Looks like the Fest will be back next year... but if the event can't boost attendance back to the 20,000 range, the end of the line could be in sight.
More jazz in July... In conjunction with the annual jazz camp for high school kids at Webster University, there are concerts all week in the Music Annex building at 8282 Big Bend (near the Music Building and the Loretto Hilton Theater). The free events start at 7 p.m. each evening from July 11-15, with a who's who of Webster's jazz faculty featured. Thursday evening's concert also highlights Willie Akins on tenor sax and Dave Black on guitar.
Jazz at the Bistro has extended its season into the summer for three weekends thanks to a tie-in with Washington University's Center for the humanitieswhich is sponsoring a summer institute to help public high school teachers integrate jazz into English, history and music courses. Last week Bucky Pizzarelli headlines, and this Friday and Saturday Pat Martino performs in a quartet setting. The series wraps up July 22 & 23 with a tribute to Jimmy Smith featuring local musicians Reggie Thomas, Rick Haydon, Miles Vandiver and special guest Willie Akins. Check out the Jazz at the Bistro website for more info.