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Friday, January 21, 2022

Rising star Kazemde George brings soft, persistent sound back to the Bay Area

With the expressive title of his debut album “I Insist” and the flexible tone of the velvet-edged tenor saxophone, Kazemde George claims to be one of the most thoughtful and self-confident young jazz leaders in jazz.

Raised in Berkeley, educated in Boston and now part of the thriving Brooklyn scene, George returns to the Bay Area from November 26 to 28 as part of the JAZZ @ theEDGE festival at Black Cat for a three-day screening of eight shows. the Tenderloin jazz club, which has become an indispensable platform for young New York players.

As with the new album, which was released last month via Greenleaf Music, trumpeter Dave Douglas has been joined by vocalist Sami Stevens and bassist Tyrone Allen II. Pianist Chris McCarthy and drummer Kyvon Gordon form a quintet, which focuses on George’s original compositions and songs written with Stevens.

Although she wrote the lyrics for the coolly light-hearted “Skylight” and the seething late-night rebuke of “Happy Birthday,” Stevens’ wordless vocals feature prominently in several other pieces. As George’s partner in life and music, “she heard me write every melody I wrote,” he said.

“If I’m writing something and want to add another melody, it makes sense to invite Sami and do it. She is such a versatile musician that she can do whatever I want her to sing. “

“Everything remains really open to verification,” Stevens added, joining a telephone interview with the speaker. “There are many variations with any song. You couldn’t make me play it or use me like a horn. “

The two met at the New England Conservatory when she was a joint program with Tufts (where she majored in psychology), and he was a joint student with Harvard, earning a BA in neuroscience (and an MA in jazz composition from NEC).

George studied with a number of jazz heavyweights including tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, pianist Danilo Perez and altoist Miguel Zenon. It was Zeno who recommended George to Dave Douglas, calling his former bandmate SFJAZZ to recommend him check him out.

As soon as the saxophonist was on his radar, Douglas said, “I started seeing his name all over this community of really creative musicians in Brooklyn who are essentially bringing music from all over the world, pop and rock, and you name it.”

George had already recorded “I Insist” and was looking for a label. Douglas originally founded Greenleaf Music as an outlet for his own projects, but since 2005 the music company has released over 80 albums as well-established masters such as Santa Cruz-raised saxophonist Donnie McCaslin and flutist Nicole Mitchell, as well as aspiring artists such as Japanese shamisen. player Amy Makabe and bassist Matt Uleri.

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Impressed by George’s compositional vision and his ongoing search for his own musical identity, Douglas decided to release an album dedicated to the saxophonist’s mother. “In this gentle manner, there is the tenderness of the voice, ‘I insist,’” Douglas said. “Its sound is very beautiful and clear. He is an artist who will only go deeper. “

Although he earned a neuroscience degree, George never saw science as a career path. As an immigrant child – his mother is from Jamaica and his father is from British Guyana – “I studied him because my parents are from the Caribbean and they wanted me to get a good education. That’s why we were here. “

But he quickly notes that his parents fully supported his creative ambitions. His dad loves music and George grew up listening to Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane and Weather Report: “Brazilian music, calypso and reggae, so much cool stuff,” he said.

His pursuit of educational opportunities did take him away from Berkeley. Worried about the low grades of black students at Berkeley High School, his mother enrolled him in the then new Midwest Auckland High School (after skipping 8th grade). It was very inspiring, “but ironically, I really got into jazz and went to a school that didn’t have a music program.”

Instead, he found mentors at the Oaktown Jazz Workshop, where he studied with trumpet players Khalil Shahid, founder of the free extracurricular program, as well as saxophonist Charles McNeill and pianist Susan Muscarella. At the same time, he began writing electronic music called KG, B, inspired by the groundbreaking hip-hop beatmakers J Dilla, Madlib and Flying Lotus.

Many of these influences are evident in I Insist, but George still integrates many rhythms and concepts, especially from Afro-Cuban traditions, which he studied for a year in Havana with the support of the George Peabody Harvard Gardener Fellowship.

“I went to class, played jazz and absorbed as much as I could,” said George. “My Spanish is really good. It changed me a lot. “

Perseveringly creative, George is working on him who has already established himself as an important new voice on the 21st century scene.

Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected]


With Sami Stevens

When: 19:30, 21:45 and 22:45 November 26-28

Where: Black Cat, 400 Eddie Street, San Francisco

Tickets: 35-45 US dollars; www.blackcatsf.com

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