Women in spotlight at San Francisco Jazz Festival 

Homage to greats: Guitarist Mimi Fox appears in “Tribute to Jimmy & Wes,” one of many of SF JAZZ’s 29th season concerts. (Courtesy photo) - HOMAGE TO GREATS: GUITARIST MIMI FOX APPEARS IN “TRIBUTE TO JIMMY & WES,” ONE OF MANY OF SF JAZZ’S 29TH SEASON CONCERTS. (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • Homage to greats: Guitarist Mimi Fox appears in “Tribute to Jimmy & Wes,” one of many of SF JAZZ’s 29th season concerts. (Courtesy photo)
  • Homage to greats: Guitarist Mimi Fox appears in “Tribute to Jimmy & Wes,” one of many of SF JAZZ’s 29th season concerts. (Courtesy photo)

The 29th annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, which launched last week and culminates Dec. 18 with Aaron Neville’s swingingly “Soulful Christmas,” promises an extremely rich fall season, with a diverse lineup of artists.

Although SF JAZZ Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline’s season includes a number of outstanding women headliners, it does little to respond to a decade’s worth of criticism from trumpeter-bandleader Ellen Seeling that female jazz instrumentalists are woefully underrepresented.

Yet the two female instrumentalists among the offerings — guitarist-composer Mimi Fox and her trio, appearing Friday at San Francisco’s Swedish American Hall, and bassist-vocalist-composer Esperanza Spalding, onstage Saturday at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre — are nothing short of sensational.

Fox, a longtime Bay Area resident whose intense schedule of touring, recording, collaboration and teaching makes her rare hometown appearances must-sees, began playing guitar when she was 10. Though she began by playing pop and spent years studying classical, neither form gave her the freedom she needed to express the improvisational harmonies that constantly resounded within her.

“Jazz is basically a story within a story,” she explained in a whirlwind phone interview, squeezed in before a recording session.

“The type of jazz that I play is broadly deemed straight-ahead jazz. It encompasses blues, bebop, and the broad heading of Latin jazz. It’s not avant-garde, which is a little more outside of the box. But even if there’s a lot of improvisation and creative freedom in the moment, there’s also the structure of the tune. It’s up to me to create my own story from the basic story of the melody. That’s why I love jazz so much: I love its rhythm and groove, and it gives me all this freedom.”

For her SF JAZZ gig, Fox partners with Bay Area Hammond B-3 organist Matt Clark and drummer Akira Tana for a tribute to two “groove-based” jazz giants who were known for the strong rhythmic pulse of their playing, B-3 guitarist Wes Montgomery and organist Jimmy Smith.

Her affinity for Montgomery’s harmonically sophisticated, blues-drenched style is reflected both in her own musicianship and in the classes she teaches on his work at Berkeley’s Jazz School and New York University.

She calls Smith’s work on the B-3 “equally amazing. He combined his blues heritage with a very, very hip conception musically and harmonically. It’s a very cool sound, and very infectious.”


Mimi Fox and Her Trio

Presented by SF JAZZ

Where: Swedish American Hall, 2170 Market St., San Francisco

8 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $20

Contact: (866) 920-5299, www.sfjazz.org

More SF JAZZ female vocalists

All shows are at 8 p.m.

  • Asha Bhosle with Shujaat Khan (Friday, Paramount Theatre, Oakland)
  • Esperanza Spalding (Saturday, Paramount Theatre)
  • Luciana Souza (Oct. 15, S.F. Conservatory of Music)
  • India.Arie with Idan Raichel (Oct. 15, Paramount Theatre)
  • Pamela Rose, Denise Perrier (Nov. 12, Herbst Theatre)
  • Anonymous 4 (Nov. 18, Grace Cathedral)

About The Author

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus is a music and high performance audio critic, whistler, and lecturer on opera and vocal recordings. He is editor of Psychoimmunity and the Healing Process: A Holistic Approach to Immunity & AIDS. In addition to writing for the San Francisco Examiner, he has written about music for Opera News,... more
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