Tucson Jazz Festival Returns With a Renewed Focus on Collaboration

After narrowly making it into the early days of 2020, and being cancelled last year, the Tucson Jazz Festival is scheduled across multiple venues from Friday, Jan. 14, to Sunday, Jan. 23. The festival returns with an expanded variety of styles, both indoor and outdoor shows, and a special jam day that gets to the heart of jazz. 

Of course, this occurs as infection cases are spiking throughout the state and two headliners, Herb Alpert and Jon Batiste, have rescheduled. But many events and performers are still planned to continue throughout town, at venues like the Fox Theatre, Hotel Congress, and the Rialto. 

“Anybody on our line-up, I’m super excited about, to be honest. We have some of the best performers. Unfortunately a couple have had to postpone their performances, but we still have fantastic musicians coming,” said Khris Dodge, executive director of the Tucson Jazz Festival. “I think the festival has been pretty consistent at offering a wide array of different styles within the jazz idiom, and this year is no exception. We work hard to offer options for different tastes.” 

Highlights include Grammy-winning artists like singer Dianne Reeves, guitarist Lee Ritenour and composer Dave Grusin. Beyond individual performers, the Tucson Jazz Festival has also scheduled full bands and orchestras, such as the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Tucson’s own Orkesta Mendoza.

Dodge says a goal of the Tucson Jazz Festival is to bring in some of the best performers from around the country, but also feature our city’s own jazz

“We have some of the best in the country right here in our own city, and we need to highlight and celebrate our wonderful local musicians, in addition to those we bring in from out of town,” Dodge said. “Both are definitely of value.”

New to the festival this year is the Tucson Jazz Festival Jam, scheduled for five hours midday on Saturday, Jan. 15, on the Hotel Congress plaza. 

“I’m really excited about the outdoor jam, which features performers booked for the Fox Theatre intermingling with some of our top performers here in town, creating different groups on three different stages throughout the day,” Dodge said. 

The lengthy collaborative jam will give people a chance to listen to new combinations of performers. Because of its time, the audience can even listen for a bit, leave, come back, and there will still be new music performed. 

“It’s something that happens in other jazz festivals. From an artist’s perspective, it’s really cool because you play with your own group all the time, and suddenly you have the chance to play with other great musicians that you normally wouldn’t get a chance to,” Dodge said. 

On Monday, Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the outdoor Downtown Jazz Fiesta will be free to the public. The Jazz Fiesta features drummer and composer Kendrick Scott performing along with the University of Arizona’s Fred Fox Jazz Ensemble.

While there are both indoor and outdoor events planned, Dodge says there are currently no virtual components planned, which goes in line with the lively and improvisational nature of jazz. 

“Over the last two years, we’ve done a lot of virtual. And it was wonderful and we needed it, but I also feel, as a community, we need that live connection,” Dodge said. 

Due to the seemingly endless nightmare that is COVID, Dodge admits scheduling changes may be necessary as the Jazz Festival draws nearer. However, participating venues are working with safety recommendations and mandates by the City of Tucson and Pima County.

“The biggest part is that we believe in our community, and we want to uplift our community. The arts and music does that,” Dodge said. “Of course, they don’t solve everything, but it’s a small piece of the pie that makes Tucson great. And if we can play a small part in making our community better, we’ll try to engage in as many ways as we can.” 


Lee Ritenour & Dave Grusin. Two jazz legends are teaming up for a special performance at the Fox Theatre on Sunday, Jan. 16. During a career spanning five decades, guitarist Lee Ritenour has amassed 16 Grammy nominations thanks to his technical fusion of jazz, pop, rock ’n’ roll and world music. Dave Grusin has worked as a composer, record producer and pianist, and has produced multiple film scores. In an effort to spread the love of jazz, Grusin is also co-founder of the National Foundation for Jazz Education, a philanthropic group dedicated to helping young jazz musicians.

Dianne Reeves. Singer Dianne Reeves is known for wielding her voice as an instrument, offering a rich tone as well as improvisation between jazz and R&B. Her work has won her five Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album, as well as an honorary doctorate of music from Juilliard music school. Reeves performance has been rescheduled to Friday, May 13, at the Tucson Convention Center’s Leo Rich Theatre.

The Dave Stryker Quartet & The Eric Alexander Quintet. This ensemble performance pairs two musicians collaborating, each with their own group. Uplifting guitarist Dave Stryker pairs his quartet with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander’s quintet for a unique show filling the Fox Theatre stage on Friday, Jan 14. 

Kendrick Scott. Drummer, composer and band leader Kendrick Scott has been named one of the most noteworthy rising stars in jazz, performing on multiple Grammy-winning records. He has released multiple albums, both avant-garde and more traditional, and currently works on faculty at the Manhattan School Of Music. Scott will be performing with the UA Fred Fox Jazz Ensemble to headline the Downtown Jazz Fiesta on Monday, Jan. 17.

Orkesta Mendoza. Tucson’s own Orkesta Mendoza performs a special style of percussive fusion that could really only come out of the Old Pueblo. Dubbed “indie mambo,” Orkesta Mendoza’s large sonic offerings take influence from ranchera, cumbia, psychedelic music and more. Their unique music includes drums, accordion, keyboard, clarinet, guitar, saxophone, piano, and multiple singers. Orkesta Mendoza perform at Hotel Congress on Saturday, Jan. 22.

Sammy Rae & The Friends. Eight strong, this collective comes complete with a rhythm section, horn section and multiple singers. Band leader Sammy Rae traces her influences everywhere from classic rock to folk to jazz. This all combines into a sweet yet energetic performance with multiple interweaving melodies that stays danceable. Sammy Rae & The Friends take the stage at 191 Toole on Tuesday, Jan. 18.  ν

For more information, a full line-up, and to purchase tickets, visit TucsonJazz Festival.org

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