David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ band among audience favorites to tour Jazz Alley
NPR Music

The Billboard chart-topping, Verve Salt breakout artist, Lizz Wright, shines the brightest covering jazz standards in her own careful way. The way she vocally strolls under the moonlight toward an unseen lover in her latest cover gone viral, “The Nearness Of You,” enchanted several full houses at Seattle’s renowned Jazz Alley this week.

The acclaimed alto puts on one more show tonight, with singer/songwriter Beth Wood opening for her.

Wright’s on tour in advance of her sixth studio album — harkening back to her Southern roots — due out in September.

If you miss her show-stopping act, don’t worry. Jazz Alley routinely books plenty of rising, shining stars like her, as well as established legends in both blues and jazz.

Some artists to look for:

Singer Shemekia Copeland, May 18-21, puts the squeeze-play in blues, eking out unlimited emotion like the ancients with a modern edge all her own. Whatever she puts her soul through comes out nice and easy, full of the push and pull of life’s vicious cycles. Her latest, Grammy-nominated album, Outskirts of Love, scorches the earth and sucks the listener into an addictive whirlwind of pleasurable pain as only true blues fans understand.

Bria Skonberg’s not only quite a looker, doused in a golden light like a romantic love goddess — but the triple threat can blow. An acclaimed audience favorite based out of New York City, Skonberg can play the hell out of the trumpet, wail at the mic, and write some memorable modern jazz-pop tunes (BRIA, OKeh Records). Originally from Canada, the Louis Armstrong devotee settled in New York City in short order, making the Big Apple her oyster. She’s up next May 23-24. Her show features a special $10 cover.

Jazz musicians looking for a little more juice in the tracks always look to Grammy-winning sax legend, Joe Lovano (Symphonica). A legend in the business, Lovano’s been turning up the snazzy smooth to modern jazz tracks since he first started as a kind of child prodigy growing up in the Mid-West. Lovano’s as well-known on his own as he is for the major players he’s collaborated alongside (guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, bassist Charlie Haden, pianist McCoy Tyner). Lovano shows up with his Classic Quartet for two performances June 6-7, as a part of their Live at Newport album tour.

Every few years, an artist comes along to tear down the walls between jazz and mainstream pop, hip-hop, rock. In 2015, that artist was undeniably the West Coast Get Down’s saxophone genius, Kamasi Washington. Washington shook up the old notions of jazz and mainstream music with his critically acclaimed symphonic studio album, The Epic.

In 2017, it’s another saxophonist, from the East Coast this time: Donny McCaslin. McCaslin found his soul inspiration in the hard-hitting, muscular angularity of Charlie Parker. Fascinated with EDM, McCaslin’s since branched off into his own brand of jazz fusion for the adventurous, earthy set with his two successful albums as a bandleader, the 2012 EDM/jazz brainchild of Casting For Gravity and the 2015 follow-up, heavy on the unexpected, earth-shifting beats, Fast Future.

McCaslin received worldwide fame at the recent Grammys for his deeply creative, immensely impactful association with the late David Bowie and his last album, Blackstar — a first for jazz.

Grammy-nominated for his own music, the saxophonist/composer and other musicians on Bowie’s Blackstar recording went on to make the best kind of tribute on the October 14, 2016 release, Beyond Now (Motéma Music). The Blackstar recording band worked on Beyond Now for almost three months after the British pop star passed away Jan. 10, 2016. Deeply moved by Bowie’s openness to all music genres and willingness to try new things, even jazz, at such a late stage in his life, McCaslin knew he would be changed forever. See the Donny McCaslin Group June 13-14.

Lots more beloved icons in the making are returning to Jazz Alley this summer through the rest of the year, including international jazz-fusion keyboardist Keiko Matsui (Aug. 10-13), Grammy-winning singer Cécile McLorin Salvant (Aug. 31-Sept. 3), absolute Grammy-winning trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval (Sept. 14-17), Grammy-winning, hot vocal group Take Six (Sept. 21-24), and Oscar Hernandez’s two-time Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Sept. 26-27).