Summer is here and the students have more or less fled, as have the official jazz concert series in Santa Barbara at the Lobero Theatre and Campbell Hall. Have no fear this year: The conventional summer jazz drought is taking something of a holiday, thanks to a regular flow of jazz at SOhO. From up and comers like Sara Gazarek and Christian Scott to old hands like Ernie Watts and favorite regular Chris Walden (with Tierney Sutton sittin’ in), the SOhO jazz calendar is an unusually healthy summer yield.
Benny Lackner and Andrew Emer Group
A gifted and increasingly well-known jazz keyboard stylist, Lackner spent his wonder years growing up in Santa Barbara before studying at Cal Arts and with Brad Mehldau and then moving to Brooklyn. He has several albums out on European labels, and he has toured Germany, earning praise for his fresh musical outlook, which embraces jazz tradition but (like The Bad Plus and Mehldau’s trio) isn’t afraid of approaching material by smarter pop figures, such as Bjrk and Hendrix. Mon., July 2, 8pm.
Longtime Santa Barbara favorite, presently residing in N.Y.C., the subtle-yet-bold trumpeter/vocalist Birkey returns to play in town periodically and his shows are always worth catching. He may be tired of the Chet Baker comparisons by now, but Baker is one of the many reference points in his rainbow of influences-also including Miles Davis, Wallace Roney, and Dave Douglas-all adding up to an impressive stylistic voice to call his own. He’s now officially “Birkey-esque.” Wed., July 18, 8:30pm.
While the ranks of female jazz singers has swollen lately-to the point where it’s hard to keep track of who’s who and who’s worthy of our entertainment dollars-count this luminous Seattle singer as one to keep tabs on. Gazarek has a strong voice, but also a sweet and tonally balanced one, and a winning way of using it, whether on strictly jazzy tunes, like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or on Paul McCartney’s bittersweet waltz “Junk.” Both can be heard on her wonderful new album Return to You, on the Native Language label. File under singers worth knowing about. Mon., July 23, 8pm.
West Coast Latin Jazz with John Ulloa y su Mision
Latin jazz has long had a strong footprint on the West Coast, in the work of the late, great Cal Tjader, Poncho Sanchez, and also Oxnard’s own Estrada Brothers. On this night, we get a sampling of the work of San Francisco-based vibes player John Ulloa, joined by Ruben Estrada (on piano here), drummer Cougar Estrada, bassist Ian Peters and saxist/flutist Edmund Velasco. Mon., Aug. 6, 8pm.
Minnie Driver & Special Guest
Before you write off Minnie Driver as another screen star in wannabe chanteuse mode, check out her fine vocal goods. On her latest album, Seastories (Zoe), Driver sings with assurance and sincerity, going down a path that’s between pop, folk, and jazz. She’s got an old-school, late-’60s/early-’70s vibe going, solid melodic intuition in her songwriting, and a voice that nails notes in the best way. Driver’s career as a singer may be a sideline, but she could reasonably give up her “day job” and make music her life. Sun., Aug. 12, 8pm.
Ernie Watts Quartet
Watts’s resume is more dizzying and multifaceted than your average tenor saxist of note, and includes a long stint in the Carson-era Tonight Show band, work with proto-smooth jazzers like Lee Ritenour, studio work, and a 20-years-and-counting membership in Charlie Haden’s Quartet West (which played the Lobero last season). Watts also steps out as a leader at times, as he will here, to celebrate his new CD, Spirit Song (Flying Dolphin Records). His quartet is all acoustic and smooth-free. Mon., Aug. 20, 8pm.
Chris Walden Big Band and Tierney Sutton
German-born and raised and Hollywood-based (and show biz-employed) Walden has become one of the cherished repeat visitors to SOhO in the last few years, with the standard added attraction being singer Tierney Sutton’s regular guest appearances. Some come to hear a top-notch L.A.-based big band in action and tackling Walden’s sophisticated and swinging charts; others wait patiently for Sutton’s cameos. The rest of us love the whole swinging enchilada. Mon., Aug. 27, 8pm.
From the jazz-guitarists-deserving-wider-recognition file comes the technically adroit and versatile New Yorker Jonathan Kreisberg. Hailed in the jazz press and in guitarist’s guitarist circles, Kreisberg stops by SOhO, emphasizing material from his latest album, Unearth. Evolving through art rock and fusion phases, Kreisberg came home to the classicism of mainstream jazz playing, and he brings his youthful gallivanting to bear in his new work. Mon., Sept. 10, 8pm.
Young trumpeter Scott is well-grounded in jazz tradition and horn chops, but he is now taking the electro-acoustic and tough, groove-lined path lately championed by trumpeters such as Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton. His fine debut for Concord, Rewind That, does, in fact, rewind back to earlier days in jazz, especially to plugged-in Miles Davis periods, but he’s onto something fresh and modernist-moody as well. Mon., Sept. 17, 8pm.