'Les McCann Juke Joint'
7 p.m. May 31 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St. $5, $20, $75. Benefits Les McCann School for the Arts. (859) 280-2218. Lexingtonlyric.com.
Lexington Jazz Festival
1 p.m. June 1 at Talon Winery, 7086 Tates Creek Rd. $30, $35. (859) 971-3214. Lexingtonjazzfestival.com.
University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble
7:30 p.m. June 2 at the UK Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall, 405 Rose St. Free. (859) 257-4929. Singletarycenter.com.
Jazz seldom enjoys an extended stay in Lexington. Whether it reaches to the sleekest of contemporary sounds, the most lasting forms of the music's considerable tradition or the furthest reaches of the avant garde, jazz performances of note usually are limited to brief, scattered engagements.
Starting Saturday, locally born, bred or based jazz will be featured in three different programs at three Lexington venues over three consecutive evenings.
The fun starts with the return of Kentucky Music Hall of Fame inductee Les McCann to the performance locale where he once worked in his youth, the Lyric Theatre.
Known internationally for the socially conscious late '60s soul-jazz hit Compared to What, McCann performed at the Lyric as recently as last fall. Having the vocalist/ keyboardist back in his old neighborhood — he grew up nearby on National Avenue — planted an idea with a team of Lexington visual artists, writers and musicians. Together, they organized the Les McCann School for the Arts.
"The idea was that we had a lot of talent here that didn't have the opportunity to flourish because of economics or just opportunities in general," said Denise Estelle Brown, the school's artistic director. "So there was a real grass-roots beginning to the school."
The school's first classes were offered in April during spring break and will be at various Lexington locations around public school schedules this summer and fall.
Saturday's concert, titled "Les McCann Juke Joint," will serve as a benefit for the school. The bill also features local blues hero Tee Dee Young, whose own club sits just a block away from the Lyric; the Scandalous Band; and two West Coast artists who have accompanied McCann at most of his performances in recent years, saxophonist Javon Jackson and vocalist Lee Hartley.
Jazz moves to the great outdoors, Talon Winery, on Sunday for the fifth annual Lexington Jazz Festival.
The six-hour event has developed a solid fan base from its first four outings (all at Talon) with a turnout that topped out at nearly 600 attendees.
The festival's headliner this year will be Grammy-nominated pianist Kim Pensyl, who has recorded with such cross-generational jazz greats as Toots Thielemans and Joey Calderazzo. Pensyl also has cut four albums that made the Top 10 of the Billboard contemporary jazz chart. He currently serves as an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
"To have Kim so close is a real win-win," said drummer Dave McWhorter, who assembles the festival's talent roster and will perform Sunday as part of the Library Players. "This lets us offer music in kind of the same flavor that we've had in the past for the festival yet also allows us to bring in somebody new."
Along with Pensyl and the Library Players, Sunday's festival will include sets by veteran saxophonist, educator and bandleader Jamey Aebersold and the Lexington smooth jazz troupe O-Zone. Guitarist Ben Lacy and bassist Bob Bryant will perform between sets
Then on Monday, there will be a bon voyage party with the University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble at the Singletary Center for the Arts. The free performance will feature much of the repertoire the ensemble will be performing during a two-week trip to China: compositions by Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, the Brecker Brothers and UK's own Raleigh Dailey, among others.
The musicians head overseas Wednesday and will give concerts at music institutes in Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai. Director Miles Osland will stay two additional weeks to continue a tradition of UK professors working as guest instructors at Shanghai University. The Confucius Institute at UK is largely responsible for organizing the ensemble's trip.
"The UK Confucius Institute and the University of Kentucky have established a connection with Shanghai University," Osland said. "So for the last two or three days the band is in Shanghai, we're doing a lot of things in connection with what they are calling 'UK Week.' Then I stay for a couple of weeks to teach a jazz appreciation course.
"This will be my third time to China, but I've never stayed for a whole month. I love their food, but I'll probably have a Big Mac attack at some point."