Jazz series brings stars to Cobb

The popular Jazz Roots: A Larry Rosen Jazz Series lives up to its name as it returns to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

“Ella, Joe and Basie,” a tribute to the Count Basie Orchestra and vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams, provides an aural history lesson of the genre.

Larry Rosen, an acclaimed jazz producer and musician in his own right, is all about schooling music fans in all shades and stripes of jazz. And that’s the plan for this season’s concerts.

Beginning September 25, a string of five shows will run the musical gamut, from silky smooth to a blast of the Big Easy. It wraps in February with a decidedly Georgian finish: a tribute to Albany’s own, the late Ray Charles.

As part of Cobb Energy Centre’s ArtsBridge Educational Programming, select metro Atlanta high schoolers will be invited to attend sound checks, chat with the performers and see the shows. Performers from four of the five shows will visit a local high school and participate in jazz assembly programs.

Rosen recently took time to talk about Jazz Roots.

On how Jazz Roots got started:

It happened to start in Miami, Florida, when they built a new performing arts center. … They asked me to put on a jazz series. I thought it was interesting, but I wasn’t sure we could sell 2,000 seats for a jazz series in Miami. … I told them we’d have to come up with some kind of new strategy in order to attract an audience. And that led to this whole idea about branding. So we created Jazz Roots. … We needed a wide umbrella. Some shows would specialize in Latin or Brazilian jazz, and some would focus on classic jazz or maybe the American songbook related to jazz. We’d bring in major artists and create an educational program and see if that whole mixture could work to establish a brand. … It’s been tremendously successful. And now I’m getting calls from performing arts centers all over the country to present the same Jazz Roots concept in their cities.

On how he programs Jazz Roots:

I look to create a variety. When you start dealing with thousands of people coming to a jazz concert, they’re not all aficionados of jazz from the standpoint that they have every Bill Evans or Miles Davis record. Everybody comes to jazz and they think about it from a different perspective. Somebody thinks it’s Kenny G. Somebody thinks it’s Benny Goodman. Somebody thinks it’s Count Basie. All of those elements are part of jazz, and that’s the wide umbrella that I have. So the shows will then vary tremendously for each one of the seasons and the thematic ideas.

On the educational element of Jazz Roots:

I think that’s one of the vital important elements of this, because young people today aren’t exposed to all of these eras of music. In one way because of the Internet, YouTube and videos and being able to download whatever you want, you’d think people would be exposed to a tremendous array of music and styles. But there’s no curation. So, wherever you go, you’re getting pounded by all different things. And whatever the popular music is — rap, hip-hop, electronic dance music — that’s certainly what most young people seem to get exposed to. And that’s in many ways their version of music, and they don’t understand the roots where all of that music emanated from. … And we’re presenting to them these styles of artists that are around today that are replicating something that’s been tremendously appreciated all over the world. To get young people to understand all of that is one of the mission statements that we have for Jazz Roots.

Ella, Joe & Basie

Rosen describes the kick-off show of Atlanta’s Jazz Roots series as being “in the sweet spot of what we’d think of as classic jazz.” The Count Basie Orchestra delivers every blues-soaked thump and twinkling piano run Basie’s music is known for. Both Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald held down vocal slots alongside Basie. Kevin Mahogany interprets Williams’s bluesy best. Janis Siegel, best known for her work in the Grammy-winning vocal group Manhattan Transfer, channels Fitzgerald.

8 p.m. Sept. 25. $26-$86 plus Ticketmaster fees.

A Night in Rio

Call it Cobb Carnivale. This celebration of Brazilian music tips its white fedora to the bossa nova, that cocktail of samba and jazz that shook up the 1960s. No one quite mastered pop Brazilian jazz like Sergio Mendes. With cuts such as “Mas Que Nada” Mendes intertwined Brazilian sensibilities with stateside jazz. Expect him to dip into that colorful repertoire while sharing the stage with Eliane Elias, a pianist, singer and composer whose Brazilian roots run deep.

8 p.m. Oct. 26. $26-$86 plus Ticketmaster fees.

Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour 2013

Folks who prefer their jazz as smooth as freshly fallen snow can opt for the 16th anniversary of this annual affair. Leading the sleigh ride is Koz, the laid back sax master, who can easily slide into the yuletide spirit with the seemingly effortless blow of his horn. South African vocalist and guitarist Jonathan Butler is no stranger to Koz’s tour. Japanese pianist Keiko Matsui and versatile vocalist Oleta Adams round out the line up.

8 p.m. Dec. 2. $26-$86 plus Ticketmaster fees.

New Orleans!

Music lovers often utter the words jazz and New Orleans in the same breath. As a member of the Neville Brothers, Aaron Neville is bonafide Big Easy royalty. His unmistakable angelic pipes can easily jump genres between pop, soul and standards. Throw in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and its funk-tinged exercise in New Orleans musical tradition, and you can almost smell the crawfish boiling.

8 p.m. Jan. 30. $26-$86 plus Ticketmaster fees.

Georgia on my Mind: Celebrating Ray Charles

A roster of talent joins forces to honor Charles, one of the state’s greatest musical exports, who cross categories and racial barriers by blending jazz, country, soul, pop and gospel. Clark Atlanta University’s Big Band and Singers, singer Clint Holmes, vocal group Take 6, tenor Kirk Whalum, pianist Shelly Berg and soulful jazz singer Nnenna Freelon share the spotlight. Hopefully between songs Freelon will share her personal recollections for working with Ray Charles.

8 p.m. Feb. 26. $26-$96 plus Ticketmaster fees.

All performances at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X