A Closer Look At The Great Americas Songbook
Cart Cart(0)

On The Corner Masthead

A Closer Look at Great Americas Songbook

July 12, 2018 | by Rusty Aceves

Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdés

One of the major themes marking each year’s SFJAZZ Summer Sessions is the multi-week curated series of performances called “Great Americas Songbook.” A riff on “Great American Songbook,” the oft-used description of the canon of American popular songs originating the early 20th century that have become intrinsic parts of the cultural fabric, “Great Americas Songbook” takes the concept of the American song tradition and applies it to the entirety of the geographical region called “the Americas,” encompassing North, Central, and South America as well as their associated islands and territories. Past years have featured weeks focused on specific countries including Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, the U.S., and the region of the Caribbean Basin, and this year the concept has been expanded to the entirety of Summer Sessions, with weeks highlighting the diverse range of American music from bluegrass and the blues to modern classical composition, the established veterans and new sounds of Cuba, and more.

Week 1: New Grass - American Roots

Counting David Grisman, Jerry Garcia and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival as proponents, the modern bluegrass sound has had a long history in the Bay Area. The artists performing during this week include “New Grass” pioneers Grisman and Sam Bush, bluegrass veteran Del McCoury, and a crop of younger artists who have developed ingenious new hybrids that make the music ever relevant and always evolving.


Week 2: Philip Glass Fest

Easily one of the most prolific and influential artists of the modern age, Philip Glass rose to prominence as one of the so-called “minimalist” composers in the late 1960s along with Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young. His seminal long-form composition Music in 12 Parts, electric chamber opera Einstein on the Beach, and score to Godfrey Reggio’s groundbreaking 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi brought his singular approach to the mainstream. Glass’ current work encompasses solo piano, symphonic music, chamber music, opera, ballet, and soundtracks, and for this week, he performs live in chamber trio and piano settings with a number of special guests.


Week 3: Gypsy Swing

“Cool, continental, witty and more than a little mysterious” (Boston Herald), Paris Combo mixes the American jazz influenced Gypsy swing of Django Reinhardt with elements of flamenco, chanson, and alt-cabaret as well as Latin and North African rhythms. They represent a prime example of American music traveling around the world and inspiring new forms of expression.


Week 4: Cuban Piano Masters / New Sound of Cuba

Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the two greatest living Cuban pianists, share the stage for these intimate evenings of duos and solo performances. Now neighbors in Miami, the bond between these two geniuses has grown into a peerless musical partnership.
In the Joe Henderson Lab, a group of dynamic young instrumentalists perform who are ushering Cuban music into the 21st Century, each possessed of an adventurous spirit and a reverence for tradition.


Week 5: One Woman Orchestra / New Voices

Combining layers of live playing and loops into startling original compositions, composer and instrumentalist Zoë Keating creates a universe of music with just a cello, a laptop, and her boundless imagination.
The week in the Joe Henderson Lab devoted to young vocalists marks three SFJAZZ debuts and a record release celebration, each artist carrying on the tradition of the Great American Songbook.


Week 6: Blues-Roots Legend / Bay Area Soul

Two-time GRAMMY-winning blues icon Taj Mahal is “a musical archaeologist who does more than preserve history. He makes it contemporary.” (The New York Times) The guitarist is joined by his longstanding trio for this week of performances.
The rich legacy of soul music in the Bay Area, immortalized by Sly & The Family Stone and Tower of Power, is in good hands with the artists performing in the Joe Henderson Lab this week.