April 21 2010 12:00 AM

Lovano, Somi headline East Lansing jazz festival



Summer jazz forecast for East Lansing: Increased blue notes, with an upswing in swing. Bebop will also be boppier.

National headliners Joe Lovano and Somi, quadrupled tent space and a third day of festivities will twist the ratchet another few notches for the 14th Summer Solstice Jazz Festival, set for June 18-20 in East Lansing.

Joe Lovano, arguably the top tenor saxman in jazz today, will bring his all-star Us Five group — the one with two drummers and 26-year-old phenomenon Esperanza Spalding on bass — for an afternoon Wharton Center performance Sunday, June 20, extending the festival to a third day and adding a venue.

The festival proper, held in downtown East Lansing, will feature polystylistic young vocalist Somi, one of jazz’s most intriguing young vocalists. The emerging empress of a blend of African, Latin and jazz styles called New African Soul will sing Saturday night under a new tent nearly four times larger than the old one, according to East Lansing spokeswoman Ami Van Antwerp.

Taking their cue from a collaborative art form, a trio of entities — East Lansing, the Wharton Center and MSU’s College of music — joined to put some fire under the festival in 2008.

The festival grew from one to two days, took advantage of Wharton’s clout in snag ging national artists, and beefed up its slate with more of MSU’s stellar jazz faculty and students.

Last year’s appearances by Spalding at the East Lansing festival and at Wharton led indirectly to snagging the biggest fish of all: Lovano, a hard-driving, innovative tenor man who has conquered many facets of jazz, from small groups to big bands and symphonic projects.

Lovano needed to fill a blank spot in his schedule between a June 18 gig at Mears Park in Milwaukee and a June 24 Carnegie Hall birthday gala for pianist Herbie Hancock. After Spalding played the East Lansing festival last summer and Wharton last fall, she urged her agent, who also represents Lovano, to call Wharton.

Lovano’s Wharton performance will be ticketed; the rest of the festival will be free to the public.

The two-day slate of local artists mines a broad crosssection of MSU and Michigan jazz talent.

Guitarist Neil Gordon, saxmen Diego Rivera and Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson, the neo-gypsy combo Hot Club of Detroit, Latin combos Los Gatos and Ritmo, bassist Sean Dobbins, vocalist Sunny Wilkinson and Rockelle Whitaker and pianist Rick Roe are all scheduled to perform, with MSU jazz student combos filling the air during set changes.

Van Antwerp estimated that 5,000 to 7,000 people attended the Summer Solstice festival last year. She said the city would like to see the festival grow into a three- or fourday indoor-outdoor cluster of jazz events.

Venues under consideration for future festivals are the nearby Valley Court stage and a black-box theater likely to be built as part of East Lansing’s planned City Center II development.