Grammy-winning Pianist Ramsey Lewis Should Make Waves at JazzSAlive 

click to enlarge Ramsey Lewis shakes up this year’s smooth program - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Ramsey Lewis shakes up this year’s smooth program

You would think a 30-year celebration of anything would merit a huge fanfare, big names and a lot of noise. That’s just not the style of Jazz’SAlive, a festival that always chose integrity first—like jazz itself, the only fireworks you see are in the playing.

Instead, this year’s edition—taking place Saturday and Sunday at Travis Park—simply invited three survivors of the 1983 festival (Small World, The Regency Jazz Band and First Light featuring Richard García), three huge names from the world of smooth/New Agey jazz (Spyro Gyra, Hiroshima, former Miami Sound Machine saxman Ed Calle), three local favorites (Brett Butler & Joel Dilley, West Side Horns, Tejano/jazz saxophonist Joe Posada), and a legendary master sure to please hard-core jazz fans (Ramsey Lewis), among others.

“We’re trying to bring a great mix of classic, straight-ahead jazz and smooth jazz,” said Judi Deleón, who in May took over as the executive vice-president of the San Antonio Parks Foundation, which organizes JazzSAlive. A jazz singer herself, she has been involved with JazzSAlive for 10 years. “The idea is to merge our straight-ahead jazz and smooth jazz audiences. I feel we have a better rounded program this year.”

Perhaps so, but historically that has been the festival’s biggest weakness: its effort to please the most at the expense of the few, instead of going all-out with a serious jazz program for connoisseurs. I don’t mean it was wrong to invite, say, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra in 2010—the New York band (arguably the world’s best salsa orchestra) is also a top-notch Latin jazz band, and the 2010 edition was superb. But, at times, the festival sounds more Q101.9 than KRTU, the local smooth and straight-ahead jazz stations, respectively (both media sponsors).

However, this year does offer some hope for aficionados.

My big pick this year is Ramsey Lewis (8:30pm Sunday, main stage), sure to please both straight-ahead and smooth fans, and almost any other jazz freak. The Chicago pianist, a three-time Grammy Award winner and Hall of Famer and as relevant as ever, will be performing with his electric quintet. His 80th (!) album, Taking Another Look, is a clear indication that his set, far from a trip to nostalgia, should be a funky showstopper.

In additon to Hiroshima (9:30pm Sat, main stage), and Spyro Gyra (6:30pm Sun, main stage), other picks are local heroes West Side Horns (5:30pm Sat, Jefferson stage), the legendary SA ensemble that goes from Chicano soul to a powerhouse jazz big band in a second, and the duo of singer-pianist Bett Butler and bassist Joel Dilley (2:30pm Sat, Jefferson stage).

See the complete schedule at

30th annual Jazz’SAlive

11:30am-11pm Sat-Sun, Sept 21-22
Travis Park
301 E Travis

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