A dozen picks from the 29th Annual SFJazz Festival

The 29th Annual SFJazz Festival (September 15- December 18) has more than three dozen headliner concerts plus family matinees, member-only performances, club gigs under their hotplate series, high school all-star concerts and educational programs to boot. Presenting artists from around the world and from a staggering array of musical genres, their programming forces one to make some pretty hard choices when it comes down to selecting what to go see.  I always feel that whatever I choose is going to be at the expense of missing something I'll find out later I really wished I'd seen, then at other times I'll take a chance on a performer I know little about and come away floored.

This fall there are they are bringing back two artists whom I've seen before that are definite musts if you haven't seen them before- Esperanza Spalding and Goran Bregovic. I'd add Wayne Shorter to that list as well, but he has heavy competition on that date from the concert by the Calder Quartet taking place in Berkeley and the final day of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass competing for attention. For jazz purists that's an easy choice, but for people with a wider palate it becomes one of those days you regret because any of those three performances promise to be rewarding. Regretfully leaving Shorter off the list (as well as the formidably talented and entertaining Savion Glover), here are the dozen shows SFJazz is presenting this fall that make the hard cut:

Booker T   September 17
Following 2009's rocking  Potato Hole, recorded with Neil Young and the Drive By Truckers, the legendary Hammond B-3 player has a new album recorded with The Roots that hearkens back to various stages of his 50-year career with a contemporary, hip-hop influenced sound that manages to never loss sight of where he's been. It's bound to be a funky night, whatever he's got in store.

Pat Metheny  September 24
Metheny will be performing as a duo with local bassist Larry Grenadier, probably featuring songs off the recent What's It All About- a solo album of covers which starts off with Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" played on a 42-string guitar then veers from the Ventures "Pipeline" to "Betcha By Golly, Wow" to "That's the Way I Always Heard it Should Be."Seriously. I hope he's bringing that guitar to the stage of the Marine's Memorial Theatre. While some of the music on What's It All About is almost too pretty, Metheny's mastery and imagination are apparently endless and it will be interesting to hear what he has planned this time around.

The Robert Glasper Trio  September 29
Lots of what's written about Glasper mentions his music being influenced by hip-hop and his work with artists like Kanye West and Eryku Badu. While there are some definite hip-hop influenced rhythms and sounds on his recent Double Booked, it shows Glasper to be first and foremost and extraordinarily talented jazz pianist with an excellent sense of  rhythm and timing. He'll be performing with bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Colenburg.

Esperanza Spalding  October 1
Spalding's show last year at Davies Symphony Hall was one of the best performances I've seen in years- it was phenomenal, actually, and that was before her surprising Grammy win cast her fully into the well-deserved limelight. She's an artist who reminds me of 70's-era Stevie Wonder in talent and range. I'm unsure if the show is going to be a repeat of the Chamber Music Society tour or if she's going to bring the long-awaited Radio Music Society (which should be finished by then) to Oakland's Paramount Theatre, but either way this will be one of the most anticipated concerts of the season. Don't miss it.

Benny Green  October 10
The excellent pianist Green will be joined by Peter Washington on bass, Kenny Washington (no relation) on drums and saxophone legend Donald Harrison to perform "Monk's Dream"- a project revisiting material from Monk's masterpiece as well as other material from one of jazz's towering figures. Green plays with soul and a touch of bluesy grit- check out his terrific album Testifyin'! Live at the Village Vanguard for a taste of what he can do.

Daniela Mercury  October 14
I recently put together a mix for a party and found myself continually adding tracks to it by this Brazilian singer, whose music is simply irresistible. Built on seriously deep grooves from a wide array of Latin rhythms, Mercury's music is pure pleasure, made all the more alluring by her warm voice and sophisticated arrangements. Her show at the Paramount will undoubtedly be a  party of Carnaval-esque proportion. They should take all of the seats out, because everyone will be dancing from the first downbeat.

McCoy Tyner  October  16
It's easy to toss around the label "living legend" but McCoy Tyner is definitely one of them. Over a 50 year career he's created a staggering body of work. For this concert Tyner will be revisiting the 1963 album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. The singer Jose James will take on Hartman's vocals and Chris Potter will be stepping into Coltrane's shoes. Tyner, naturally, was the pianist on the album that features Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," Irving Berlin's "They Say it's Wonderful," Wood and Mellin's "My One and Only Love," and Rodgers and Hart's "You are Too Beautiful" among the songs.

Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau  October 22

Redman's name may be more well-known on the West Coast, and I certainly don't meant to take anything away from one of the best contemporary sax players around, but I've only recently discovered the extraordinary talent of Brad Mehldau. He's a pianist who transcends genres, covering everything from standards to Radiohead and on his Largo there's a tune called "Sabbath" that sounds heavily influenced by "Wheels of Confusion" from the heavy metal band's Vol. 4. On top of that he's recorded albums of original material with Renee Fleming and Anne Sofie Von Otter and on his live recordings often sounds more like a "classical" artist.  The pairing of these two formidable talents is the show I await with the greatest anticipation among the twelve on this list.

Jim Hall Quartet  October 23
A musician's musician, the master guitar player will celebrate his 80th birthday with Greg Osby on saxophone, Scott Colley on bass, and Joey Baron on the drums. Hall has played with Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Ella, Ben Webster, Wayne Shorter and Art Farmer to name a few. Short on flash, but long on talent, this should be a night of solid, serious playing.

Goran Bregovic & his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra  October 28
I saw Bregovic and his ensemble in June of 2009 and it was one the craziest, most enjoyable shows I've ever attended- it was like walking onto the set of a party scene shot by Fellini in the Balkans. There's nothing else I've ever seen nor heard that is quite like this troupe- and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Watch out once the music starts, because the audience is going to be flying all over the place, singing at the top of their lungs and probably creating an atmosphere that can only described as joyful mayhem. I guarantee you'll enjoy this show.

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba  October 30
One of the best aspects of SFJazz's programming is their exposure of a wide array of music from around the world. Bassekou Kouyate plays a four-stringed, lute-like instrument called the ngoni, and Ngoni Ba is his eight-piece band. Hailing from Mali, their recent album I Speak Fula is fascinating in its polyrhythmic beats, the dexterity and intricacy of the string playing, and features the captivating vocals of Kouyate and his wife Amy Sacko.

Ahmad Jamal  December 10
SFJazz's program doesn't list any musicians accompanying the 81-year old great, so I'm hoping this will be a chance to hear one of the most respected jazz pianists of any era perform a solo recital. And if it's not, that's okay too, because it's an opportunity to hear one of the best there is.

Tickets for all shows are on sale now. Members save on ticket fees and get exclusive opportunities. On a final note, SFJazz has one of the best performing arts websites around- it tells you what, when, where, if there's a pre-concert talk, and if the show is sold-out or nearly sold-out. The performer links contain samples as well as links to the artists' individual sites and biographies. I really like the way their event calendar is laid out, which lists all of their events in an easy to read format- take a look.