SFJAZZ’s spring season, just under way, hits a high note when the SFJAZZ Collective takes center stage Friday.
Since its founding in 2004, SFJAZZ Collective’s exceptional lineup of award-winning musicians — alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trombonist Robin Eubanks, bassist Matt Penman, drummer Eric Harland, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and pianist Edward Simon — and unique choice of repertoire has made it a major player on the jazz scene.
Each spring the eight members of SFJAZZ Collective combine their own compositions with those of a major player on the jazz scene. In the past, the collective has focused on present and past legends: Ornette Coleman (2004), John Coltrane (2005), Herbie Hancock (2006), Thelonious Monk (2007), Wayne Shorter (2008), McCoy Tyner (2009) and Horace Silver (2010).
This year marks a departure, as the group explores the music of the great Stevie Wonder.
“We picked Stevie Wonder because most of us have a strong relationship with his music,” says Harland, 34, winner of DownBeat No. 1 Rising Star drummer for the last three years. “His music has always been a part of [contemporary] America, especially the black side of America. A lot of us strongly relate to it.
“We know it is a big change from what we’ve done before. But we thought it would be nice for people to see what the collective can do with music that pretty much everyone is familiar with. Doing it will show a strong take on the arrangement capabilities of the collective members, and also give us something to really have fun with.”
Harland stresses that while most people associate Stevie Wonder with soul and rhythm and blues, those genres share with jazz common roots in the spirituals and hymns that were sung by black slaves. Ultimately, all are heart-centered idioms that speak to people on deep spiritual levels.
“It makes sense that people were drawn to that music back then, just like they’re still drawn to R&B and soul music now,” says Harland. “It’s just that jazz has changed so much. In the process, we might have lost a few people. Stevie Wonder gives us an avenue to reach out and touch them again.”
Although Harland plays in a number of crack ensembles, including the Charles Lloyd Quartet that put him on the map, he stresses the unique experience of the SFJAZZ Collective.
“We have eight members, yet it still has the feel of a quartet. I think it’s because we have a lot of history playing together, and we’re very sensitive to each other. We’ve gone through the dimension of trying to prove ourselves. Now we can put our egos aside, just have a good time and make every performance like it’s a living room.”
Here’s a chronological look at a few other spring season highlights among the dozens offered through June 25:
- 7 p.m. March 27. $25-$60. Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., S.F.
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester
- 8 p.m. April 9, $25-$80. Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland
- 7 p.m. April 17. $25-$65. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
- 8 p.m. April 22, $25-$85. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
Buddy Guy, John Nemeth
- 8 p.m. April 23. $25-$65. Davies Symphony Hall, S.F.
- 8 p.m. April 29. $30-$50. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St., S.F.
Rickie Lee Jones
- 8 p.m. May 27. $25-$65. Davies Symphony Hall, S.F.
- 8 p.m. May 28. $75-$150. Davies Symphony Hall, S.F.
Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins, Michael White
- 8 p.m. June 10. $20-$65. Davies Symphony Hall, S.F.
Youssou N’Dour, Angelique Kidjo
- 8 p.m. June 17. $25-$80. Paramount Theatre, Oakland
Presented by SFJAZZ
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $25 to $65
Contact: (866) 920-5299; www.sfjazz.org