The Bay Area has produced so many legendary musical artists over the years and there are many reasons why. Good schools with strong music teachers, resourceful youth programs, and a rich regional spirit of creative risk-taking and innovation are just some parts of the inspired alchemy that has produced a deep roster of talented jazz artists.
Our many homegrown musicians are NorCal ambassadors of sorts who travel the world, sharing their songs and locally honed talents with global audiences. A handful of Bay Area-bred jazz stars will do just that over the next two weeks at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which runs to July 7. Artists from all over the Bay — from Oakland to Santa Cruz to Berkeley to the Peninsula — are slated to perform at the wildly popular festival.
Here is a list of the Bay Area jazz greats who will take Montreal stages by storm:
Donny McCaslin is an inventive, renowned saxophonist who has collaborated with a long list of musical legends, including the late David Bowie. The Santa Cruz-bred star has released 13 albums on his own and has appeared on dozens of others. His most recent album, a 2018 release called “Blow,” reveals McCaslin’s versatility and features songs that are nothing like the accomplished musician has ever before created. The saxophone-infused tunes feature lyrics — a departure for McCaslin — and the smart, edgy sound has been described as alternative or “art rock.” McCaslin now lives in Brooklyn. But he’s quick to note that Santa Cruz’s thriving, eclectic music scene greatly influenced his musical growth as a teen.
Larry Grenadier, born in San Francisco and raised in Burlingame, is an acclaimed jazz bassist at the top of his game. Grenadier is a member of a quartet called Hudson, as well as a trio named Fly, which has released three critically acclaimed albums. After collaborating with many band leaders over the years, Grenadier recently released his first solo album, “The Gleaners.” Grenadier wrote more than half of the 12-song record, on which he mixed original compositions with tunes by George Gershwin, John Coltrane, and others. “The Gleaners” has been well-received by jazz critics, who have praised Grenadier for creating an enjoyable record that fuses his trademark powerful sound with his wide musical range.
Joshua Redman’s prodigious music talent was forged and sharpened in the East Bay. The excellent saxophonist was born and raised in Berkeley and further honed his craft in the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble. After graduating from Harvard, he moved to New York City and since then, his star has continued to ascend. Redman has collaborated with a long list of music legends of widely divergent styles, including B.B. King, Yo-Yo Ma, The Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder and Branford Marsalis — just to name a few. Redman also has been a prolific producer of his own records, having released 20 albums as a band leader. Redman’s most recent album, “Come What May,” was released earlier this year.
When talking about Bay Area musicians, one can expect that the city of Oakland will be mentioned at some point. The early years of Ambrose Akinmusire’s impressive musical journey as a jazz trumpeter gives us that chance. Akinmusire was born and raised in Oakland and East Bay programs helped him craft his formidable musical talent in those early years. Like Joshua Redman, Akinmusire played with the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble and his performances there earned him a reputation as a future star. Akinmusire has won several prestigious awards. He also has collaborated with musicians as diverse as jazz singer-bassist Esperanza Spalding and critically lauded hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar. Akinmusire has released five albums in the past 11 years. His most recent record, “Origami Harvest,” hit the charts in 2018.
For more information about the renowned Montreal International Jazz Festival and its long list of excellent musical acts, go online at www.montrealjazzfest.com.