For three decades, everyone from Ornette Coleman to Sun Ra to Sonny Rollins have graced past festivals; all of them fall into a lineage of jazz innovation where Alicia Keys and Kenny G have no business.
Nevertheless, Keys' Sat., April 30, appearance at Chastain Park Amphitheatre kicks off the jazz fest, while the rest of the month builds to G's Fri., May 27, show at the same venue. Booking such adult contemporary hairdos for the festival indicates the event's planners had their eyes on the prize, more so than interest in presenting a compelling and adventurous lineup. The annual concert series is widely regarded as one of the country's largest free, jazz events - but if you really want to watch Kenny G's coiled mane blowing in the breeze, admission will set you back $33.50-$48.50. And Miss Keys' show will cost from $47 to $87, despite her recent shows at the Fox Theatre earlier this April.
But for those less mainstream, the heart of the festival beats at Piedmont Park over Memorial Day weekend, Sat.-Mon., May 28-30. Each day explores a different theme, with a day dedicated to national and international artists, a day of Latin jazz, and a day celebrating the best of Atlanta. Several locals and internationally renowned artists, including Nestor Torres, the Tito Puente Jr. Orchestra, and the David "Fathead" Newman Quintet, are scheduled to perform.
Leading up to Memorial Day, the weekend features performances by youth band competition winners from several local high schools who competed for a chance to play the festival. Also on hand will be a series of jazz education seminars, as well as a "Kids' Zone" featuring children's activities, and a smattering of booths selling food and souvenirs.
The city also hosts "31 Days of Jazz," which stretches all the way from the atrium at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Fernbank Museum and beyond, throughout May with the happenings broken up into several groupings:
The Nightlife Series offers a rotating cast of performances at bars and clubs throughout the city, including Churchill Grounds, Apache Café, Justin's and the Jazz Loft.
Jazz Etc. encompasses concerts around the city, at locations including the High Museum of Art, Centennial Olympic Park and the Carter Center.
Dinner and Jazz pairs jazz performances with restaurants including Vinocity, C'est Bon, Toast, Basil's, Camille's Sidewalk Cafe, City Grill and several others.
Eclectic Jazz offers ragtime beats and saxophone sounds in unexpected places around the city, such as Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for performances from artists such as Takana Miyamoto, the Rod Smith Quartet and the Southern Art Ensemble. Other locations include Fernbank's Martinis and Imax, and Hudgens Center for the Arts.
Jazz with Lunch offers respite from the daily grind with performances at Underground Atlanta, Centennial Olympic Park and Broad Street in the historic Fairlie-Poplar district near downtown Atlanta.
Late Night Jazz Jams are for the night owls and push late-night jam sessions into the wee hours of the morning at the Wyndham Midtown.Although it's not an official part of the festival, one of the more intriguing shows in May is a performance by Gianni Gebbia, Massimo Pupillo and Lukas Ligeti at Eyedrum on Mon., May 2. Percussionist/composer Lukas is the son of world-renowned modern composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Flanked by saxophonists Gebbia and bassist Pupillo, the trio crafts a bombastic skronk and wail that dabbles in improvisation, alternative tunings and incorporates traditional music from around the world. At only $7, it's a stark contrast to Kenny G's show. The Atlanta Jazz Festival was all about offering a variety of jazz as an authentic form of traditional music, but this year it needs a little help from outside influences.