While the footprint of San Jose Jazz’s Summer Fest will be smaller this year than it was before, it will still be larger than the organizers originally envisioned.
“We were only focusing on the main stage, but then we decided to get involved with the Fountain Blues Festival, which didn’t happen this year,” says Artistic and Festival Director Bruce Labadi.
Therefore, the organizers added a second stage from the Sobrato Main Stage to the other end of the Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The Fountain Blues Stage, which is booked by the Fountain Blues Foundation in collaboration with Poor House Bistro owner Jay Meduri, will feature blues and New Orleans acts including the Chris Cain Band and Billy Yusso and Friends.
While Summer Fest usually serves indoor stages in downtown San Jose, two usual celebration venues—the Fairmont Hotel and Cafe Stritch—are closed during the pandemic. Still, Labdi says, organizers were motivated by a desire for more music at their first post-pandemic jazz festival, scheduled for August 13-15.
“We decided we needed more straight forward and Latin jazz, so we added the Montgomery Theatre. We decided we needed more, so we added the Hammer Theatre.
Hammer’s acts include pianists Helen Sung and James Francis and vocalists Condace Springs and Quianna Linnell. At Montgomery, guitarist Ray Obido Mambo will play with Caribe, and multi-instrumentalist George Brooks will share the stage with Indian classical musician Arjun Varma.
The San Jose Jazz office on South First Street will house the SJZ Break Room, where smaller audiences can watch live performances while larger crowds can watch on outdoor screens.
“It only holds about 60 people,” Labdi says. “Some of the work they are doing elsewhere, they are doing it there as well.”
Also on South First Street, the CEFCU Latin Tropical Stage will host seven Latin and salsa performances at no entrance fee. Featured acts include Septeto Los Amigos, Latin Rhythm Boys, Cabanizas Project, Las Chicas, Sitara Son, Rumbanket, Alberto González and Orquesta Salsa Caliente.
Labadi says organizing a concert on the heels of the pandemic has been challenging.
“We booked it all for last year and had to cancel,” he says, adding that this year, “we tried to move the acts, but not everyone went ahead.”
Some of the acts, says Labadi, bowed out after the state lifted its COVID-19 restrictions during large events.
“In May everyone was begging to play,” he adds. “The price went up on June 15th.”
Still, he says, “We have a very strong lineup, especially on the main stage. We were able to do some great work.”
Headliners include LA band Ozomatly on August 13, Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra on August 14, and Superblue, a quartet featuring guitarist Charlie Hunter and vocalist Kurt Elling, on August 15.
While he acknowledges that putting together this year’s Summer Fest took “a leap of faith,” Lebedy says it’s important that the event takes place.
“We’re helping San Jose recover,” he says. “It’s a great weekend to be back. … I think the city will have a good energy.”
The main goal of the festival, Labadi says, “is to build community in San Jose, because we’re all going to benefit from it.”
Tickets for the 2021 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest are $35-$190 per day and $105-$470 for a three-day pass Summerfest.sanjosejazz.org.