This weekend marks the return of Atlanta Jazz Festival and, as always, the event boasts a lineup of marquee acts from around the globe, including trumpeter Roy Hargrove, French singer Cyrille Aimée, Bill Frisell's Guitar in the Space Age, and legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, among many more. But this year, along with the out-of-town roster of musicians, the festival also shines a spotlight on local talent in a bigger way than ever before. Case in point: Several high-profile hometown performers are set to take the Main Stage and, for the first time in the event's 37-year history, attendees will be able to catch a bevy of up-and-coming Atlantans on the newly added Locals Stage.
Folks interested in exploring our city's rich well of jazz talent, however, may have trouble navigating all the homegrown sounds populating this year's festival. Here's a quick list of this year's must-see ATL-based artists.
Willie Ziavino and the C.O.T. Band: Born in Ecuador but now living in the A, guitarist/vocalist Willie Ziavino and the C.O.T. Band are best known for crafting a unique brand of trova and Caribbean sounds at Latin-flavored spots around the city, including Loca Luna and Eclipse di Luna. With three albums under his belt — Willie Ziavino, Maru, and Camino Empedrado — Ziavino and his partners in crime bang out sweet, sad songs of longing such as "Domingo" and grooving numbers such as "La Murga de Panama" that drive listeners to the dance floor with equal zeal. Sat., May 24, 2:30 p.m. Locals Stage.
The Rialto Youth Jazz Orchestra: Founded in June 2011 by Dr. Gordon Vernick, the Rialto Youth Jazz Orchestra program rounds up Atlanta's best young musicians (ages of 13-18) and gives them an opportunity to perform in a more immersive environment. Kids are placed in either one large jazz ensemble (under the direction of Vernick) or into one of five individual jazz combos (led by Kevin Bales, Robert Dickson, Justin Varnes, Tyrone Jackson, Justin Chesarek, and Akeem Marable) with an emphasis on the more advanced improvisers in the bunch. Sat., May 24, 3 p.m. Main Stage.
Russell Gunn's Krunk Jazz Orkestra: Let's pray that if you're a fan of local jazz, you're already familiar with trumpeter, fluegelhornist, and composer Russell Gunn. The man's reach extends far beyond the confines of our fair city — blending elements of Cuban, Brazilian, African, European, classical music, and hip-hop. Gunn is one of the brightest, boldest artists who has ever decided to set down roots here. Just look at the array of projects he's crafted while playing on stage with artists such as Maxwell on one hand and performing alongside the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on the other. It's virtually impossible to overlook the Chicago native's diverse 20-year tenure in the music industry. Sat., May 24, 7 p.m. Main Stage.
Rialto Jazz for Kids: Pairing up middle school kids from throughout the metro Atlanta area with the Rialto Center for the Arts and the RJK Jazz Quartet, the Rialto Jazz For Kids partnership gives many budding Atlanta musicians their first taste of performing for a festival audience. Sun., May 25, 12:30 p.m. Locals Stage.
Darren English: Another must-see trumpet player on this year's lineup, Darren English is originally from South Africa. These days, however, you can catch him regularly setting off sonic fireballs at the Elliott Street Pub and other local jazz venues. With a style that's both avant-garde and blues-driven, English is currently cranking out original tunes for his debut solo album to be released on Atlanta's own Hot Shoe Records. He also spends much of his time performing with groups such the Joe Gransden Big Band, the Marcus Lewis Big Band, Jacob Deaton's Sweet Deat and the Revivalists, the Kevin Bales Quartet, Kebbi Williams' Wolfpack, and more. Sun., May 25, 2:30 p.m. Locals Stage.
Freddy Cole: It's tempting to describe pianist/singer Freddy Cole as "the brother of Nat King." After all, he has unapologetically developed a vocal style that's similar to his older sibling's. But since dropping his first single, "The Joke's on Me," in 1952, Cole, who has called Atlanta home since moving here in 1972, has crafted his own musical path, approaching his tunes with a jazzier vibe that melds the best of crooners like Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday. His long-standing body of work has garnered him a 2011 Grammy nomination, a spot in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, and a touring schedule that includes spots in Europe, South America, Asia, and more. Sun., May 25, 5 p.m. Main Stage.