San Antonio’s biggest and most community-oriented jazz festival, San Antonio Parks Foundation’s 33rd Jazz’SAlive, will take the stage this Saturday and Sunday at Travis Park. A host of local and international artists and musicians who span the music style’s full spectrum and rhythmic orientation will fill downtown with sounds as complex and culturally rich as the city itself.

While there are sure to be veteran music lovers who danced to the Count Basie Orchestra and witnessed the transformations from be-bop to hard bop to soul and beyond as teenagers in attendance, San Antonio’s youngest fans will have the chance to dig deep into the world of jazz as well. The Jazz’SAlive Children’s Symposium kicks off the festivities Saturday at 10 a.m. with opportunities for young ones to try their hand at percussive, woodwind, and brass instruments courtesy of local music industry professionals and educators.

Right after that the first band of the day is The 4 O’clock 5, a group of young San Antonio-based musicians – some of which are still in high school – who have taken the scene by storm and received serious airtime on 91.7 KRTU. With killer players like saxman Adam Carrillo, who can be seen most nights with the Doc Watkins Orchestra at Jazz,TX, the group represents the freshness of the music and how alive it is within the spirits of the 21st century generation.

Internationally acclaimed and Grammy-nominated tenorman Joe Lovano is sure to draw a strong crowd, especially those who take their jazz with a lump or two of intellectual stimulation and experimental exploration, as he closes out the first day’s star-studded lineup. That lineup includes local bandleader and percussionist Henry Brun and his Latin Playerz, who are closing out their 25th anniversary world tour with a special slew of soul-shakers on stage.

Henry Brun and the Latin Playerz Orchestra perform at the Empire Theatre in 2010. Courtesy photo.
Henry Brun and the Latin Playerz Orchestra perform at the Empire Theatre in 2010. Courtesy photo.

“The presentation will be all San Antonio,” said Brun, who also acts as the talent curator for Jazz’SAlive. “We’ll also have Ed Calle coming in as a featured guest, one of the most recorded sax players in the world.”

Aside from the Latin Playerz, Brun is also welcoming conjunto stalwart Flaco Jimenez, bluesman Augie Meyers, and SA elder statesman (and woman) Spot Barnett and June Parker, whose heydays were in the ’60s and ’70s of South Texas’ jazz and R&B scene.

“People aren’t used to seeing them in a big band context,” Brun said of the star-studded cast. “It’s gonna be a show and a half, jazz presented in a very entertaining way.”

With Lovano throwing it down for Saturday’s finale, and Grammy-nominated tenorman Kirk Whalum strutting his stuff for the festival’s final downbeat Sunday, Brun found a theme in this year’s music.

“The whole idea is to try and get a perspective of music so that each Jazz’SAlive is different than the last, so that it doesn’t become a cookie-cutter template,” Brun said. “You could call this the ‘Reeds Galore’ festival.”

Adolphe Sax’s prized instrument has become a veritable symbol of jazz with its “J”-like shape and radiant shine – it’s even at the center of Jazz’SAlive’s logo – and it’s no different with this year’s lineup.

“You got Kris Kimura of the Wasabi Big Band and Jim Waller (of UIW Jazz Band),” Brun said. “I didn’t focus directly on the sax to be the instrument, it just organically became that.”

According to Brun, the saxophone, given its variety in shape and sound, is one of jazz’s most recognized instruments, and for good reason.

“It can be mellow and it can be abrasive, it can go whichever way you want,” he said. “The saxophone – who cannot love it?”

If you don’t hear the wailing of the horn directly from the stage, you’re sure to play witness to it from the benches and blankets spread out across Travis Park, thanks to 91.7 KRTU who will set up near the Jefferson Street Stage. You’ll get to hear the voices that you usually only hear on the air live, namely those of  KRTU General Manager JJ Lopez and Music Director Kory Cook, who will emcee and showcase the local musicians.

San Antonio drummer Kory Cook performs with Austin-based trumpeter Jeff Lofton. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
San Antonio drummer Kory Cook performs with Austin-based trumpeter Jeff Lofton. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Though it’s newly renovated, the park will maintain its eclectic allure when it welcomes a vast cross-section of San Antonio’s jazz enthusiasts to its weekend celebration. Accompanied by plentiful food and drink options, you’ll be able to hear and dance to the New Orleans sound of the San Antonio River Rats Brass Band as you prepare for the main stage talents.

Don’t be afraid to let loose and experience the life and freedom that jazz is bringing to San Antonio. You’ll get a healthy helping this weekend, but the show goes on across San Antonio all year long, and this is the place to make the connection.

You can reserve seats here or a book a VIP table here. For the full lineup and more details, click here.

Top image: The River City Rats Brass Band entertains the crowd of Travis Park at Jazz’SAlive. Photo courtesy of SA Parks and Recreation 

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Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.